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With Egypt in revolt and the country’s future uncertain, concern is growing over whether a new government in the Arab world’s most militarily and industrially advanced country could accelerate an arms race in one of the world’s most volatile regions.
At the heart of the concern is intelligence indicating that Egypt has quietly carried out research and development on weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear, chemical, biological and missile technology.
The research and development has continued virtually without pause over the past three decades, according to interviews with U.S. officials and a review of intelligence and other government documents by NBC News. Specifically, the intelligence indicates that Egypt has carried out experiments in plutonium reprocessing and uranium enrichment, helped jump-start Saddam Hussein’s missile and chemical weapons programs in Iraq, and worked with Kim il-Jung on North Korea’s missile program.
“If we found another country doing what they’ve done, we would have been all over them,” said a former U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The reason the U.S. didn’t move, officials say, was Egypt’s role as a staunch U.S. ally and stabilizing force in the Middle East and later as a key player in U.S. counterterrorism efforts. If Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is forced to step down, new leadership in Cairo could mean a radical change in that relationship, analysts say.