Nuclear Allegations Seemingly Hot Air

It would seem that the allegations that Syria is attempting to set up some sort of nuclear weapons program is buncombe. So says Joseph Cirincione in the Foreign Policy, below. But what other evidence is their that Bolton is shooting from the hip.

1. Bolton accused Syria of hiding Iraq's nuclear program even after the other spinners had given up on this claim.

2. Cyprus stopped a ship on its way from North Korea to Syria believing that it would contain evidence of nuclear cooperation, but the ship was carrying perfectly legal defensive missiles that Syria could use to protect itself from foreign attack.

3. Bolton accused Syria of buying nuclear technology from Pakistan through the Khan network. Baradei disproved this allegation and claimed it was nonsense.

4. Now Bolton is claiming Syria is importing nuclear technology again. His track record would suggest he is blowing hot air again.

Perhaps this raid was really about Lebanon after all, as some S.C. readers have suggested. A shot across the bow before the presidential elections. The US wants a pro-America president to be elected, which cannot happen unless the Lebanese opposition give up all the claims of increased representation. It is very unlikely they will do this. Syria probably does not have the power to pressure them to do this. Nevertheless, Washington is acting as if it believes that Damascus can order them to allow for a pro-US president.

Here are the remarks by Cirincione:

North Korea-Syria nuclear ties: déjà vu all over again?
Foreign Policy – Passport (Thanks to t-desco)
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

Greenspan in his new book even goes as far as blasting Bush's war on Iraq, saying: "I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil."

Comments (13)

Alex said:

This strike was a favor the Israelis did for their American adminisration friends who are very serious about not losing their achievements in Lebanon. Syria can supposedly be dettered from making a move on Lebanon if the Israelis strike and if Bolton give daily interviews about Syria’s nuclear weapons … basically the American adinistration is telling Bashar: if you think we are leaving very soon, we can still make the next year a very painful and long year for you if you don’t help us in Lebanon.

An he needs to help them, and not only stay out of it.

But Michel Aoun does not take orders from Bashar and he is promising that if things do not go his way, there will be many surprises for the M14 group (America’s men). Hizbollah is taking a very low key approach in Lebanon these days, it is Michel Aoun who is the main opposition fighter… it is not too easy to link things to Syria if Aoun, and not Hizbollah, is the leader of the resistance this month leading to the selection of Lebanon’s next president.

I can imagine how it might have started. Mr. Bolton and friends sent an envoy to Jerusalem to explore the possibiity that those Koreans who are allegedly (according the Israeli intelligence reports) in Syria might be nuclear weapons scientists. The Israelis are advised that it is in their best interest to deal with it promptly. The Israelis understand that the Americans need this favor, plus some in Israel do not mind hitting Syria for more than one reason … This idea was sold to the Israeli cabinet with its diverse members through more thatn one type of argument:

1) To Barak it is an easy “success” to his credit as new defense minister, compared to his weak predecessor.

2) To other politicians, it is an insurance against any possibility, even if it is slim, that in the future someone will find out that Syria actually has an advanced nuclear weapons program and there will be an Israeli inquiry that finds out that Bolton urged them to strike Syria at the time, but they (the cabinet ministers) voted against it. No one wants to take such chance even if they are almost convinced the nuclear risk from Syria is almost non exsistent.

3) For those who have advocated peace talks with Syria in the past (like Avi Dichter) the calculated escalation wth Syria along with information that Syria might be developing nuclear weapons (which will most probably not lead to war) can potentially achieve another objective … to make half the Israeli public who are not interesrted in giving back the Golan Heights to Syria more worried about the seriousness of the Syrian threat. They would take the possibility of war with Syria more seriously and that could potentially tip the scale for some of them in favor of giving back the Golan to avoid war with Syria.

Also, it is a safe way of re-estabishing some confidence in the IDF without another invasion of ebanon or a full war with Syria … and the Syrians can understand it … messages could be sent to them throught he Turkish government to let them know that the strike was mostly to satisfy the haws in Israel and in Washington without having to do anything more damaging (launch war).

4) and for the hawks … it is the classic joy of using their air force which is superior to anything on the enemy side… Imediate gratification … any excuse to go for it will be good enough for them … they’ll approve it anytime.

So, even tough most of the Israeli cabinet members probably did not think there is a real new danger from Syria, they had a good enough reason to approve it

September 15th, 2007, 6:01 pm


Alex said:

And for those of you who did not notice, Ambassador Imad Moustapha does not seem to be worried, or even overly occupied with work, this week.

Usually he adds one new post to his excellent blog every month. This week alone he added THREE POSTS! … one of them was his book review of the latest novel he just finished reading … and a rather boring novel it seems.”

We are taking this event too seriously : )

September 15th, 2007, 6:39 pm


Offended said:

Excellent analysis Alex, btw have you read Tony Badran’s BS on the same subject?

September 15th, 2007, 6:43 pm


Alex said:

Thanks Offended,

I stopped reading Tony’s opinions a year ago. Anything 100% predictable, such as Tony’s opinions, has no value.

September 15th, 2007, 9:43 pm


G said:

Or maybe because he called you out for the twit that you are:

(Side joke: One pathetically hilarious Imad Moustapha poodle tried to “prove” how my reading of Bashar’s invitation to the Riyadh summit in March was “clearly wrong” by posting pictures of Arab leaders alongside Bashar! Clearly, that was airtight proof that the Saudis had buried the hatchet with Bashar! Yes, that clearly shows deep understanding of ME politics!)

That sounds like you:

Alex said:

Tony 7abibi,

So you said that at eh Arab summit the Saudis kept Bashar on a very short political leash? .. wait let’s look at the pictures at the summit:

You mean like here with Mubarak? or like with the Palestinian president?

You are right Tony! … Bashar was not allowed to move anywhere alone .. he always had another major Arab “moderate” leader holding him from his arms.

And on your blog you mentioned that you forgot to make your best possible argument which is that in the past those who wanted to engage with Syria learned their lesson that it is useless …right? You mentioned as an example Amr Moussa … amazing how he was also keeping Bashar on a short political leash at the summit.

April 17th, 2007, 8:09 am

Yep, anything that stupid has to be from you. And to paraphrase you, anything this stupid has no value.

September 15th, 2007, 10:15 pm


ausamaa said:

Having now ensured that No YELLOW Gases nor Heavy Water or touring Hizbullah weapons shipments were “hit” in Dair Al Zour, then maybe we can finally move on to other “relevant” things.

Lebanon’s New TV just reported that Syria has formed a “Lebanon” working-group (or crisis-cell) consisting of Shara’, Miqdad, Naseef and Bakhtiar (all are names that have a nice ring to the ears of the Feb 14 crowd & Co.) after all other initiatives and intense activities have hit a stonewall, starting from Berri’s offer to the French “expedition” to the Vatican “consultations” to the Saudie “itch” to Feltman’s “loss-of-pull”…

What could that mean?

Syria saying: Ok, we may now try to help “you” solve “your” Lebanese crisis as you all could not do it on your own? Or is Syria saying: Move over guys, time you left the Lebanese field to the ones who know it best. We are coming back in diplomatically before all things there “really” fall apart (as they obviously seem heading that way)! We gave you your chance and you could not get your act together.

And I like that Aoun, Whahab and Karami taking the lead bit. Sounds just like the old days in a way. Did anyone expect it to be otherwise?

September 15th, 2007, 10:24 pm


Nur al-Cubicle said:

Kessler is a lying SOB

September 16th, 2007, 1:01 am


Alex said:


I am flattered that you are keeping track of my April 2007 comments.

This was a silly reply to Tony’s hilarious comment that they “kept Bashar on a very short political leash”. It was my attempt to be half as funny as he was.

Since you went back to April 2007, I am sure you got to read all the other, serious, comments the past few months where I always insisted that relations with the Saudis are terrible and that Saudi Arabia is often causing Syria more damage than any other “enemy”

Remember Saudis and Syrians? .. or maybe Three’s a crowd?

And since you are again getting into your rude mode of communicating, this is your last warning to go brush your teeth and clean your mouth. Otherwise, your next insult(s) will all go to SPAM.

Then maybe you can come back under another name .. “Tony Badran” for example… since you are as good as he is in researching old comments and statements from those you don’t like.

September 16th, 2007, 1:08 am


G said:

That you saw this as flattery only speaks to your superior “intelligence.”

It’s very simple my dear. Badran’s post linked to his appearance on Kojo’s show with Landis. He didn’t provide a link to who the “Imad Moustapha poodle” was. I assumed it was Landis, so I checked Landis’ post on this and saw your comment and figured it was a reference to you, not Landis as I had first thought.

Your answer now trying to cover your “intelligence” (see? I brushed my teeth. Now I’ll call you “intelligent” and you’re “intelligent” enough to know what that means) only adds humor to the whole thing.

You understand nothing and you can’t even admit it.

September 16th, 2007, 1:40 am


Nur al-Cubicle said:

I can’t believe it’s the same stinky stovepipe, with the Goofy School of Reporting graduates replacing journalists. “Garsh, Micky, I knocked on a buncha doors just like ya told me to!” Even the Smurfs turn out better reporters.

Nookyoular Syria is scavenged from the garbage heap. Do not insult the noble cherry. That revolting liar of a John Bolton, that shameless strumpet. I don’t care if he does have a mustache. What kind of place is Yale, anyway? It is a national shame as it “edumacates” the very worst of the US so-called elite. Bolton is as uneducated as they come.

September 16th, 2007, 2:09 am


Alex said:

Alright “G”

We’ll ignore the fact that your first comment was that I got it wrong about Saudi Syrian relations.

And don’t worry, I was joking about being flattered by anything coming from you.

September 16th, 2007, 2:17 am


Solomon2 said:

Kessler is a lying SOB

I don’t think so. Certainly he has, or has had, sources in the CIA. He had official, on-the-record sources to write his books about them.

However, that doesn’t always mean those sources, even if truthful, portray an accurate picture, rather than a self-interested one. It should be GK’s job to try to sort that out, but that isn’t always possible, at least not right away.

For example, Kessler wrote a post-9/11 book that positively glowed about the role of the CIA director Tenet in the War on Terror; it seemed obvious that Tenet himself was one of Kessler’s sources. Later, the 9-11 commission put much of the blame for intelligence failure on Tenet and he resigned.

Kessler’s info was too limited for him to make the evaluation the 9-11 commission did. Should he have withheld printing his book for that reason? I don’t think so.

September 16th, 2007, 3:23 am


fugitive peace said:

[…] Thus, the Sunday Times cites Bolton saying that “I’ve been worried for some time about North Korea and Iran outsourcing their nuclear programmes,” but Newsweek gets him to admit that he “never saw proof North Korea was sharing nuclear technology with Syria.” Joshua Landis, who has also clipped several other useful pieces on this issue, lists reasons to think that Bolton is “shooting from the hip”, and Blake Hounshell at Foreign Policy’s blog argues that 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. […]

September 16th, 2007, 10:38 am


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