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Kay quits, says Iraq has no arms stockpiles

Washington, Jan. 24 (Reuters): Former chief US arms hunter David Kay, who stepped down from his post yesterday, has concluded that Iraq had no stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons, a potential embarrassment for President George W. Bush and ammunition to his election-year Democratic rivals.

But a senior US official said today that Vice-President Dick Cheney, attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, still believed “the jury’s still out” on whether Iraq had chemical or biological weapons or missiles, as contained in official US intelligence estimates.

Undercutting the White House’s public rationale for the war on Iraq, Kay said that he had concluded there were no such stockpiles to be found.

“I don’t think they existed,” Kay said. “What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last (1991) Gulf War, and I don’t think there was a large-scale production programme in the 1990s,” he said.

“I think we have found probably 85 per cent of what we’re going to find,” said Kay, who returned from Iraq in December and told the CIA that he would not be going back.

“I think the best evidence is that they did not resume large-scale production and that’s what we’re really talking about,” Kay said.

In his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday, Bush again insisted that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had actively pursued dangerous weapons programmes right up to the start of the US-led invasion in March.

“Had we failed to act,” Bush said, “the dictator’s weapons of mass destruction programmes would continue to this day.”

The UN’s top nuclear watchdog said today he was not surprised at Kay’s conclusion. “I am not surprised about this,” International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed El Baradei said on the sidelines of the Davos meeting. “We said already before the war, that there was no evidence of this, so this is really not a surprise.”

White House firm

Yesterday, the White House stood firm. “We remain confident that the Iraq Survey Group will uncover the truth about Saddam Hussein’s regime, the regime’s weapons of destruction programs,” spokesman Scott McClellan said.

The CIA announced that former UN weapons inspector Charles Duelfer, who has expressed his own doubts that unconventional weapons would be found, would succeed Kay as Washington's chief arms hunter.

Duelfer, 51, a former deputy executive chairman of the UN Special Commission that was responsible for dismantling Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, previously expressed doubts that unconventional weapons would be found.

But after his new job was announced, Duelfer said he was keeping an open mind and his past comments had been made from the sidelines.

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