Semmel, responsible for nuclear non-proliferation at the State
Department, said Syria has been placed on the U.S. nuclear watch list. In a
briefing in Rome, Semmel said Damascus was suspected of contacting a range
of nuclear suppliers.
Officials said North Korea has provided nuclear material and guidance to
Syria. They said Pyongyang has helped establish underground facilities that
could be used to produce weapons-grade uranium for the regime of Syrian
President Bashar Assad.
"There are indicators that they do have something going on there,"
Semmel, who did not rule out the involvement of the so-called nuclear
smuggling network once led by Abdul Qadeer Khan, said on Sept. 13.
Officials said North Korean ships arrived in Syria in mid-2007 with
cargo suspected to have included weapons of mass destruction components.
They said both Israel and the United States have been tracking these
shipments, which in some cases were registered as cement.
[On Sunday, Iran said Russia was ready to ship enriched uranium fuel for
the Bushehr nuclear energy reactor. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr
Mottaki said the nuclear fuel for Bushehr was inspected and sealed by the
International Atomic Energy Agency.]
"There are North Korean people there," Semmel said. "There's no question
about that. Just as there are a lot of North Koreans in Iraq and Iran."
Israel has not denied an air force operation in Syria. But officials
have refused to provide any details.
For its part, Syria has insisted that Israeli fighter-jets did not stage
an attack. On Monday, Syrian sources told the London-based A-Sharq Al Awsat
daily that the Israeli operation was meant to test Syrian air defense
But Western intelligence sources said the Israeli strike, termed
Operation Orchard, consisted of eight aircraft, at least two of them F-15I
fighter-jets, four F-16Is and a G-550 electronic intelligence aircraft. They
said the operation was coordinated with the United States.
"We are watching very closely," Semmel, who did not confirm U.S.
involvement, said. "Obviously, the Israelis were watching very closely."
The State Department confirmed Semmel's remarks, but refused to comment.
On Sunday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the United States was
watching North Korea and Syria "very carefully."
"If such an activity were taking place, it would be a matter of great
concern because the president has put down a very strong marker with the
North Koreans about further proliferation efforts and obviously any effort
by the Syrians to pursue weapons of mass destruction would be a concern,"
Gates said in a television interview. "I think it would be a real problem."
Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said Syria
has long sought nuclear and other WMD capabilities. Bolton said Syria might
have agreed to provide uranium enrichment facilities to Iran and North
Korea, both of whom have been under international pressure to end their
nuclear weapons programs. On Monday, North Korea delayed talks scheduled for
Sept. 19 for an end to the nation's nuclear weapons program.
"Syria is very aggressive in pursuing WMD capability," Bolton told the
Israeli daily, Jerusalem Post. "It's a diversion game — to carry on even
when you are supposed to have halted, as in the case of North Korea. And I'd
be surprised if Syria would do anything with North Korea without Iranian