Feature

How they see us: Gunning for Syria? Or North Korea?

Once again, the U.S. alleges that a Middle East country

Once again, the U.S. alleges that a Middle East country—this time Syria—is pursuing weapons of mass destruction. Forgive us for being skeptical, said the United Arab Emirates’ Khaleej Times, but “few in the international community are willing to put much faith in American intelligence findings after Colin Powell’s impressive PowerPoint presentation at the U.N.” That ostentatious display of photographic and audio evidence of Iraq’s supposed biological and chemical weapons “was proved a hoax.” This time around, the allegations are similar: The U.S. said last week it had evidence that a Syrian plant that Israel destroyed in a bombing raid last summer was in fact a budding nuclear-weapons facility, just weeks shy of being completed. Maybe that’s true. But if the U.S. and Israel had “irrefutable proof” of Syria’s dastardly intentions, why didn’t they alert the U.N.? The “unilateral action and the delayed exposure” make “American and Israeli claims ring hollow.”

It wouldn’t be the first time the U.S. has made a false accusation against Syria, said Syrian journalist Sami Moubayed in the Hong Kong Asia Times. Right after the fall of Baghdad, in 2003, Washington accused Damascus of providing a safe haven for Saddam Hussein “and all of his henchmen.” The Iraqis, of course, were eventually all captured—in Iraq, not Syria. “Then came accusations of sending jihadists into Iraq.” That was a popular meme until last year, when a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate concluded that there had been no large influx of fighters across the Syrian border. We can expect this latest allegation, that Syria has been secretly working with North Korea to build a nuclear reactor, to be just another American lie.

Unfortunately, it’s not, said South Korea’s Korea Herald. Intelligence services have known about the Syria–North Korea connection for months. Washington simply kept the evidence quiet for a while to avoid jeopardizing the six-nation talks on North Korean disarmament. And in fact, it only came out with the proof now to help the talks along. North Korea is supposed to make a complete disclosure of all its nuclear activities—including proliferation to other countries, such as Syria. It has been reluctant to do so, because the disclosure would be a humiliating admission of wrongdoing. “By showing that the Syrian facility has been destroyed and that there have been no efforts to restart the program, the Bush administration can make the case that what has occurred in the past is no longer a threat.” That means that now, North Korea can simply acknowledge its past proliferation efforts in Syria “without losing face.”

The U.S. shouldn’t let North Korea off the hook so easily, said Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun. Sources say the U.S. is offering to take North Korea off the list of sponsors of terrorism if the Stalinist regime admits involvement in Syria. But that’s not nearly enough. The world needs to know exactly how much technology North Korea transferred to Syria, as well as whether the Pakistani nuclear network set up by rogue scientist A.Q. Khan was involved. Once North Korea gets what it wants, it is likely to drag its feet on verification of its nuclear dismantlement. That’s why “easy concessions must be avoided in negotiations with Pyongyang.”

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