Congress to Review Possible Syria Nukes

A reported reactor in Syria modeled after North Korea's main nuclear facility was destroyed before it became operational, but pictures will be shown Thursday to the House and Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees.

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Overlooking historic Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, live from the NPR Studios, this is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. News, information, lowest approval ratings ever. Not us, of course. I'm Rachel Martin.

MIKE PESCA, host:

And I'm Mike Pesca. It's Thursday, April 24th, 2008. I think to have the lowest approval ratings, you have to have ratings. So, I'm not sure. But you know what's going on today?

MARTIN: What?

PESCA: Bring-your-sons-and-daughters-to-work day. And you know what I have?

MARTIN: Where's yours? Is your son in your pocket?

PESCA: I have a little one-year-old baby who's coming in later.

MARTIN: He is?

PESCA: Yeah.

MARTIN: Milo.

PESCA: Yeah. For him, it's not bring-your-son-to-work day. It's bring him to this big place with huge people sitting in weird cubicles that he doesn't understand. That's good.

MARTIN: What's he going to do?

PESCA: You know, some light filing. Maybe this ENPS system needs an overhaul. That's our new system, automated computerized new system. He's good with more the, you know, DOS-type programming, C++, the basic stuff.

MARTIN: Real basic.

PESCA: Yeah.

MARTIN: OK, good. Well, I'm excited about that. Some people don't like it. Some people say, you know, the children, they distract us from our important jobs.

PESCA: Right, the children are the future. The future. And this is the present. Get them out.

MARTIN: Yeah, we don't tolerate those people. Also, coming up this hour on the show, a preview of ROFLCon. What is this, you ask? Well, you should know. It's a gathering in Cambridge, Massachusetts, of Internet memes and academics. The BPP's own Ian Chillag is headed up there momentarily, and he is going to give us the lowdown on what he's looking to find.

PESCA: Right, ROFLCon, from "Rolling on the Floor Laughing" Con, now I get it. We're going to dig into this past weekend's New York Times story about the Pentagon using military analysts to generate favorable news coverage about the Iraq War. We'll talk with a media columnist about why this story didn't get a whole lot of pickup, and then to a general who is not part of the Pentagon apparatus to get his thoughts on what his colleagues did.

MARTIN: Also, as we mention, it is take your son and daughter to work day so, we decided to bring in someone else's kids. Three sisters that make up the pop group Smoosh, which I think is just a very fun name. They perform live in our very own NPR New York offices. We're going to get the day's news headlines in just a minute, but first...

(Soundbite of music)

Syria and North Korea are bedfellows, and they've shared plans for a nuclear reactor under the covers. At least that's what CIA Director Michael Hayden will tell Congress today, according to a senior U.S. official.

PESCA: Quick backstory. Last fall, Israeli warplanes bombed a suspicious facility in Syria that Israel said was the beginnings of a nuclear reactor. After the secret attack, neither the United States nor Israel provided evidence to the International Atomic Energy Agency about what was going on in the reactor.

In fact, all the governments involved, including the Syrians, pretty much kept mum about the raid, perhaps fearing an escalation in tensions in an already tense part of the world. Today, the incident is expected to get its widest airing to date.

MARTIN: U.S. officials say Israeli intelligence has pictures of the Syrian construction site that show a reactor modeled after North Korea's main nuclear facility at Pyongyang. The Syrian complex was destroyed before it became operational, but the pictures will be shown to the House and Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees in a briefing today.

PESCA: A senior U.S. official tells NPR that the evidence of North Korea's nuclear assistance to Syria goes beyond the pictures, and that it comes, quote, "from more than one source in more than one place."

MARTIN: Some members of Congress saw this information last fall, but the briefing is being repeated for more members now as negotiations continue over North Korea's nuclear disarmament. Yesterday, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said if North Korea wants to cozy up to us, there better not be anyone else hiding under the bed.

(Soundbite of press conference)

Mr. SEAN MCCORMACK (Spokesman, U.S. Department of State): In this case, the focus is on North Korea. Are they going to perform on fulfilling their obligations? And there isn't going to be any recommendation to move forward in the process from this building, from this secretary of state, the president, unless you have a declaration that is consistent with what we know about their activities, and one that is acceptable to all the parties involved.

PESCA: Syria denies that they were working with the North Koreans on a reactor and yesterday, on the eve of today's Congressional briefing, their foreign minister said Syria is open to peace talks with Israel. But David Schenker, who was the Pentagon's top Syrian expert until 2006, is skeptical of such an offer.

(Soundbite of interview)

Mr. DAVID SCHENKER (Former Pentagon Syrian Expert): These diplomatic signals of Syrian willingness for peace, they're almost routine now. You can almost plot it on a graph. At moments of maximum pressure, Syrians are always mentioning the idea of peace with Israel.

MARTIN: U.S. and Israeli officials agree they've seen no sign of Syrian efforts to build a new nuclear reactor since the site was bombed. You can go to npr.org throughout the day for updates on this story. Now, let's get some more of today's news headlines with the BPP's Mark Garrison.

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