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    Egypt refuses U.S. bid to meet nuke scientists hired by Iraq Friday, February 7, 2003

    Egypt has rejected a U.S. request to interview Egyptian engineers and scientists employed in Iraq's nuclear program.

    U.S. officials said the regime of President Hosni Mubarak failed to respond to Washington's appeals for information of and access to Egyptian nationals employed in Iraq's nuclear program. The officials said after repeated U.S. efforts the Cairo government responded that it viewed Egyptian nationals who work in Iraq as private citizens.

    "They said they would not get involved and refused to help us locate them or provide information so we could reach them ourselves," a U.S. official said.

    Officials said that late last year the U.S. intelligence community received information of the employment of dozens of Egyptian engineers and scientists in Iraq's nuclear program. Some of the names of the Egyptians matched a list provided by Iraq to the United Nations of more than 500 scientists who worked in Baghdad's nuclear program.

    In December, the Bush administration relayed a request to Cairo for help to interview the Egyptian scientists. The officials said at first the Mubarak regime ignored the U.S. request and then denied any link to the Egyptian scientists in Iraq.

    The U.S. request was coordinated with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Officials said Britain also relayed a request to interview Egyptian scientists.

    The disclosure of the Egyptian rejection to interview nuclear scientists came during a visit by a high-level Egyptian delegation to Washington. The delegation is led by Mubarak's diplomatic adviser Osama El Baz. El Baz will meet senior administration officials and congressional leaders.

    Officials said the U.S. intelligence community is concerned that Iraq has transferred leading components of its nuclear program to Egypt and Libya. Egypt has launched a program to construct eight nuclear reactors by 2011 in cooperation with China and Russia.

    On Sunday, the London-based Al Sharq Al Awsat daily reported that Britain and the United States, through their embassies in Cairo, relayed a request to Egypt for interviews with the Egyptian scientists. The newspaper said the requests cited Egyptian nationals who appeared on an Iraqi list of 207 foreign nationals who worked in Baghdad's nuclear program.

    Western intelligence sources have asserted that Egypt and Iraq coooperated in strategic weapons programs in the 1980s. They included missile and WMD development programs.

    The sources said the 1991 Gulf war suspended Egyptian cooperation with Iraq. But the cooperation was quietly restored at a reduced level in the mid-1990s

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