Former U.N. inspector to head WMD hunt in Iraq
Kay: No WMD stockpiles found in Iraq
Charles Duelfer said in a statement that he is approaching his appointment "with an open mind."
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A former U.N. weapons inspection official will lead the U.S. hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, CIA Director George Tenet said Friday.
Charles Duelfer, 51, the former deputy executive chairman of the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), will take over from David Kay, who is stepping down as Tenet's special adviser on the search for banned weapons in Iraq.
Duelfer worked with UNSCOM from 1993 to 2000, as its inspectors played a cat-and-mouse game with deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"Given his knowledge of Iraqi weapons programs and his understanding of the nature and extent of Iraqi efforts to conceal these programs, I can think of no one better suited to carry on this very important work," Tenet said in a written statement.
Since leaving UNSCOM, Duelfer, a former State Department official, has been a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.
"I'm honored that director Tenet has asked me to tackle this challenging assignment," Duelfer said in a written statement. "I'm approaching it with an open mind and am absolutely committed to following the evidence wherever it takes us."
Duelfer, considered a tough-minded pragmatist, has recently expressed skepticism that any chemical or biological weapons will be found in Iraq. However, he has also expressed optimism in the past that a more complete account of Iraq's weapons programs might emerge once people involved are free to speak.
In a 1998 interview with CNN, he said, "We are convinced that Iraq retains documents that could help us get a more verifiable explanation of the program. We are convinced that there are individuals in Iraq who could help us understand this, should they be able to speak to us freely."
Kay, supported by the coalition's Iraq Survey Group, went to Iraq in the wake of the war to lead the search for evidence of weapons of mass destruction.
In his State of the Union speech Tuesday, President Bush said a report by Kay's group identified "dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations.
"Had we failed to act, the dictator's weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day," the president said.
But though Kay has said new information has been uncovered about Iraq's programs -- particularly its efforts to build missiles -- he has since concluded there are no weapons stockpiles to be found.
"I don't think they existed," Kay told Reuters on Friday. "What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the  gulf war, and I don't think there was a large-scale production program in the '90s."
He also told Reuters that most of the weapons evidence has been found but that any further search would be much more difficult after control of the country is returned to Iraqis.
Kay did praise the team's efforts.
"Despite arduous working conditions and an inhospitable and often threatening environment, the ISG ... has performed its important mission with great skill and the utmost integrity," Kay said in a written statement. "While there are many unresolved issues, I am confident that the ISG will do everything possible to answer remaining questions about the former Iraqi regime's WMD efforts."
CNN's David Ensor contributed to this report.