US claims North Korea helped Syria build reactor bombed by Israel

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Satellite photographs of the suspected nuclear facility, before and after, the Israeli airstrike on September 6, 2007.

Members of the United States Congress were briefed today on United States intelligence that alleges that North Korea has been taking part in proliferation with Syria by helping them build and use a nuclear reactor located in the Syrian desert.

According to news reports, citing sources familiar with matter, members of Congress viewed a video purporting to show North Korean workers at the Syrian plant. The plant was destroyed in a airstrike last September by Israeli F-15Is of 69 Squadron IAF.

The video allegedly also shows that the reactor core design is identical to that of North Korea's Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center reactor.

In a statement released to reporters the US government said, "We are convinced, based on a variety of information, that North Korea assisted Syrian covert nuclear activities both before and after the reactor was destroyed."

Syria has remained quiet over the incident and the area was bulldozed and the building later rebuilt around January. They have also disallowed international inspectors to visit the area, giving rise to suspicions that the Syrians are covering up something.

Cquote1.svg We are convinced, based on a variety of information, that North Korea assisted Syrian covert nuclear activities both before and after the reactor was destroyed. Cquote2.svg

—US statement to reporters

The Syrian ambassador to the United Kingdom, Sami Khiyami, has dismissed accusations by the United States that it is helping to build a reactor there that could produce plutonium. "This has nothing to do with North Korea and Syria. They just want to exert more pressure on North Korea. This is why they are coming up with this story." Khiyami said.

He added, "The cooperation between North Korea and Syria has nothing to do with [building] a nuclear facility. Cooperation is mainly economic."

The Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, concurred by saying, "There was no Syria-North Korea cooperation whatsoever in Syria. We deny these rumours." Syria itself has denied cooperation with North Korea and is suggesting the video has been faked.

According to the The New York Times, there are suggestions inside the United States State Department, that the release of this video is an attempt by hardliners inside the Bush administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney, to undermine the six-party talks over North Korea's nuclear program.

"Making public the pictures is likely to inflame the North Koreans,” one senior administration official said off the record. "And that’s just what opponents of this whole arrangement want, because they think the North Koreans will stalk off," he added.

Cquote1.svg This has nothing to do with North Korea and Syria. They just want to exert more pressure on North Korea. This is why they are coming up with this story. Cquote2.svg

—Sami Khiyami, Syrian ambassador to UK

Christopher R. Hill, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs and the US negotiator in the six-party talks, believes the Syrian incident is a sideshow and that the more important issue is to stop North Korea from producing more plutonium and give up what it has.

Dick Cheney's office and other conservatives have said that a proposed deal, negotiated by Hill in the six-party talks, is unbalanced in favor of North Korea. According to the deal, North Korea would be removed from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list and have economic sanctions under the Trading With the Enemy Act lifted in return for declaring how much plutonium it has produced.

Representative Pete Hoekstra, the ranking member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said that as a result of the briefing, the six-party agreements would find it "much harder to go through Congress and get agreements approved." Hoekstra said, "It happened eight months later" than it should have.

"I really believe [that] on an issue that is this critical to the issue of proliferation, to the situation in the Middle East, to what's going on in the six-party talks, and these types of things, Congress needed this information to be a full partner in those efforts," Hoekstra added.

Representative Howard Berman, the chairperson for the Committee on Foreign Affairs said that details of the briefing were "disturbing" but not a reason to suspend the six-party talks.

"Rather, the information that has been released to the public demonstrates the importance of insisting on a verifiable enforcement mechanism to ensure that North Korea honors its commitments to stop spreading the means to create nuclear weapons and to end its nuclear program permanently," Berman said in a statement released by his office.


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