Baradei: “No Evidence of Khan Link to Syria” 2004

It is worth reviewing Syria's nuclear record to try to sort out spin from fact and speculation from firm evidence.

Three years ago, John Bolton made a number of allegations about Syria establishing a nuclear plant and being part of the Khan nuclear ring.

His allegations were strenuously pooh-poohed by IAEA chief Mohamed El-Baradei at the time. Khan was long ago shut down. We have been given absolutely no new evidence to suggest that the re-animation of these old allegations is not re-fried beans and attendant hot air.

Here is what al-Baradei said on June 26, 2004. Taken from an old SC post, here

Syria says UN nuclear inspectors welcome

"The Syrians told me they would be happy if we go and verify whatever we need to verify," International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters on Saturday during a flight to Moscow for a four-day official visit. "But we haven't gotten any piece of information on why we should be concerned about Syria."

Last week, diplomats told Reuters that the IAEA considered Damascus a top candidate for being the fourth customer of the nuclear black market that supplied uranium enrichment technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya.

But ElBaradei said no country had provided any hard evidence that would implicate Syria as a customer in the black market set up by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's atomic weapons programme. "This is something I read in the paper. Nobody came to us with any information (about Syria)," ElBaradei said. The IAEA, along with governments and intelligence agencies, has been investigating the details of Khan's network so that it can be dismantled. The results of the investigation are classified.

Syria, which has called for the creation of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, has denied any interest in nuclear weapons.

Last month, diplomats and nuclear experts told Reuters that an experimental high-tech intelligence technique developed by the United States had detected what appear to be operating uranium-enrichment centrifuges in Syria. Diplomats said the centrifuges, which spin at supersonic speeds to purify uranium for use as fuel for power plants or weapons, could only have come from Khan's network. But some U.S. officials — as well as ElBaradei — are skeptical about the centrifuges.

"We don't have super high-tech detectors, and if somebody detected something they'd better come to us. We are the ones who can clarify fact from fiction," ElBaradei said.

"U.S.: Syria on Nuclear Watch List," (A.P.) by NICOLE WINFIELD
ROME — A senior U.S. nuclear official said Friday that North Koreans were in Syria and that Damascus may have had contacts with "secret suppliers" to obtain nuclear equipment.

Andrew Semmel, acting deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear nonproliferation policy, did not identify the suppliers, but said North Koreans were in the country and that he could not exclude that the network run by the disgraced Pakistan nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan may have been involved.

He said it was not known if the contacts had produced any results. "Whether anything transpired remains to be seen," he said.

Syria has never commented publicly on its nuclear program. It has a small research nuclear reactor, as do several other countries in the region, including Egypt. While Israel and the U.S. have expressed concerns in the past, Damascus has not been known to make a serious push to develop a nuclear energy or weapons program.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declined to comment on Semmel's remarks but noted that the United States had longstanding concerns about North Korea and nuclear proliferation.

"We've also expressed, over time, our concerns about North Korea's activities in terms of dealing with A.Q. Khan and others around the globe," he told reporters.

McCormack said he was not aware of any specific link between North Korea and Syria.

China Hand has an interesting interpretation of the US_Korean politics at stake in Bolton's spin at his blog "China Matters."  Hand

Comments (15)


1. ausamaa said:

Why is a doomsday theory -and theoreticians- always ready to provide in-depth analysis whenever Syria in concerned? Correct me if I am wrong, CW now says that Bush & CO. are incapable of hitting Iran, so maybe they will hit Syria instead and are trying to frame Syria up for this? Or, is it that the US forces do not want to hit Iran from across the waters in the Gulf or across Iraq, so they are “testing” the possibility of hitting Iran through the “friendly” Syrian skies?

Or is it merely failed and confused people (neo-cons and deflated Israeli generals) with nothing that they can do except trying to confuse and divert the attention of people with such senless suspense stories?

BTFW, how much time do those neo-con loonies have left around the Oval Office? For the sake of the good ol’ US of A if not for the sake of whole world? Any chance of early Presedntial elections in the United States considering the current State of the Union under those over-achievers?

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September 14th, 2007, 11:15 pm

 
 

3. Enlightened said:

Here we go, I thought that this tried and true method of WMD, has had its use by date!

How can an impoverished nation like North Korea fund a WMD or nuclear plant in Syria? Where did they get the money? The next spin might be that Syria is funding the project, and the sceptics might ask, ” How is Syria funding the project”?

Maybe they might have found Saddams missing WMD’s ? or perhaps its just another milk factory that produces chemicals?

I might have a hunch as to why the Israelis did it, and it might not please some on this site, it might have more to do with the Presidential elections north of the Israeli border!

I wonder though what the Hawks in the Syrian cabinet might be thinking, will Syria respond through its armed forces or will it use its influence through its allies in the occupied territories or Lebanon to formulate a response?

My hunch is that Syria will do nothing, either politically or militarily, its silence on what was hit does not lend itself to be broadcast, for fear that the situation might lead to a war, a war that it can do with out!

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September 15th, 2007, 1:52 am

 

4. Alex said:

Enlightened,

Few weeks ago president Assad gave a speech in which he did not mention Lebanon … not even once. The idea is to not give anyone an excuse to accuse Syria of interfering in LEbanese affairs.

Similarly, you will not see the Syrians making a mistake that might reflect in a negative manner on their Lebanese allies… they will not ask Hizbollah to hit Israeli on their behaf.

But I agree that one of the strong possibilities relates to the upcoming Lebanese presidential elections… hitting Syria is likely a message to Syria and its Lebanese allies to not get over confident.

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September 15th, 2007, 2:14 am

 

5. Enlightened said:

Alex what do you make of the bluster surrounding the nuclear/wmd scenario? It all sounds a bit weird!

Equally damning, I think that Syria has not handled this episode with a effective or coherent strategy to highlight this Israeli aggression on its Airspace. Why?

What does it have to hide? Is the matter such a security risk to offer no further evidence or to take the matter further? I dont truly believe that the country is that isolated for it not to play up this incident, or does it have something to hide?

I am a bit perplexed!

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September 15th, 2007, 2:47 am

 

6. Alex said:

Enlightened,

It was probably a military target … otherwise Syria would have shown pictures of the civilian casualties.

Syria won’t show pictures of a damaged military target. No one gets sympathy for damaged weapons.

As for the N-word being now associated with Syria … creative stories from the people who gave us creative chaos.

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September 15th, 2007, 4:25 am

 

7. SimoHurtta said:

Amusing article in JP US: Syria on nuclear watch list; North Koreans were in Syria

The most amusing point in the article is when Andrew Semmel, acting deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear nonproliferation policy, said:

Asked if the suppliers could have been North Koreans, he said: “There are North Korean people there. There’s no question about that. Just as there are a lot of North Koreans in Iraq and Iran.”

A lots of North Koreans ARE in IRAQ? What on earth are they doing in Iraq? Creating a nuclear bomb for US Iraqi government, for the Mahdi Army or for Kurds? Or cleaning US Army’s toilets?

What is astonishing is that reporters did not notice the slip. It is even bigger news that there are North Koreans in Syria that there are lots of them in IRAQ among the two hundred thousand Americans. (USA has unbelievable naive propagandists.)

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September 15th, 2007, 7:25 am

 

8. SimoHurtta said:

Israel believes is used to extract uranium from phosphates.

The uranium extracted from phosphates is normal yellow cake which price on spot markets is about 90 USD. A normal sensible mining investment linked to the fertilizer production of phosphate deposits which contain uranium. CF Industries is planing doing the same in Florida.

These Syrian ambitions of extracting uranium from phosphates have been long time in public domain. SIPRI says:

Syria with the assistance of the IAEA explored the possibility of a larger scale project to exploit its considerable phosphate deposits for uranium, but those plans do not appear to have progressed beyond the planning states.

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September 15th, 2007, 8:30 am

 

9. t_desco said:

“Meanwhile, a prominent U.S. expert on the Middle East, who has interviewed Israeli participants in a mysterious raid over Syria last week, reported that the attack appears to have been linked to the arrival three days earlier of a ship carrying material from North Korea labeled as cement.

The expert, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid compromising his sources, said the target of the attack appears to have been a northern Syrian facility that was labeled an agricultural research center on the Euphrates River, close to the Turkish border. Israel has kept a close eye on the facility, believing that Syria was using it to extract uranium from phosphates.

The expert said it is not clear what the ship was carrying, but the emerging consensus in Israel was that it delivered nuclear equipment. The ship arrived Sept. 3 in the Syrian port of Tartus; the attack occurred Sept. 6 under such strict operational security that the pilots flying air cover for the attack aircraft did not know details of the mission. The pilots who conducted the attack were briefed only after they were in the air, he said.”
Syria-N. Korea Reports Won’t Stop Talks
Washington Post

Bush administration dogged by North Korea-Syria nuclear links

Divisions have appeared again in US President George Bush’s administration over a North Korean nuclear disarmament deal amid leaked US intelligence citing alleged atomic links between the Stalinist state and Syria.

As North Korea moves to declare and disable its nuclear weapons program under a six-party deal, reports in the New York Times and Washington Post have suggested Pyongyang may be helping US arch rival Syria build a nuclear weapons facility.

The reports, citing unnamed sources, were based on intelligence information supposedly from Israel’s flyover and apparent raid last week on targets inside Syria.

The information could have been provided by hawks within the Bush administration who are against the rapidly-progressing deal with North Korea, some experts said.

They questioned the timing of the reports, coming just ahead of key six-party talks among the United States, China, the two Koreas, Japan and Russia, where Pyongyang is widely expected to agree to declare and disable its nuclear arsenal by the end of 2007.

“There is supposed to be an effort by some officials to torpedo the North Korea nuclear deal by portraying North Korea as a ‘proliferator,'” said Joseph Cirincione, a weapons expert, who was once a key advisor to Congress.

He likened the reports to those that surfaced in the run up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 during which officials provided apparently incorrect intelligence information about Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Washington for decades has accused North Korea, which carried out a nuclear weapons test in October 2006, of WMD proliferation. US officials have charged Syria with bankrolling terrorism groups in the Middle East.

“The potential nexus between WMD and terrorism is the biggest threat to the security of the US and its allies,” said the conservative opinion page of the Wall Street Journal on Friday, seeking a freeze of the Korean nuclear deal.

“If North Korea is moving its nuclear facilities to Syria — or ‘merely’ proliferating — it would undermine everything at the heart of that (six-party aid-for-disarmament) agreement, as well as cross a long-stated American red line that Pyongyang not proliferate,” the newspaper said.

“Even if it is unsure of the full implications of the intelligence, the administration has an obligation not to proceed with a nuclear deal until Pyongyang and Damascus come clean,” it said.

State Department officials have refused to comment directly on the intelligence reports, except to say that Washington had always been concerned over North Korea’s proliferation activities which had been a critical component of the six-party talks that began in 2003.

“The reason we have a six-party process and the reason we have, you know, put together a number of pretty serious countries in this process is to make sure that the North Koreans get out of the nuclear business,” Hill said.

He likened the reports as “an important reminder of the need to accelerate the process that we’re already engaged in and to push for what we’ve already agreed to do, which is to achieve de-nuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.”

The evidence of the North Korea-Syrian links include satellite imagery that led some US officials to believe the Syrian facility could be used to produce material for nuclear weapons, the Washington Post said.

Israel reconnaissance flights over Syria took pictures of possible nuclear installations that Israeli officials believed might have been supplied with material from North Korea, The New York Times said.

Robert Einhorn, a former top non-proliferation official in the State Department, said he was aware of North Korean and Syrian cooperation in the missile area when he was in the government.

“We were aware of that cooperation during the 1990s but since I left government in 2001, I don’t know what kind of cooperation may be taking place,” he said.

The Syrian nuclear program has been around for 40 years, Cirincione said. “It is a basic research program built around a tiny 30 kilowatt reactor that produced a few isotopes and neutrons. It is no where near a program for nuclear weapons or nuclear fuel,” he said.

Over a dozen countries have helped Syria develop its nuclear program, including Belgium, Germany, Russia, China and even the United States, by way of training of scientists, he said.

“If North Korea gave them anything short of nuclear weapons, it’s of little consequence,” Cirincione said.
AFP

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September 15th, 2007, 10:40 am

 

10. Friend in America said:

Enlightened –
I agree with your summary in most respects. Very interesting.
North Korea does have a nuclear production capability and has manufactured 3 to 9 nuclear warheads. This has been the #1 international issue in east Asia for the past 5 years. North Korea agreed just this year to dismantle its program, under pressure from China, South Korea, Japan and the U.S. The U.S. was the protagonist, China was the “arm twister” – the persuader.
Those who have watched these negotiations are not surprised in the least that North Korea might secretly sell some of the equipment it is dismantling. There is a recovery of investment; there is a strong need for foreign currency. The international price for oil is depleting its foreign currency reserves.
Some questions remain:
1. Was the nuclear project in Dayr as Zawr for Syria’s defense? I think not….but maybe.
2. If not, was it to develop small radio active tubes for delivery to Hizbollah? Possible but much more information is needed to move this beyond conjecture.
3. Was it for Iran? This conjecture is worth exploring under the “if we cannot do it at home, we’ll do it in another country” theory. At this time it is the most likely expination for me.
4. Did Syria paying for this project out its own reserves? Possibly yes but very doubtful, given Syria limited financial resources.
If not, who did? This writer’s speculation is Iran and Iran is paying North Korea and maybe Syria also in oil. This maybe the secret part of last spring’s trade agreements.
5. Is the reason why Damascus is so quiet about Israeli incursion is it is very hard to explain what the dozen or so North Korean nuclear technicians were doing in Dyr az Zawr? Were they on holiday? Hardly – no one in North Korea is allowed to take a holiday because no one goes back home.

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September 15th, 2007, 12:11 pm

 

11. t_desco said:

Cooling The Clash With Iran
By David Ignatius

The spillover of U.S.-Iranian tension was evident this summer when Israeli intelligence detected signs that Syria was mobilizing its military. The Israelis put their own forces on heightened alert. They also contacted Damascus through intermediaries to warn against miscalculation.

The surprising return message from Damascus was that the Syrians feared a chain of escalation that would begin with a U.S. attack on Iran. Damascus anticipated that Iran would retaliate by ordering its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, to launch rocket attacks on Israel; the Israelis in turn would attack Syria, which provides military and political support for Hezbollah. Israeli officials are said to have concluded that Damascus’s war mobilization, while worrisome, was basically defensive.

So what are the diplomatic opportunities that might defuse this growing state of tension? I count four, and each of them would require the Bush administration to conduct more aggressive diplomacy in the Middle East:

Syria. Petraeus reckons that security assistance from Syria in recent weeks has cut the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq by nearly half. Many top U.S. military officers think the time to engage Syria is now; so do some senior Israeli officials. The Bush administration should be talking with Damascus, quietly.

Washington Post

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September 15th, 2007, 1:33 pm

 

12. t_desco said:

North Korea-Syria nuclear ties: déjà vu all over again?

Blake Hounshell, 09/14/2007

Something didn’t smell quite right in Glenn Kessler’s recent story in the Washington Post about a possible nuclear link between North Korea and Syria. It looked to me like déjà vu all over again. So I asked Joseph Cirincione, senior fellow and director for nuclear policy at the Center for American Progress, author of Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons, and a frequent FP contributor, to weigh in. Here’s his take:

“This story is nonsense. The Washington Post story should have been headlined “White House Officials Try to Push North Korea-Syria Connection.” This is a political story, not a threat story. The mainstream media seems to have learned nothing from the run-up to war in Iraq. It is a sad commentary on how selective leaks from administration officials who have repeatedly misled the press are still treated as if they were absolute truth.

Once again, this appears to be the work of a small group of officials leaking cherry-picked, unvetted “intelligence” to key reporters in order to promote a preexisting political agenda. If this sounds like the run-up to the war in Iraq, it should. This time it appears aimed at derailing the U.S.-North Korean agreement that administration hardliners think is appeasement. Some Israelis want to thwart any dialogue between the U.S. and Syria.

Few reporters appear to have done even basic investigation of the miniscule Syrian nuclear program (though this seems to be filtering into some stories running Friday). There is a reason that Syria is not included in most proliferation studies, including mine: It doesn’t amount to much. Begun almost 40 years ago, the Syrian program is a rudimentary research program built around a tiny 30-kilowatt research reactor that produces isotopes and neutrons. It is nowhere near a program for nuclear weapons or nuclear fuel. Over a dozen countries have aided the program including Belgium, Germany, Russia, China, and the United States (where several Syrian scientists trained) as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). If North Korea gave them anything short of nuclear weapons it is of little consequence. Syria does not have the financial, technical or industrial base to develop a serious nuclear program anytime in the foreseeable future.

Nor is there anything new about Syria being on the U.S. “watch list”; it has been for years. Unfortunately, this misleading story will now enter the lexicon of the far right. For months we will hear pundits citing the “Syrian-Iranian-Korean nuclear axis” and complaining that attempts to negotiate an end to North Korea’s program are bound fail in the face of such duplicity, etc., etc.

The real story is how quickly the New York Times and the Washington Post snapped up the bait and ran exactly the story the officials wanted, thereby feeding a mini-media frenzy. It appears that nothing, not even a disastrous and unnecessary war, can break this Pavlovian response to an “intelligence scoop.”

For information on the Syrian nuclear program that any reporter should have read, see the Web site of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.”

UPDATE: Washington Post diplomatic correspondent Glenn Kessler responds via e-mail:

“I think the world of Joe Cirincione. So I obviously take his concerns seriously.

All I can say in response is that I (and a number of uncredited colleagues) spent more than week knocking on doors of many agencies, seeking answers. No one tried to wave us off the story, including people who normally I thought would have tried their best to prevent us from printing it. I did note a number of caveats and explained that Syria never had much of a nuclear program. There appears to be a connection to the Israeli raid, which is now the subject of some of the tightest censorship in years. We will keep pursuing the story in hopes of providing greater clarity for our readers–and especially experts like Joe.”
FP Passport

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September 15th, 2007, 2:06 pm

 

13. why-discuss said:

It is time that the arab and iranian press start to use same tactics as the US press to carry false information based on ‘sensitive intelligence’
Israel and the neo cons have become masters of media manipulation (i. Judith Miller in NY times about the Iraq WDM etc..). I wonder why the arab press remains so naive and ‘honest’ in this jungle of manipulative information. The Iranian press is starting to change in this right direction.
A good example: why is the subject of Israel WMD getting so little arab press attention when Israel is now hinting through the press that Syria is getting nuclear weapons form North Korea?

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September 15th, 2007, 3:07 pm

 

14. offended said:

Thanks for the WP article T_Desco, but it seems to me that there is big conflict between the various media reports about the location of the Israeli Aire Strike…
According to the WP article, the location is: 1- Located on the Euphrates river. 2- Nearby the Turkish borders…
That boils down the geographical probabilities to Jarablus area (which falls in Aleppo governerate, and which is also closed to where the empty tanks has been found according to the CNN story))….
While the earlier map illustrating the trajectory of the planes showed that the locations which could have been probably hit were somewhere near Deir Al Zour area…
However, the first Syrian announcement has said the air breach has taken place somewhere near Tal Abiad…
How could we put all these pieces together? … I am inclined to think that it stinks… And I agree with Alex that the whole thing is a sham confidence booster for the Israeli public consumption….

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September 15th, 2007, 4:24 pm

 

15. Homo Sapiens said:

My two cents:

1. The US was involved in the raid, at least as a silent observer. Incirlik AFB is only 100Km from the route taken by the Israely planes.

2. According the the Sunday Times, Israel neutralized the Syrian ground AA forces. For Israel to expose this capacity, the target must have been preceived as ultra dangerous for Israel’s security, thus backing the Nuclear facility theory.

3. There was no mention of an attempt to engage the Israely planes in air battle. Odd.

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September 17th, 2007, 9:25 am

 

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