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The U.S. intelligence community has found evidence Syria received Iraqi missiles and WMD in late 2002 and early 2003, U.S. officials said, according to Geostrategy-Direct, the global intelligence news service.
The evidence includes satellite photographs of Iraqi convoys believed to be bringing missiles and WMD into Syria as well as assertions from Iraqi officials that ousted leader Saddam Hussein ordered such a transfer.
Still, the agencies fail to agree that sufficient evidence has been obtained to press the issue with the Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad.
Importantly, CIA Director George Tenet shares this view, officials said.
As a result, the Bush administration and senior members of Congress have reached different conclusions over whether Syria obtained Iraqi WMD. The administration has determined the intelligence evidence remains insufficient, while senior staffers and members of Congress said the evidence is enough to press Syria to open its facilities to inspection.
“I think that there is some concern that shipments of WMD went to Syria,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said.
David Kay, who resigned last week from the CIA-sponsored Iraq Survey Group, went further. Kay said Iraqi officials told his investigators that WMD was sent to Syria before the war in Iraq.
“We are not talking about a large stockpile of weapons,” Kay told the London Daily Telegraph. “But we know from some of the interrogations of former Iraqi officials that a lot of material went to Syria before the war, including some components of Saddam’s WMD program. Precisely what went to Syria, and what has happened to it, is a major issue that needs to be resolved.”
In his State of the Union address on Jan. 20, President George W. Bush did not identify Syria as a U.S. adversary or a country having missiles and WMD programs. The president did cite Iran and North Korea, both of which have supplied systems to Damascus.
In December, Bush signed into law the Syria Accountability Act. The law calls for a virtual trade embargo on Syria for its occupation of Lebanon, WMD program and harboring of terrorist groups.
But Vice President Dick Cheney said Iraq had assembled WMD on portable platforms, a development that would have enabled the transfer of assets to other parts in or outside the country. In an interview with National Public Radio, Cheney did not cite Syria as receiving weapons from Saddam.
“We’ve found a couple of semi-trailers at this point, which we believe were in fact part of a [WMD] program,” Cheney said. “I would deem that conclusive evidence, if you will, that he did in fact have programs for weapons of mass destruction.”
So far, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell have rejected the prospect that Iraqi biological and chemical weapons or missiles were sent to Syria. They echoed U.S. assessments that Saddam would not have trusted Assad with Iraq’s missile and WMD assets.
“I have seen no hard evidence to suggest that is the case, that suddenly there were no weapons found in Iraq because they were all in Syria,” Powell said. “I don’t know why the Syrians would do that, frankly, why it would be in their interest. They didn’t have that kind of relationship with Iraq.”
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