Dennis Rodman’s ‘friend’ in Pyongyang and the only real fix for Syrian WMD: The Israelis

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By Donald Kirk,

Dennis Rodman while in North Korea might have asked his friend “Kim” about North Korea and Syria.

Too bad he missed the chance, along with any notion of getting “Kim” to “do me a solid,” as he once put it, and let him bring Kenneth Bae out of purgatory in the North. It’s pretty certain “Kim” would have been all on the side of the regime of Bashar Assad in his defiance of the U.S.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un and Dennis Rodman in Pyongyang.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un and Dennis Rodman in Pyongyang.

It’s equally certain, however, that “Kim” would have given no hint as to what the North might be doing to advise the Syrians on hiding their stockpile of sarin gas etc. not only from inspectors but also from strikes by cruise missiles, B52s, smart bombs and drones — all the heavyweight stuff the U.S. could in theory bring to bear.

So much time has passed since President Obama first called for wiping out Syria’s nuclear capabilities that the Syrians, with North Korean assistance and even equipment, have undoubtedly moved all they’ve got to where no one’s going to touch it.

Remember, the North Koreans were building a nuclear reactor for Syria when the Israelis, without going to the United Nations or the European Union or the British parliament or the White House, bombed the darn thing to hell and back again.

That was in September 2007, six years before the present imbroglio, in which the U.S. and a few of its friends have been talking so much about all the damage they might unleash on Syria as to make an attack a waste of time.

The North Koreans, past masters at hiding evidence of weapons of mass destruction, have no doubt been instructing Syrians on the recondite arts of tunneling deep while building dummy sites to attract a cascade of useless explosives. They may even have supplied equipment, including excavators thoughtfully exported to the North from Sweden while Kim Dae-Jung was courting Kim Jong-Il, father of the current “Kim,” at the inter-Korean summit in June 2000.

We know for sure the North Koreans provided gas masks. Some of them were seized along with arms and what-not while in transit through Turkey. Obviously Syrian forces needed them in case any of that sarin gas blew the wrong way from its targets in the Damascus suburbs. Gas masks would have been the least of the North Korean contributions to the welfare of the Assad regime.

If there’s one lesson from the images on television of the effects of sarin gas, it is that until a few weeks ago most people had forgotten that nuclear warheads are not the only weapons of mass destruction (WMD)s.

Chemical and biological weapons are the other two principal WMDs, and North Korea is assumed to have plenty of both. We never hear about them since they’re not “tested” so scientists thousands of miles away can pick up the vibes, and then the particles in the air, as they do after nuclear tests.

As long as North Korean technicians were building that reactor for Syria before the Israelis wiped it out, we can also be sure North Korean technicians have been advising Assad on other WMDs. Still, in all the commentary on what to do about Syria the only mention of North Korea has been about teaching the Syrians a lesson so the North Koreans won’t do the same thing. No one seems to have imagined the North Koreans are aiding Assad now as they were six years ago.

That’s not to say, at this stage, that it would not be a good idea to come to diplomatic terms and agree on a plan for Syria to give up its chemical weapons as advocated by Russia.

Anyone who thinks the Syrians would put on more than a show of compliance, however, has got to be living in a dream world.

Again we only have to turn to the North Korean example. How many deals have benighted U.S. negotiators made with the North for abandoning their nuclear program?

The list begins with the failed Geneva framework of 1994 and on to two agreements reached, and never fulfilled, in 2007. Might North Korean advisers be telling their Syrian friends, if we could fool the Americans so easily, so can you?

None of which should be seen as placing confidence in U.S. strikes on Syrian facilities.
At this stage, what’s to strike? Maybe we should wait until the intelligence people get wind of where the Syrians are building new chemical weapons facilities — and then let the Israelis do the job as they did in 2007.

Donald Kirk is a veteran newspaper correspondent who has worked throughout East Asia and the Middle East. He’s at [email protected].