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Bush official: Libya's nuclear program a surprise

Work was 'much further advanced' than expected, official says

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Libya's nuclear weapons program was "much further advanced" than U.S. and British intelligence agencies had thought, and included centrifuges and a uranium-enrichment program, all necessary components in making a nuclear bomb, a senior Bush administration official said Friday.

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"Libya admitted to nuclear fuel-cycle projects that were intended to support a nuclear weapons program, weapons development, including uranium enrichment," this official said.

The acknowledgment of a nuclear program marked the first time Libya has ever done so. The U.S. and British governments said Friday that Libya has agreed to abandon its weapons of mass destruction programs and to allow international weapons inspectors into the country.

The Bush official said Libya also showed a team of United Nations and British inspectors "a significant amount of mustard" gas -- a lethal nerve agent that can cause internal and external bleeding. The gas was produced more than a decade ago, the official said.

In addition, those inspectors visited medical and agricultural facilities that could be used in the development of biological weapons, this official said.

But it was Libya's nuclear program that most alarmed officials.

"We were not surprised on the chemical side," the official said. "On the nuclear side ... my understanding is that they did have a much further advanced program, including centrifuges."

This official said the inspectors saw completed centrifuges, as well as "thousands of centrifuge parts."

Another senior administration official said Libya's weapons programs are robust "in every area."

"It's enormous," the official said. "We have grave concerns about the program."

The first official said Libya approached British and U.S. officials in mid-March, about the same time the war in Iraq began. But that official stressed there was nothing to indicate the nuclear or chemical weapons materials came from Iraq.

At the same time, the official refused to say whether the government of Libya's leader, Col. Moammar Gadhafi, had supplied material to Saddam Hussein's former regime, and the official refused to name other nations that Libya has worked with on weapons development.

However, the official said Libya admitted cooperating with North Korea on the development of "extended-range Scud missiles."

The team of U.N. and British inspectors visited Libya in October and then again in early December, searching more than 10 sites connected to the nuclear program, the official said. The inspectors included experts in nuclear, chemical, biological and missile development. CIA officials also visited key sites.

"The Libyans were quite open," the official said. "They provided access to facilities. They provided substantial documentation about their programs. And we were able to take samples and to take photographs and other evidence."

The official added: "While Libya was forthcoming in many areas and provided considerable detail on past activities, there are a number of issues we continue to explore."

Britain and the United States will now work with Libya, and the international bodies charged with stopping the spread of nuclear and chemical weapons. Those two agencies are the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

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