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CIA's report on Middle East (ABCNEWS)

The summary given by Yahoo for this attributes to the report the
allegation that Iraq 'is rebuilding its chemical weapons machinery'. The
report in fact only states that Iraq is rebuilding its civilian chemical
infrastructure but that this could easily be converted to military use.
Friday July 23 12:47 PM EDT

Danger in the Middle East

By Barbara Starr

WASHINGTON — The world remains a dangerous place.

     A new CIA report submitted to Congress pays particular attention to
the dangers posed by Iran and Iraq, two Middle Eastern countries with a
long-standing hatred for the United States.

     Iran has beefed up its chemical weapons program, is working on a b
iological weapons program and continues to look for a nuclear weapon.
Iraq, which remains under U.S. military fire, is rebuilding its chemical
weapons machinery while it has yet to account for of its stock of
biological weapons and has withheld information on its nuclear
capabilities, the report says.

     The U.S. intelligence community always keeps a close eye on the
world’s arms trade — especially any deals involving technology for making
nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Russia, China and North Korea
remain the most significant suppliers of such material. 

     But if the focus gets shifted from the seller to the buyer, analysts
are able to demonstrate just how threatening this area of commerce may
have become. 

Suppliers in Russia, China, N. Korea 
     Iran has now manufactured and stockpiled chemical weapons, including
blister, blood and choking agents and “the bombs and artillery shells for
delivering them,” according to the CIA report, the latest in a series of
regular reports to Congress. 

     The report, which covers weapons activities during the second half of
1998, says that Tehran has obtained “foreign equipment and material that
could be used to create a more advanced and self-sufficient chemical
warfare infrastructure.” 

     The CIA has long believed that Iran is moving ahead on chemical and
biological weapons and is even attempting to build a nuclear weapon. Firms
in Russia, China and North Korea remain prime suppliers to Iran. 

     Iran also has continued to buy “dual-use biotechnical equipment from
Russia and other countries, ostensibly for civilian uses,” according to
the report. The CIA believes Iran may have some “limited” capability to
actually deploy biological weapons, but it offered no additional details.

     The U.S. intelligence community is also concerned about Iran’s
efforts to develop and deploy ballistic missiles. Iran’s business here is
with assistance from a familiar trio — Russia, China and North Korea. Iran
clearly hopes to become self sufficient in producing ballistic missiles —
especially with the 800-mile-range Shahab-3 and 1,200-mile-range Shahab-4.

     In the nuclear arena, Iran continues to try and purchase nuclear
facilities, including one to convert uranium so that it could be used to
produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. 

Iraq Rebuilt Chemical Infrastructure 
     Iran’s enemy and its neighbor to the west, Iraq, also gets the
attention. But here, the question for the CIA was to see how successful
Iraq has been in repairing its war-fighting capabilities damaged by the
U.S.-led allies during the Gulf War and several subsequent bombing

     The report confirmed that Baghdad has rebuilt key portions of its
chemical production infrastructure for making industrial and commercial
products. These facilities could quickly be converted for the production
of chemical weapons.

     “Iraq retains the expertise to resume chemical agent production
within a few weeks or months, depending on the type of agent and a
decision to do so,” the report says.

     In biological weapons, the CIA estimated that Iraq still has not
accounted for more than 100 biological weapons bombs and more than three
tons of imported agents that could be grown into biological toxins.

     The CIA also said that Iraq “likely” retains a limited number of
“Scud-type” surface-to-surface missiles and launchers as well as the
capability to assemble and produce others.

     In the nuclear arena, the CIA said that Baghdad continues to
“withhold significant information” about its techniques for enriching
nuclear fuel, foreign nuclear technology purchases and weapons design. 

     While Iran and Iraq remain the two top concerns, the CIA also looks
at some other nations, including Syria. That country has a
little-mentioned weapons program that is of growing concern to U.S.

     “Damascus already has a stockpile of the nerve agent sarin and
apparently is trying to develop more toxic and persistent nerve agents,”
the report says. Indeed, U.S. intelligence recently noted that testing of
chemical agents continues in Syria. 

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