State Will Tell Congress that N. Korea Was Helping Syria Build a Reactor

Reuters and the Wall Street Journal are both reporting that State is about to give Congress that briefing that it’s long been demanding about what exactly the Israelis bombed in Syria last September. 

A senior congressional aide and a former Bush administration North Korea specialist said they believed the briefings were designed to persuade members of Congress that removing those sanctions was justified.

Latest word, by the way, is that when State publishes its new list of state sponsors of terror, North Korea will still be on it, although you can be sure that the report will be  about as heavily  doctored  as Stalin’s biography in  a  Soviet encylopedia.

Congressional sources said the briefings would be for members of the House of Representatives and Senate committees that deal with armed services, foreign affairs and intelligence.  Spokesmen for the White House and for the office of the Director of National Intelligence declined comment.

“The administration routinely keeps appropriate members of Congress informed of national security and intelligence matters, but I’m going to decline to comment on any specific briefings,” said National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

Asked why the briefings were happening now, the senior congressional aide said, “Because they are about to lift sanctions … and they want to convince members that we have enough clarity from what the North Koreans have acknowledged to us, and what we have learned through our own methods, to proceed with confidence.”  [Reuters, Mohammed Arshad]

The Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon reports that the targeted facility  was to be a plutonium-based  nuclear reactor, something that had been reported by the press before but has never been confirmed by U.S. officials on the record.  Still  uncertain  are a number of conflicting reports that North  Korea also transferred  nuclear “material” to Syria, as well of reports of nuclear  technology transfers to Iran.

The argument, then, would go like this:  one listed state sponsor of terrorism has proliferated nuclear technology and perhaps “materials” of some kind to an especially active state sponsor of terrorism, one that’s actively supporting the people who are killing Americans in Iraq today.  Now that we’ve told you that,  we faceless and unaccountable bureaucrats are asking you,  the  elected representatives, to  de-list the proliferating party, which, by the way,  is sticking with an incredible blanket denial of the entire transaction, has not confessed to its  recent terror sponsorship or retail terrorism, and is promising to neither end nor renounce its terrorism or support thereof.  They admit nothing, they regret nothing, and if you do this, you will have proved that terrorism works.

Oh, and this will probably trash our relations with Japan.  Meanwhile, U.S. permanent resident Kim Dong Shik’s North Korean kidnapper  still sits in a South Korean jail.  I wonder what he knows.

The Administration has handled congressional relations on this rather badly.  After months of extraordinary secrecy and failing to brief the key committees of Congress, State offended some in Congress by giving the North Koreans a detailed briefing first, leaving not just Congress at the back of the line, but also South Korea and Japan, which  went to  the Israelis to learn what we presumably wouldn’t tell them.

Unfortunately, because the North Koreans are still refusing to tell us the whole story about Syria — and because we’re now saying we’ll let the North Koreans off the hook and write their declaration for them based on what we do know —  the briefing may only serve to accentuate  North Korea’s bad faith in dealing with us and our own stupidity  for going along with it.  And obviously,  given the reactor’s  remote location and  surrounding secrecy  — along with the checkered history of both parties here — there’s reason to assume that the purposes were not entirely peaceful.

Then there’s the fact that North Korea’s declaration, the part we’re still asking them to make,  will still be materially false.  North Korea is saying it will declare 30 kilograms of plutonium, which is 20-30 kilograms less than U.S. intelligence estimates.  This leaves the questions of uranium enrichment and North Korea’s existing warheads unresolved, although the low-ball plutonium estimate suggests that the North Koreans will probably deny having any more  completed warheads. 


Also unresolved is the issue of verification in the world’s most opaque and controlled society.   Getting a North Korean concession on verification  is  the nominal purpose of Sung Kim’s visit to Pyongyang  this week, although North Korea’s positions on the declaration — and the growing congressional resistance those positions are creating  — will almost certainly come up.

All of which makes you wonder just how safe this deal will make everyone feel when it’s all said and done.

Bush has come under withering fire over  all of this, most of it  from people who voted for him and who questioned Clinton’s Agreed Framework (which, frankly speaking, was less bad that this one).  Bush’s own position on all of this has been exceedingly difficult to pin down.  After a White House spokesperson intially said the White House has accepted the Singapore Surrender, Bush later said this:

“You know, there’s all kinds of rumors about what is happening and what’s not happening,” Bush said at a news joint conference with Lee. “Obviously I’m not going to accept a deal that doesn’t advance the interests of the region.”  [….]

“So we’ll wait and see what he says, and then we’ll make a decision about our obligations, depending upon whether or not we’re convinced that there is a solid and full declaration,” Bush said.  [Reuters]

Which some interpreted as Bush backing away from this putrid deal.  Bush also  suggested that the North Koreans might be trying to stall through the end of his term (d’ya think?)   For his part, President Lee said that he and Bush were  “still waiting for North Korea to declare their full program” and that Kim Jong Il “should not get away with this temporary measure.”  This quote from Lee was especially interesting:

“I believe if North Korea’s declaration is not satisfactory or if the verification is not satisfactory, we could probably have a temporary achievement, but in the long term that will cause a lot more serious problems,” Lee said.

“The United States is not dealing with North Korea alone,” he said. “There are other parties to these six-party talks and they must all agree to this declaration.”  [AFP]

Another hint, it seems, that Lee isn’t fond of one-party talks. 

Later, however,  Bush asked us to all  just hush and give peace a chance:

“Why don’t we just wait and see what they say before people go out there and start giving their opinions about whether this is a good deal or a bad deal?” Bush said.   [Washington Post]

It may be the fact that their acceptance would be our worst case scenario.   Some in the media have long sought to portray this as a false choice of appeasement or war, and  it does seem that  our government doesn’t think it has other options.  But of course, it does.


  1. You are clearly missing the obvious point that North Korea is no longer helping Syria with its nuke program.

    Of course, it would help State’s case if that had not come as a result of Israel blowing up the North Korean scientists.

    (How long will it take NK to select a few more and get the paperwork through?)

    I’m figuring it will at least take 3 to 6 months or longer before Pyongyang is finished making Syria haggle for more technicians and scientists. I mean, NK did fulfill it’s part of the original deal. It shipped the crew over. It isn’t their fault what Syria bought went POOF…

    So State and Pyongyang can clearly tell the world with a straight face North Korea is no longer fomenting terrorism and proliferation through Syria —- at the moment….

    On the nuclear warhead front —- if North Korea hands over one or two nuclear bombs, and I were an analyst, I’d crap my pants….and then I’d get any relatives I have living in South Korea out….

    Because if Pyongyang gives us some nukes, it will mean they have an ample supply of versions a couple of generations ahead of whatever they gave us…..

    Right now, with their nuke test having been a dud. I feel OK.

    I’d be really, really worried if they give us a nuke as part of the deal.


  2. PS

    I forgot to add —- I don’t have much confidence when it comes to State, because Hill can’t seem to remember that there are doors behind which we know Pyongyang has hidden some nuclear warheads to begin with…..


  3. I thought I was joking when I wrote, “You are clearly missing the obvious point that North Korea is no longer helping Syria with its nuke program…Of course, it would help State’s case if that had not come as a result of Israel blowing up the North Korean scientists.”

    But then I read

    David Albright, president of Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) and a former U.N. weapons inspector, said the absence of such evidence warrants skepticism that the reactor was part of an active weapons program.

    The United States and Israel have not identified any Syrian plutonium separation facilities or nuclear weaponization facilities,” he said. “The lack of any such facilities gives little confidence that the reactor is part of an active nuclear weapons program. The apparent lack of fuel, either imported or indigenously produced, also is curious and lowers confidence that Syria has a nuclear weapons program.”

    U.S. intelligence officials will also tell the lawmakers that Syria is not rebuilding a reactor at the Al Kibar site. “The successful engagement of North Korea in the six-party talks means that it was unlikely to have supplied Syria with such facilities or nuclear materials after the reactor site was destroyed,” Albright said. “Indeed, there is little, if any, evidence that cooperation between Syria and North Korea extended beyond the date of the destruction of the reactor.”