updated 5/27/2008 9:24:35 AM ET 2008-05-27T13:24:35

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter says Israel has a nuclear arsenal of 150 weapons, The Times of London reported Monday.

While experts have long maintained Israel has a nuclear arsenal, the Jewish state has refused to confirm or deny it.

Most estimates, many based on evidence leaked in 1986 by Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu, put the number of Israeli nuclear weapons at between 100 and 200. But other experts have said the number is as low as 60 or as high as 400.

It was unclear from the newspaper's account whether Carter was citing those estimates, offering his own independent assessment or drawing on U.S. intelligence he would have had access to as president from 1977 to 1981.

U.S. officials have generally avoided the issue of Israel's nuclear status, although during a 2006 Senate confirmation hearing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates confirmed that Israel was a nuclear power.

The Times said Carter made the comment Sunday while at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival on the border between England and Wales. He was discussing Iran, and the difficulty it would have in building a secret nuclear arsenal, when he mentioned the Israeli weapons, the paper said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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