Posted by Joshua on Friday, April 25th, 2008
On the surface, the CIA evidence that Syria was building a Yongbyon-type nuclear facility is compelling. There are some writers who seem less convinced, such as Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com who expresses his "Skepticism toward Bush claims about Syria and North Korea." He writes: "After flamboyantly announcing that they had actual video of North Korean nuclear scientists inside the Syrian building, it turned out that the "video" was merely a compilation of rather unrevealing still photographs patched together, in Colin-Powell-at-the-UN fashion, with ominous narration making accusations with a level of certainty completely unmatched by the "evidence" itself.
Most skeptics argued that we cannot trust the CIA any longer and the photos could be cobbled together to suggest Syrian guilt. I have no way to judge this, but Syria could certainly have done more to back up Ambassador Imad Moustapha who has been left alone to deny photographic evidence. The Syrian government could at the very least supply a few photos of its own, suggesting that what it called a military warehouse was, in fact, just that. It has not chosen to do that for reasons it has not explained.
The second criticism of the CIA's effort was to argue that Washington should not be encouraging Israel to launch bombing raids without first going through legal channels, international agencies, and peaceful alternatives. Shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later policies are sure to undermine US legitimacy in the eyes of the international community. They will do nothing to dispel Arab anger at US and Israeli arrogance. On the contrary, the propensity to use force as a first option will convince others to do the same.
Watch the video of the CIA presentation to the congressional committees. Washington Post
US Syria claims raise wider doubts
By Jonathan Marcus
More than half a year after the Israeli air strike that destroyed the alleged nuclear reactor under construction in Syria, Washington's release of what it says are still images of the facility before the raid amounts to the diplomatic equivalent of throwing a very large rock into a deep pool.
[landis: it should be noted that in the photo copied below, the Syrian side of this pair of photos has been colored red by a US technician in order to make the viewer see a greater similarity between what are being called the refueling ports in each shot.
The ramifications could be considerable, both for the Middle East and for the future of North Korea's own nuclear weapons programme. Further distrust has been sown between the United States and the UN's nuclear watchdog – the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). And even on Capitol Hill Democrat lawmakers are angry that the administration apparently sat on this evidence for some considerable time.
Shades of Iraq?
Briefings about alleged weapons of mass destruction programmes have a lot to live down in the wake of the US experience in Iraq.
Everyone remembers the time in February 2003 when then US Secretary of State Colin Powell went to the United Nations armed with tape-recordings and images to make the case about Iraq's weapons activities.
The briefing – seemingly the best that the combined US intelligence agencies could come up with – turned out to be misleading to say the least. Subsequently, no weapons were found.
Perhaps mindful of the mistakes of the past, the ten-minute video released by the Bush administration in an effort to prove the Syria-North Korea connection is less ambitious and more focused.
It uses still images which, it is claimed, were taken inside the facility during its construction. There is of course no independent way to verify this.
But an initial analysis suggests that the pictures show a gas-cooled graphite moderated reactor of a very similar type to the North Korean model at Yongbyon.
At face value at least, the US evidence is compelling.
But the revelations raise as many questions as they answer.
SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
6 Sept 2007: Israel bombs site in Syria
1 Oct: Syria's President Assad tells BBC site was military
24 Oct: New satellite images taken show site bulldozed clear
24 April 2008: US claims Syrian site was nuclear reactor
What was this reactor for? There are no signs of the ancillary facilities needed if it was for power-generation.
But then, equally, there are no signs of the other elements of a bomb-making programme either – a plant to separate out the plutonium and a factory to actually assemble a weapon.
If, as the Americans say, the reactor was close to completion, where would its uranium fuel have come from?
But beyond the practical and technical questions the most pressing uncertainties are political and diplomatic.
Above all, why did the US go public now? And was this an effort to further isolate Syria or to bring additional pressure on North Korea?
The underscoring of an alleged nuclear link between Pyongyang and Damascus certainly harms both governments.
For all the talk of renewed conflict between Israel and Syria, there has also been a good deal of talk about a possible deal over the Golan Heights as well.
The signals have been complex and contradictory. But highlighting a clandestine Syrian nuclear programme now might serve to reinforce Syria's isolation.
Without US brokerage, any talk of a Syria-Israel deal is illusory.
Some analysts believe that the decision to go public on the evidence of the Syrian reactor project may be the culmination of the playing out of competing currents within the Bush Administration.
In this scenario it is a victory of the more hawkish voices, who fear that President Bush might be going soft as his term of office draws to a close. In their view, the Americans should not accept any dealings with Syria, nor should it make the concessions required to North Korea to keep alive the deal to roll back its nuclear programme.
Such arguments appear strongest with regard to North Korea. It is clear that conservative voices both inside and outside the Bush administration see the proposed agreement with North Korea as fatally flawed.
More liberal arms control experts also hold that view. "It stinks," one told me, "but perhaps the US should hold its nose in the hope of keeping the negotiating track open".
So were the intelligence revelations intended to anger Pyongyang to damage any chance of a deal?
Or was this a clearing of the air ahead of further progress? Interestingly, the chief US negotiator, Christopher Hill, has now noted that in the US view, nuclear co-operation between North Korea and Syria is no longer continuing.
During the coming weeks it will be interesting to see how things unfold. Will Syria-Israel tensions be stoked up? Will Pyongyang walk away from the negotiating table or offer up the long-delayed description of its nuclear activities?
…A statement from the IAEA says that Dr ElBaradei "deplores the fact that this information was not provided to the agency in a timely manner". It is now going to investigate further.
But with the site of the alleged reactor razed, a new building constructed over it – and the Syrians unlikely to provide access – it is hard to see how far the IAEA's investigations can go. [BBC]
The head of the UN nuclear monitoring agency has criticised the US for withholding intelligence information that it says showed the construction of a nuclear reactor in Syria.
Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), on Friday also hit out at Israel for bombing the site before inspectors could investigate. ElBaradei deplores the fact that the information was not immediately passed on to the Vienna-based watchdog in accordance with the guidelines of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the IAEA said in a statement.
The question regarding Syria, North Korea, Iran and (at least retrospectively) Iraq is this: What to do?
William Arkin of the Washington Post
Yesterday the Bush administration made the claim that Syria was "within weeks or months" of completion of a nuclear reactor — which of course is not nuclear weapon. Part of the problem here is the exaggeration that goes into describing (and understanding) a nuclear weapons program. Even if Syria managed to complete a plutonium production reactor, and then managed to operate it for the months would be needed to manufacture the materials it needed, and then managed to machine that plutonium, and then design and fabricate a nuclear weapon, many months if not years would go by. Such a program would be detected, proven and probably thwarted by the international community.
In other words, to bomb a single unfinished possible reactor last September was a panicked and flawed response. It did not further the ultimate goal of non-proliferation. In the war of persuasion, in the international battle to improve the rule of law, the actual goal is undermined, for the "illegality" of Syria developing nuclear weapons in the first place is based upon law, actual or societally accepted. Turning to preemption and just taking the law into one's own hands achieves nothing.
Under the NPT, the agency has a responsibility to verify any proliferation allegations in a non-nuclear weapon state party to the NPT," the agency said.
Embassy of the Syrian Arab Republic
April 24, 2008 Press Release
The government of The Syrian Arab Republic regrets and denounces the campaign of false allegations that the current United States administration continually launches against Syria claiming the presence of nuclear activity. And while Syria utterly denies these allegations, it also stresses that this campaign aims primarily to misguide the US Congress and international public opinion in order to justify the Israeli raid in September of 2007, which the current US administration may have helped execute. It has become obvious that this maneuver on the part of this administration comes within the framework of the North Korean nuclear negotiations.
Syria calls on the US to act responsibly and desist from creating further crises in the Middle East, which already suffers from the results and repercussions of failed American policies in the region. Furthermore, the Syrian government hopes that the international community and the American public, particularly, will be more cautious and aware this time around in facing such unfounded allegations.
Bashar Al Assad: "Ardogan did relay Olmert's readiness to return the Golan." In the Qatari, Al Watan, here (Thanks FLC)
Assad said that Ankara had been mediating between Israel and Syria since April 2007, according to Zaman. In Ankara, Turkish officials neither denied nor confirmed the report.