US accuses Syria of having a secret nuclear programme

April 25th, 2008 - 9:54 am ICT by admin  

Washington, April 25 (DPA) The US has said that Syria had a secret nuclear reactor, which was destroyed last year by an Israeli air raid, and it “was not intended for peaceful purposes”. “We are convinced, based on a variety of information, that North Korea assisted Syria’s covert nuclear activities,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in a statement Thursday.

Syria broke international agreements by hiding the reactor from the UN nuclear watchdog, known as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and sought to cover up the plutonium producing facility after Israeli warplanes struck it Sep 6, Perino said.

“This cover-up only served to reinforce our confidence that this reactor was not intended for peaceful activities,” Perino said, adding that the facility located in Syria’s eastern desert was not configured for peaceful purposes.

The White House released the statement after US intelligence officials briefed members of Congress on the evidence of Syria’s nuclear work and North Korea’s proliferating role. The statement marked the first time the Bush administration has publicly revealed its suspicions about the site.

Six Senate and House committees received evidence “that outlines a very compelling case to show that there was in fact a Syrian effort with North Korean assistance to build a covert nuclear reactor,” a US official said on the condition of anonymity.

The facility was not yet operational but “there were clear indications that that would happen at some point,” the official added.

The Syrian ambassador to Washington, Imad Moustapha, appeared on CNN shortly after the White House statement to denounce it and questioned the veracity of US intelligence following the false claims that Saddam Hussein’s regime had weapons of mass destruction.

“I hope the American citizens … would not be as gullible this time as they were prior to the war in Iraq,” Moustapha said.

Moustapha said the site hit by Israel was an unused military building that was left unguarded and called the allegations “silly” and “ridiculous”.

“There was nobody at that site. It was a vacant military building. No security guards. No barbed wires. No anti-aircraft missiles,” he said.

Perino said the US was briefing the IAEA on the intelligence and called on Damascus to “come clean before the world regarding its illicit nuclear activities”.

Syria’s support for terrorism and meddling in Lebanon coupled with its nuclear ambitions raised the threat to international security, Perino said.

“The construction of this reactor was a dangerous and potentially destabilizing development for the region and the world,” she said.

“This is particularly true because it was done covertly and in violation of the very procedures designed to reassure the world of the peaceful intent of nuclear activities,” Perino added.

Moustapha said the US should invade Israel because the Jewish state is the only country in the region with nuclear weapons. Israel has never acknowledged that it has nuclear weapons, but it is widely believed to possess about 200 bombs.

Perino said the US will continue to pressure North Korea to end nuclear proliferation under the disarmament agreement reached in six-nation talks in February 2007.

The Bush administration wants North Korea to acknowledge US concerns about the Syria connection in a declaration Pyongyang must produce under the agreement detailing all of its nuclear activities. North Korea claims it did so in November, but Washington believes the disclose was incomplete because it did not address Syria or US suspicions North Korea had enriched uranium in addition to producing plutonium.

The White House did not confirm a Washington Post report that among the evidence is a video that shows North Koreans present at the Syrian facility.

“We have long been seriously concerned about North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme and its proliferation activities,” Perino said. “North Korea’s clandestine nuclear cooperation with Syria is a dangerous manifestation of those activities.”

The US would work within the six-nation talks that also include China, Japan, Russia and South Korea to ensure that a “rigorous verification mechanism” is in place to test the reliability of Pyongyang declaration once it has been submitted, she said.

Under the agreement, North Korea was to provide the document by the end of December and the issue has stalled the six-nation negotiations.

The US has pledged to take steps to remove North Korea from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism and ease sanctions in return for the declaration.

The CIA presented the evidence to the House and Senate intelligence, military and foreign relations committees.

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