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The Clinton administration needs to share with the world the compelling evidence that led to last week's missile attack on a Sudanese chemical plant.

With many Arab nations protesting the strike, Sudan claiming the factory produced only medicine and domestic critics still dredging up the president's need for a handy political diversion, the Pentagon can't get by with a simple "trust us."

We don't doubt for a second the president's motives for ordering the attack. By laying out as much of its case as possible -- without comprising U.S. intelligence operations -- the administration can quell the budding criticism, firm up the resolve of allies and reassure the rest of the world.

Obviously, before a government blows up an ostensibly civilian facility in another country, it should have hard evidence that the facility poses a security threat to the world. Just as obviously, it also must be prepared to share that evidence.

There is precedent for such actions. America shared with the world intelligence photos showing missiles in Cuba in 1962. The U.S. also disclosed an intercepted message that linked Libya to the bombing of a West Berlin discotheque. That was used to justify the bombing of Libya in 1986 by President Reagan.

With direct links to terrorist Osama bin Laden now sketchier than first outlined, reassurance must come quickly. If it doesn't, what looks like a firm U.S. signal that puts terrorists on notice could degenerate into just another White House controversy.

The bare-bones outline of the U.S. case already has emerged. It involves a soil sample that's supposed to have come from the factory and that's supposed to have shown traces of EMPTA, a key ingredient used to make the deadly nerve gas VX and which has no industrial uses. U.S. and foreign officials also say EMPTA is an ingredient in Iraq's unique formulation for VX, which can be made a number of ways.

On top of that is the fact that Iraq picked that particular plant to purchase medicine allowed under U.N. sanctions. There are also reports that Iraqi scientists have been at the plant and suspicions that Iraq might have used the plant to manufacture chemicals it could not make at home with U.N. inspectors around.

Put it all together, and it forms a strong circumstantial case that the Sudanese facility was an appropriate target for U.S. missiles in the wake of the deadly bombings at American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.

The United States can only benefit from publicly fleshing out that outline with its evidence. If it doesn't, the United Nations will have little choice but to send the fact-finding team that the Sudanese demand and call their bluff.

A pre-emptive military strike is the most severe action a nation can take, short of declaring war. The evidence for such a momentous step must be compelling. The evidence in this case no doubt is. But the world needs to know it.

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