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White House evaluates warheads discovery in Iraq

One administration source says it's not 'a smoking gun'

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The White House take a cautious approach on the discovery of empty rocket warheads in Iraq. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux reports (January 16)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House was taking a wait-and-see approach Thursday to the news that about a dozen empty chemical warheads were found in Iraq by U.N. weapons inspectors.

"The administration looks forward to receiving more information from the inspectors," a senior administration official told CNN.

"We're keeping our powder dry while we assess it," another senior administration official said. "But it does raise a number of questions."

Another administration source said that the report from the inspectors was not considered "a smoking gun," but maintained that aggressive inspections and access to Iraqi scientists will lead to additional evidence of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

The official also said the White House was emboldened by what it sees as mounting evidence against Saddam.

The Bush administration has long dismissed Iraq's claims that it has disarmed. Before word came out about the warheads in Iraq, President Bush told an audience in Scranton, Pennsylvania that "time is running out" for the Iraqi leader to disarm.

"At some point in time, the United States' patience will run out," Bush declared during a speech where he outlined his ideas for medical liability reform. "In the name of peace, if he does not disarm, I will lead a coalition of the willing to disarm Saddam Hussein."

Bush had no immediate comment about the discovery in Iraq when he arrived back at the White House.

In New York, John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, called the discovery "an interesting development," but declined to characterize it any further.

"We'll have to wait and see what further develops on this question," he said.

-- CNN White House Correspondents Suzanne Malveaux and John King contributed to this report.

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