WASHINGTON – Intelligence on Iraq that the Bush administration will present to Congress includes information on how dangerously close Saddam Hussein has come to developing a nuclear weapon, FOX News has learned.
Sources told FOX News that there is also new information indicating that Iraq has developed new methods of chemical- and biological-weapon delivery, and also of contact between Baghdad and Al Qaeda before and after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
From Vienna, the head of the U.N. nuclear inspection team said Friday that satellite photographs shows unexplained recent construction at Iraqi nuclear sites.
French physicist Jacques Baute, of the International Atomic Energy Organization, said reviews of images taken since 1999 show "some buildings that have been reconstructed ... and some new buildings [that] have been erected," at sites his team had visited in the past.
Without identifying them, Baute described the sites as having potential "dual-use capabilities," meaning they could potentially be locations for both civilian and military nuclear programs.
Surrounded by security, Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA Director George Tenet arrived on Capitol Hill Thursday to brief the top two lawmakers from each party in the House and Senate.
Afterward, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., spoke to FOX News and said: "It was an important briefing — there was some new information included in it. ... Is there evidence that he is getting prepared to be able to use biological, chemical and nuclear weapons and be able to deliver them? Yes!"
Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert seemed dour as he left the meeting — and he also confirmed to FOXNews that new intelligence about Saddam's threat and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction had been provided.
Despite the new information, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., told FOX News he remains reluctant to support military action.
While President Bush began taking his case for ousting Saddam to Americans outside the Beltway Thursday, members of his administration worked to energize a dialogue for action touched off this week by the White House.
"I take the fact that he [Saddam] develops weapons of mass destruction very seriously. I remember the fact that he has invaded two countries before. I know for a fact that he's poisoned his own people," Bush told his audience at a welcome rally in Louisville, Ky.
"He doesn't believe in the worth of each individual," he added. "He doesn't believe in public dissent."
Bush said Wednesday that he would seek congressional approval before any military action against Iraq. Sources told FOX News that two rough dates have been set for hearings by the House International Relations Committee — one for closed-door, classified hearings with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on Sept. 16; the other a week later on Sept. 23 for open hearings with Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Hastert confirmed Congress would indeed vote before the Nov. 5 midterm elections on how to deal with Saddam.
Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state, told a Washington, D.C., luncheon audience Thursday that he believed it "very incumbent upon us to explain our case very well throughout the world, including the Arab world of course, and then to enlist as many like-minded folks to move forward with us," he said. "My own view is all of these efforts are better off done in a multilateral context."
Bush administration officials have also told Fox News that they are looking at a proposal that would utilize 50,000 troops to back up U.N. weapons inspectors in Iraq as they attempt to assess the magnitude of Saddam's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Officials concede that it would be unlikely that the Iraqi dictator would go along with such a scheme.
Powell said the proposal did not come up in his discussions Thursday. He also said that the administration did not think it wise to prematurely "pigeonhole" any future move as multilateral or unilateral "but to make sure that the world understands the threat as clearly as we believe it should understand this threat, because it is a real one," he told reporters.
Meanwhile, Democrats on the Hill said Thursday that they are looking forward to the additional information the administration has promised to provide regarding its arguments that a regime change in Iraq is in order. Daschle told reporters that he hopes that Bush will seek out not only the support of congress, but that of the U.N. as well.
"I would think the United States would want to be in the same position it was at the point when we went to the U.N. in the early 90s [for the Persian Gulf War]," Daschle said. "If the international community supports it, if we can get the information we've been seeking, then I think we can move to a resolution.
"But short of that, I think it would be difficult for us to move until that information is provided and some indication of the level of international support is also evident," he added.
The White House certainly faces touch scrutiny of its plans, including that of former President Jimmy Carter, who declared in a Washington Post op-ed piece Thursday that "a unilateral war with Iraq is not the answer," and that such action would "alienate our necessary allies."
But Bush promised Wednesday to approach world leaders with his arguments for ousting the Iraqi dictator. He is meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who has expressed agreement already that Saddam is a threat to global security, at Camp David this weekend. And the president will be speaking at the U.N. on Sept. 12.
Arab League chief Amr Moussa charged Thursday that any strike by the U.S. would "open the gates of hell" in the Middle East, and urged Baghdad to re-admit weapons inspectors.
"We will continue to work to avoid a military confrontation or a military action because we believe that it will open the gates of hell in the Middle East," he told reporters.
Meanwhile, it was reported today that the Army recently moved weaponry and war supplies from the Gulf nation of Qatar to a base in Kuwait near the Iraqi border to check their condition and test procedures that would be used in the event Bush orders preparations for war.
Army Secretary Thomas White said the movement was designed to periodically validate the condition of the military's weaponry and equipment, but "we've done nothing specifically against any particular scenario" for war.
FOX News' Andrew Hard and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Carl Cameron currently serves as Fox News Channel's (FNC) Washington-based chief political correspondent. He joined FNC in 1996 as a correspondent.