CIA to Brief Congress on Israel's Syria Bombing

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CIA officials are expected to tell Congress on Thursday that a site Israel bombed in the Syria desert last fall housed a nuclear reactor that was being built with the help of North Korea. Jay Solomon, who reported the information for The Wall Street Journal, talks with Robert Siegel.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

When Israeli jets bombed the mysterious facility in the Syrian Desert last fall, not much was said about exactly what was being bombed. Well, according to reports on Capitol Hill tomorrow, the CIA will brief congressional committees and will tell them that the site housed a nuclear reactor that was being built with the help of North Korea.

The briefing is expected to based largely an information passed on by the Israelis.

Jay Solomon writes about this in today's Wall Street Journal and join his now. And Jay Solomon, first of all, do we know how solid the evidence is linking North Korea with this facility?

JAY SOLOMON (Staff Reporter, The Wall Street Journal): Well, like a lot of these intelligence matters on proliferation, I think it's up to debate. I know there's been a lot skepticism about, you know, the links between the North Koreans and the Syrians, but I talked to senior people in the administration of, some of them who are very sort of pro, you know, engaging the North Korea but none of them sort of say its not, you know, substantial. The question is was it, you know, just sort of a small research reactor for nuclear energy or was there really some design to make some sort of weapon? I don't think it's a clearer answer on that yet.

SIEGEL: And it is actually clear that it was a nuclear reactor that the North Koreans were working on, not some agricultural project who just some big boxed building near the Euphrates.

Mr. SOLOMON: I mean anything's possible but I think, you know, both people in the government and out who looked at photographs, who looked at satellites photos do seem to see similarities between what the North Koreans have built in their country at the Yongbyon site and what was being developed in Syria.

SIEGEL: Now, there are two separate stories here, separate but related. One is, what would the North Koreans doing in Syria at this place that the Israelis bombed? And the other is how does this figure in U.S.-North Korean relations over North Koreas nuclear program in general? What's going on there?

Mr. SOLOMON: Well, I mean the U.S. in very intensive discussions right now with the North Koreans to try to push through this denuclearization pact as a U.S. envoy, Sung Kim(ph) up in Pyongyang right now. And basically, they're trying to get a declaration from the North Koreans of all the nuclear activities they have done. Basically, to sort of get them out there, say, we want to verify some - the infrastructure and assets you have inside North Koreans and learn what countries you've been assisting. And this intelligence surrounding Syrians and the North Koreans is an important element and that their elements in Washington who are sort of hostile or very skeptical that the North Koreans can be trusted to implement - a non-proliferation deal, who sort of fixated on the Syria quest and there's a way to undermine the process.

SIEGEL: Jay Solomon, I've heard from other reporters who are worked on this story from back in September when the Israelis struck the site in Syria. And they were struck by the extraordinary secrecy about this. How few people were saying anything about why the Israelis had attacked this Syrian target? Why the Syrians seem to make remarkably little of an attack on their soil? Do you understand it all the extraordinary lack of comment about this very unusual attack?

Mr. SOLOMON: I think, you know, if you look at some this report today about the potential progress on the Syrian-Israeli peace track. I think, you know, the Israelis saw a threat and they, you know, they're focused on Iran too. They wanted to show that they can, if there's a proliferation threat to them, they can deal with it. But at the same time, I think the silence, the unwillingness to go public was a result of this fear of antagonizing Syria. There was still many quarters in Israel who believe that a peace deal with Syria, you know, a way to end the dispute of the Golan Heights region is possible. I think from the Syrian side, A, you know, they're probably embarrassed that their defenses were sort of penetrated like that. They didn't want to go public about it. And, you know, the comments they were making were sort of contradictory at the time. So, I think maybe from both of their interests - both the Syrians and the Israelis. It made sense just to be quiet about it.

SIEGEL: Jay Solomon, thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. SOLOMON: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's Jay Solomon, reporter with the Wall Street Journal.

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