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Posted by Alli ( on January 24, 2002 at 11:53:16:

Official: Time Running Short for Iraq

GENEVA (Reuters) - A senior U.S. official warned Iraq on Thursday that "time was running short" for it to let United Nations inspectors return to check whether Baghdad was developing nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

The official, who declined to be named, said there was every indication that Iraq had been "aggressively pursuing weapons of mass destruction capability" in the three years since it forced U.N. inspectors to leave.

"We are coming to a critical point with Iraq," the official told journalists.

He said that Washington was not prepared to let the situation drag on, although he declined to go into detail on what its response might be.

"They (the Iraqis) ... need to let the weapons inspectors back in. If they do not, there are going to be consequences," the official said.

Iraq admits that it once sought to develop agents of biological warfare but says that it no longer has any such weapons program.

Baghdad was forced to accept the U.N. inspectors following its defeat by a U.S.-led international force in the 1991 Gulf War, but they had to abandon the country in 1998.

Despite Iraq's denial, the official said that Iraq had used the last three years to press ahead with weapons development.

"They are clearly trying to get back to where they were before the (Gulf) war. I don't think they are there yet but there is a lot of activity," the official said.

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