<%@LANGUAGE="VBSCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> WorldTribune.com: Mobile CIA can't rule out continue N. Korean assistance to Syria

CIA can't rule out continue N. Korean assistance to Syria

Friday, April 25, 2008 Free Headline Alerts

WASHINGTON The U.S. intelligence community has determined that North Korean work on a nuclear weapons facility in Syria was nearly ready for testing and within weeks of completion when it was destroyed by an Israel air strike in September 2007.

The CIA has told Congress that Pyongyang constructed a plutonium production facility in Syria in 2007. CIA director Michael Hayden told members of the House and Senate intelligence committees and Senate Armed Services Committee that the nuclear facility in Dir Zeir in northeastern Syria had been weeks or months away from completion before the strike.

On Thursday, Hayden told the congressional committees in closed-door sessions that since the Israeli air strike North Korea was not believed to have renewed nuclear assistance to Syria's Al Kibar facility. But the director said the CIA could not rule out North Korean nuclear programs in other areas of Syria.

"The facility was mostly completed, but still needed significant testing before it could be declared operational," a senior official said.

"Until Sept. 6, 2007, the Syrian regime was building a covert nuclear reactor in its eastern desert capable of producing plutonium," the White House said. "We are convinced, based on a variety of information, that North Korea assisted Syria's covert nuclear activities. We have good reason to believe that reactor, which was damaged beyond repair on Sept. 6 of last year, was not intended for peaceful purposes."

The statement, hours after the CIA briefing, said Syria did not inform the International Atomic Energy Agency of the construction of the nuclear reactor. After the Israeli strike, the White House said, the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad "moved quickly to bury evidence of its existence."

Officials said the U.S. intelligence community was persuaded of North Korea's nuclear program by aerial photographs and a video provided by Israel. The photographs displayed the contours of a nuclear reactor complex similar to that of Yongbyon, while the video reported the presence of a North Korean scientist at Al Kibar.

"North Korean nuclear officials were located in the region of the reactor both early and late in 2007," a document presented at the congressional briefing said. "Our information shows that North Korean advisors also probably assisted with damage assessment efforts after the reactor was destroyed."

Some members of Congress were angered by the White House release of information hours after the CIA briefing. For eight months, they said, the Bush administration had refused appeals for a briefing on North Korean nuclear cooperation with Syria.

"It's bad management and terrible public policy to go for eight months knowing this was out there and then drop this in our laps six hours before they go to the public," Rep. Pete Hoekstra, a Republican and former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said. "It totally breaks down any trust that you have between the administration and Congress."

The CIA briefing elicited skepticism among some nuclear experts. Two prominent analysts from the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security David Albright and Paul Brannan said the CIA document indicated that the U.S. intelligence community failed to obtain information on Syrian plans to activate the nuclear reactor.

"There is no evidence that nuclear cooperation between Syria and North Korea extended beyond the date of the destruction of the reactor," Albright and Brannan said. "Second, the United States and Israel have not identified any Syrian plutonium separation or nuclear weaponization facilities. The absence of such facilities gives little confidence that the reactor was part of an active nuclear weapons program. The apparent absence of fuel, whether imported or indigenously produced, also lowers confidence that Syria has an active nuclear weapons program."

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