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Sudan calls for evidence nerve gas allegations { August 25 1998 }

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Sudan calls for evidence of nerve gas allegations
Iraq denies illegal connections

August 25, 1998
Web posted at: 3:50 p.m. EDT (1950 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The war of words intensified Tuesday over U.S. claims that the Sudanese pharmaceutical plant destroyed last week by American missiles had been producing a precursor element used to make chemical weapons.

U.S. intelligence sources told CNN they had obtained a soil sample from the Shifa Pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum that contained a chemical that was "one step away" from the deadly nerve gas VX.

However, the Sudanese government said Washington had not produced "convincing" evidence to corroborate its allegation, and Iraq rejected the suggestion that Baghdad may have been involved in trying to get the chemical.

A senior U.S. intelligence official told CNN that the United States got hold of a soil sample that was "obtained by clandestine means" from the Shifa plant. The chemical detected was "non-toxic," the official said.

The sample contained a chemical known as EMPTA, which has no commercial use and does not occur naturally in the environment, the intelligence official told CNN.

Sudan again firmly rejected the U.S. claims and insisted the plant was making urgently needed medicines only.

"How can we believe that they have taken the soil from here? They can take it from anywhere in the world and say that this is the sand taken from the factory in Shifa," said Mohammed al-Hassan al-Amin, political secretary of Sudan's National Congress, the sole political organization in the country.

While the U.S. administration defended Thursday's destruction of the plant, Washington nevertheless conceded that the facility probably also manufactured medicines.

"That facility very well may have been producing pharmaceuticals," State Department spokesman James Foley said.

Is Iraq involved?

U.S. intelligence sources also said on Tuesday that the Sudanese owners of the pharmaceutical plant had held meetings with Iraqis close to Iraq's chemical weapons program.

A U.N. official told Reuters news agency that a product of the Khartoum factory had been approved by the United Nations for export to Iraq, which has seen its own tense standoff with the United States and the United Nations over VX nerve gas.

Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Nizar Hamdoon, rejected any allegations of illegal activities and said relations with Sudan had been purely "commercial."

He said Iraq had pharmaceutical contracts with the Sudanese government and that the bombed plant was, to his knowledge, the plant producing the medicines ordered by Iraq.

"We strongly deny that there has been any chemical connections," beyond that, Hamdoon added.

Correspondent Jamie McIntyre, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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