It’s Not About Nukes: Stopping Missile Tranfer from N. Korea to Syria

The Israeli strike on Syria has become all about stopping missile technology transfer from North Korea to Syria and Iran.

Jay Solomon in today's article, North Korea Pact Could Hinge on Syria (copied below), has not come up with much to counter Seymour Hersh's latest New Yorker article: A Strike in the Dark, which argues that there is no evidence for Syria developing nuclear weapons, despite considerable bluster and Israel's strike on a Euphrates installation September last. Solomon, who is usually excellent, has to recycle three month old quotes on Syria, making them sound new.Bolton

[Addendum (later in the day): Jay Solomon pointed out to me that my criticism is "lame" because the point of his article is not to counter Hersh, who he doesn't mention, but to explain how the six-party talks are stalled because of the Syria connection. I apologize and thank Jay for setting me straight.]

Hersh argues that Syria is pushing ahead with better missile technology, rather than going nuclear, something it knows perfectly well will excite Israeli bombing raids.

What Solomon does add of value is that the US-led six-country negotiating process with North Korea is stalling over the issue of exports to Syria. American hawks want Korea to fess up to all cooperation with Syria, especially cooperation on missiles.

Something that Solomon doesn't explain is whether North Korea is obliged to divulge regular military cooperation as well as nuclear cooperation. Is Korea under any obligation to describe its latest missile technology transfers to Syria? I cannot see why it would be. Sharing missile technology is not banned or regulated by UN agreements.

If Hersh is right and N. Korean cooperation with Syria is limited to missile technology then there is little that the US can do to stop it. What it can do is stall talks with N. Korea on the pretext that N. Korea is exporting nuclear technology to Syria, but really insist that all military cooperation cease, including the transfer of missile technolgy. This is what hawks want and what John Bolton has said explicity.

John Bolton has argued that the spread of advanced missile technology to Syria and Iran is every bit as dangerous as are nuclear advances. He has saught to link these two technologies and issues and insists that it doesn't matter whether Korea is helping with missiles or nukes; it should not be taken off the terrorist list. In his original WSJ article of Aug. 31, "Axis of Evil: Pyongyang's Upper Hand," Bolton wrote: 

President Bush has stressed that we must also deal with Pyongyang's biological, chemical and ballistic missile programs. We must address these programs, especially the missiles, soon. Failure to make explicit the important connection between weapons and delivery systems will certainly come back to haunt us, and we are on the verge of allowing this point to slip away entirely.

In Syria Joins the Axis of Evil, on Sept 24, he writes:

Even if we "only" have evidence of continued North Korean ballistic missile cooperation with Syria, that alone should keep the North on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. Syria — and its senior partner, Iran — are both long-time denizens of that same list of state sponsors of terrorism. Can we really delist North Korea when it partners with other terrorist states in the most destructive technologies?

Bolton adds in this interview:

Neither American nor Israeli officials are saying whether the target was a nuclear or missile facility and many don't know, Bolton said.

The former State Department official and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said he did not object to the Beijing talks, which are designed to disable North Korea's nuclear program. At a session last February, North Korea agreed to shut down its main nuclear facility and eventually disable its programs in exchange for aid equivalent to 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil.

Bolton said it would be wrong, however, to remove North Korea from the U.S. list of countries that support terror and therefore are ineligible for various benefits.

"If they are cooperating with either Syria or Iran, such as on ballistic missile stuff, they should stay on (the list) with Syria and Iran," he said.

"If you are supporting terrorist regimes, you are a state supporter of terror," he said.

In all likelihood, Washington and Israeli hawks have used the nuclear issue to go after Syrian missile development. Most importantly, it is being used as a pretext to stop Korean missile technology transfers to Syria and Iran. 

Syria understands that Israel and the US are on a fishing expidition. They also understand that they cannot allow UN inspectors into the country to reveal missile developments or N. Korean assistance. Such intelligence will give Washington hawks amunition to stop talks with North Korea.

Also see this haaretz article: Syria upgrades missiles thanks to Iranian support

Syria has successfully developed a new surface-to-surface missile that would enable it to target Israeli installations such as airports, ports and factories with greater accuracy, according to briefings recently presented to senior ministers…. there is a discernible effort on the part of Syria to improve its missile arsenal – both in terms of range and accuracy.

North Korea Pact Could Hinge on Syria
February 8, 2008; Page A5
Wall Street Journal

North Korea missed a Dec. 31 deadline to fully declare the extent of its nuclear activities, as called for under a six-country negotiating process. But U.S. negotiators are voicing guarded confidence that they will eventually gain disclosure from Pyongyang on two key elements of its nuclear program: the number of atomic weapons and North Korea's believed attempt to develop a uranium-enrichment capacity to produce nuclear fuel.

It is the issue of North Korea's believed assistance to third countries, particularly Syria, where U.S. officials say there remains significant distance between Washington and Pyongyang. North Korea continues to deny it has given any nuclear assistance to Syrian President Bashar Assad's government, though it hasn't denied conventional military support. And the international community itself remains divided over what they believe was the full extent of Pyongyang's military assistance to Damascus in recent years.

"The Syria issue is where we really need to push," said a U.S. official involved in the six-party negotiations, which also include Russia, China, Japan and South Korea. "It's the one where we haven't made any headway."

Media disclosure of an Israeli missile strike inside Syria last September brought to international attention the issue of North Korea's possible nuclear assistance to Damascus. The Israeli government declined to comment on its raid along Syria's Euphrates River, and Damascus has denied it has been attempting to develop a nuclear capacity, either for civilian or military use. But a number of U.S. and European officials familiar with the intelligence have said in recent weeks that they believe Israel destroyed a nascent nuclear reactor Syria was developing in cooperation with North Korea.

These officials said spy satellites detected North Korean workers regularly appearing at the Euphrates site. And photographs taken of the facility showed its dimensions and structure bore numerous similarities to the Yongbyon nuclear reactor North Korea is currently disabling as part of its disarmament agreement with the U.S. Satellite photos also showed Syrian bulldozers had cleared the site days after the Israeli strike, a sign to some counterproliferation experts that Damascus was attempting to cover up its activities. A senior European diplomat working on Middle East issues said Western governments, after reviewing intelligence on the Israeli strike, have reached "some sort of common ground…that there seems to have been cooperation between Syria and North Korea" on nuclear development.

Still, seeking to clarify the extent of North Korea's activities inside Syria remains a major obstacle for the U.S. and other countries attempting to finalize the nuclear agreement with Pyongyang, say U.S. officials. Neither Syria nor Israel has been willing to provide information to inspectors from the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, about the activities of the site the Israelis destroyed. And, even inside the U.S. government, intelligence information concerning the Israeli action has been tightly controlled by just a few senior officials.

The result is that there remains a lack of consensus among the five nations negotiating with North Korea over what exactly Pyongyang is supposed to divulge. "Some actors believe that what's been disclosed [about Syria] is serious and it's nuclear. But it's not universally accepted," said the official close to the six-party talks.

Comments (6)

Observer said:

Finally some serious news. The Syrian Iranian alliance is deep and it will take a lot before Syria is wooed away from Tehran. Slowly, all Arab regimes are becoming satellites of more mature and strategically advanced countries namely Turkey and Iran and to a lesser extent Russia. The US has abandoned its ideologically driven policy and now has a pragmatic one. Gates and Rice convinced the GCC countries that yes Iran did benefit from toppling Saddam and the Taliban but what are you going to do about it without our presence in the area and the GCC seem to have opted to accomodate both sides and play them against each other. Turkey’s Justice and Progress Party is advancing liberal measures under the pretext of wanting to join the EU to thwart any move by the military as they slowly dismantle the legacy of Ataturk. They are attracting $20 billion a year for the EU in investments and they are opening up to all of their neighbours realizing that they their strategic position is even more important after the end of the cold war as it serves multiple interests and powers rather than the single US USSR axis. The EU is doing its utmost to help the AKP to succeed as they are looking to modernize Islam through a tangible example. The Islamists are still interested in Islamization of modernity however. CNN reporting on the Islamization of Basra is interesting. Without falling into the moralisitc and oreintalist rethoric that hampered the West’s relations with the rest of the world, what we are seeing now is the second wind of the Islamic revolution in Iran sweeping the area. Today, the WSJ published the results of a survey in the Palestinian Authority areas showing the rise of Hamas at the expense of Fatah and the erosion of support for Abbas as Hamas is consolidating its gains in Gaza and exporting the success into the West Bank.
Here is the link to the CNN story

Guarded Predictions
The civil war in Iraq will flare anew and this time this second round will make the first one look like a picnic

The Force Status Agreement will be signed by the Maliki goverment without the Iraqi parliament or the US congress as he is more and more ruling like an autocrat

The crisis in Lebanon will fester for a few more months until all are sure that the lame duck president is truly lame then an election will proceed.

Possible suprises

Elections in Iran will lead to a new regime that will give the Iranians breathing space as the West will wait to see what kind of leadership emerges

Neo cons will use a pretext to launch a war in the Gulf insuring that the next administration is saddeled with this problem and that the flight of capital will go to shore up the credit crunch of the financial system

Darfur will disappear from the news until the Olympics are over

Kosovo and the missile shield may result in Russia leaving the Western entente regarding Iran and N Korea

February 8th, 2008, 7:24 pm


Friend in America said:

Only the military and intelligence departments in Syria and Israel, and probably U.S., know what was in that building The truth will not be revealed for years. Until then this writer will stick with the nuclear premise. Improved missiles is not sufficient for an air strike of such high risk. We need answers to the cement story, to the soil samples, the history of the construction and an explanation of why a pumping station was constructed at the river with a pipeline running up to the building, or a full explanation from Pongyang.
It will be very difficult for North Korea to make a full and honest disclosure about its military dealings with Syria. The resistance is coming from the military and the military was the roadblock to dismantling its nuclear program.
Seymour Hersh wrote that article because he could not crack the intelligence barrier. I suspect he told his sources that if the classified information was not disclosed to him, he would write an article promoting the missile theory (in an effort to force a disclosure). No government was intimidated. I am not impressed with Hersh; he is inaccurate too often to be taken as authoritative.
John Bolton holds no governmental position; he speaks as a citizen. But because of his connections we can interpret his comments as a “rebuttal” to views held by some in the administration.

February 8th, 2008, 10:58 pm


ausamaa said:

OK, Sy Herch is not an accurate source of information, and Syria was manufacturing Nukes and God knows what!

But why are the supposedly well-informed US Agencis and the Israelies acting like a virgin maidans and keeping their lips sealed on what happened there? Niether is known for their tactfulness nor for their patience in assessing the information they come across or manufacure.

It was a desperate act of Bravado by the humilated IDF to regain self-esteem and to make it look as if Israel can still be counted upon to “act” instead of being “acted uopn”. The current US Admin in turn needs all the eciting diversions that can come its way so that it does not look as the ” paper tiger” as Dubbya said a week ago. At the very reasonably justified best analysis, it was an attempt to test the operational readiness of the Syrian Air Deffence Command. And I guess, it just back-fired, whichever way one looks at it.

But, we can beat that issue to death if we like!

February 9th, 2008, 8:53 am


AmericanGuy said:

Shades of the Iraq runup–here’s to ‘faith-based intelligence!’

As i’ve stated before, people can try to diss Sy Hersh all they want, however, the fact remains that the purported ‘Israeli intelligence’ has not been vetted by the official US intelligence agencies–Stephen Hadley has been withholding it, presumably on Cheney’s orders. If there were indeed something to this story, then one would think that Cheney’s office wouldn’t be afraid to have it vetted.

Hadley Blocked Access to Syria Photos

Obviously, the level of this ‘intelligence’ is about on par with the Niger Yellowcake intel from the Iraq war–which is why the Cheney cabal is afraid to have ‘real’ US intelligence look at it!

Also, I have to question why so much space is being given to John Bolton, who is thoroughly discredited, to the point of being run out of the US government. People who want to lionize him and put down Sy Hersh need to look at history–Hersh has been proven right on his past reportage, and Bolton has been proven wrong on so many issues, so where does the real credibility lie?

February 9th, 2008, 5:45 pm


Terminus said:

Syria has successfully developed a new surface-to-surface missile that would enable it to target Israeli installations such as airports, ports and factories with greater accuracy, according to briefings recently presented to senior ministers…. there is a discernible effort on the part of Syria to improve its missile arsenal – both in terms of range and accuracy.

Pity. I guess in the not-too-distant-future Israel wont be able to launch unprovoked pre-emptive strikes against other nations just because it feels like it. That is a GOOD Thing(tm).

It is NOT the place of the US or Israel to make the world safe for their respective unprovoked aggressions against countries that have every legitimate right to full 100% self defense and the tools for that self defense.

February 9th, 2008, 8:35 pm


Nafdik said:

It seems Intrade is testing a new section about Syrian politics:

Enjoy 🙂

February 12th, 2008, 9:04 pm


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