Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal told the Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat on Thursday that the accusations of North Korean nuclear help were a “new American spin to cover up” for Israel.
[State Dep’t Non-Proliferation Guy Andrew] Semmel, who is in Italy for a meeting Saturday on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, said Syria was certainly on the U.S. “watch list.”
“There are indicators that they do have something going on there,” he said. “We do know that there are a number of foreign technicians that have been in Syria. We do know that there may have been contact between Syria and some secret suppliers for nuclear equipment. Whether anything transpired remains to be seen.”
“So good foreign policy, good national security policy, would suggest that we pay very close attention to that,” he said. “We’re watching very closely. Obviously, the Israelis were watching very closely.”
Asked if the suppliers could have been North Koreans, he said: “There are North Korean people there. There’s no question about that. Just as there are a lot of North Koreans in Iraq and Iran.”
Asked if the so-called Khan network, which supplied nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea, could have been involved, he said he “wouldn’t exclude” it.
This doesn’t get talked about very much, but it’s not the first time we’ve heard of this little courtship. From 2004:
A North Korean missile shipment to Syria was halted when a train collision in that Asian country destroyed the missile cargo and killed about a dozen Syrian technicians.
U.S. officials confirmed a report in a Japanese daily newspaper that a train explosion on April 22 killed about a dozen Syrian technicians near the Ryongchon province in North Korea. The officials said the technicians were accompanying a train car full of missile components and other equipment from a facility near the Chinese border to a North Korea port.
A U.S. official said North Korean train cargo was also believed to have contained tools for the production of ballistic missiles. North Korea has sold Syria the extended-range Scud C and Scud D missiles, according to reports by Middle East Newsline.
Exit question: If the A.Q. Khan network is still operating, what’s old A.Q. Khan himself up to these days, besides being elected President of Pakistan in mock polls?
Update (AP): More details on the mystery raid from WaPo. Note the unusual level of operational secrecy.
[A] prominent U.S. expert on the Middle East, who has interviewed Israeli participants in a mysterious raid over Syria last week, reported that the attack appears to have been linked to the arrival three days earlier of a ship carrying material from North Korea labeled as cement.
The expert, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid compromising his sources, said the target of the attack appears to have been a northern Syrian facility that was labeled an agricultural research center on the Euphrates River, close to the Turkish border. Israel has kept a close eye on the facility, believing that Syria was using it to extract uranium from phosphates.
The expert said it is not clear what the ship was carrying, but the emerging consensus in Israel was that it delivered nuclear equipment. The ship arrived Sept. 3 in the Syrian port of Tartus; the attack occurred Sept. 6 under such strict operational security that the pilots flying air cover for the attack aircraft did not know details of the mission. The pilots who conducted the attack were briefed only after they were in the air, he said…
Adding to the mystery, Syria has made only muted protests about the raid, and North Korea, which rarely comments on international matters, swiftly condemned it.