Nuclear Weapons Programs - 2008 Developments
On 24 April 2008, US officials briefed members of the US Congress on the nature of the 6 September 2007 Israeli air strike into Syria. Previously, officials questioned by Congress had repeatedly refused to confirm or deny the possibility that the target of the strike was a possible Syrian nuclear facility. In the briefing, lawmakers were given access to a wide array of intelligence materials, including reported video footage of North Korean personnel at the site. Observers suggested that the real reason for only disclosing in April 2008, the nature of the strike, the target, and North Korean involvement, was to bring increased pressure to bear on North Korea during six-party talks aimed at ending that country's nuclear program. The North Koreans were required under those negotiations to provide the IAEA with a full disclosure of their program and any assistance provided to third parties. A connection with the Syrian site would suggest that North Korean officials had not been entirely faithful in their previous disclosures.
The briefing and release of information to the press was criticized Mohamed El Baradei, head of the IAEA, on 25 April 2008. El Baradei said he deplored the US delay in providing his organization with the intelligence, and also critcized the Israeli preemptive strike which destroyed the facility before the IAEA had a chance to investigate it. Syria's envoy to the UN said that his country would fully cooperate with an IAEA investigation on the same day. Syrian authorities denied the facility had been used to house a nuclear reactor of any kind.
On 2 June 2008, the IAEA announced it was dispatching a team to investigate the al Kibar site. The team was scheduled to visit Syrian between 22 and 24 June 2008. IAEA chief El Baradei again expressed his displeasure with having been kept from the intelligence concerning the allegations and that the site was destroyed before the investigation could be conducted.On 19 March 2009 Hans Ruehle, former chief of the planning staff of the German Defense Ministry, reported in the Swiss daily Neue Zuercher Zeitung that Ali Reza Asghari, a retired general in Iran's Revolutionary Guards and a former deputy defense minister, "changed sides" in February 2007 and provided considerable information to the West on Iran's nuclear program. "The biggest surprise, however, was his assertion that Iran was financing a secret nuclear project of Syria and North Korea," Ruehle wrote. "No one in the American intelligence scene had heard anything of it. And the Israelis who were immediately informed also were completely unaware." But a US counterproliferation official denied that Iran funded the Syrian site. "There is strong reason to believe that only two countries were involved in building the Syrian covert nuclear reactor at Al Kibar - Syria and North Korea." Ruehle reported that US and Israeli intelligence had detected North Korean ship deliveries of construction supplies to Syria starting in 2002, and US satellites had imaged the construction as early as 2003. But they regarded the work as nothing unusual. Ruehle reported that Israel sent a 12-man commando unit in two helicopters to the site in August 2007 to take photographs and soil samples.
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