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Daily Archives: April 26, 2008

US accuses Syria of building secret reactor with Pyongyang’s help

by Olivier Knox*

The United States has accused Syria of building a secret nuclear reactor with North Korea's help, charging that the facility had a military purpose until Israel destroyed it in a September raid.
Damascus immediately rejected what its ambassador to Washington called "a ridiculous story," while US officials suggested the next step should be for UN inspectors to go to Syria to investigate.
"The Syrian regime must come clean before the world," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. "The construction of this reactor was a dangerous and potentially destabilizing development for the region and the world."
Amid concerns that the revelations could upset six-country talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear program, Perino underlined that Washington remained committed to that diplomatic initiative.
But the United States will work with China, Japan, Russia and the two Koreas to create "a rigorous verification mechanism to ensure that such conduct and other nuclear activities have ceased," she said.
Chief US nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill suggested the allegations were just one more issue to be addressed in six-party talks, and said the two countries were not currently cooperating on nuclear work.
"It is the judgement of the United States that there is not an ongoing cooperation with Syria in this area," Hill told reporters in New Haven, Connecticut, according to footage broadcast in Japan.
"We will deal with this issue as we do with many other issues in the six parties," Hill said.
Perino's two-page statement, released after top US national security officials briefed US lawmakers on the issue Thursday, did not specify any consequences for Syria, an ally of US archfoe Iran.
But she said Syrian secrecy fueled Washington's fears that the facility had a military purpose.
"We have good reason to believe that reactor, which was damaged beyond repair on September 6 of last year, was not intended for peaceful purposes."
A senior US intelligence official said the reactor was destroyed in an Israeli air strike on September 6, 2007 as it was nearing completion, although it had not been loaded with uranium fuel.
"Israel felt that this reactor posed such an existential threat that a different approach was required," he said.
In a briefing for reporters, senior officials said Israel and the United States discussed what to do about it, but Israel acted on its own with no green light from Washington.
"None was asked. None was given," said a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A senior intelligence official said that before it was destroyed the reactor was ready to go into operation "in weeks and possibly months."
North Korea's motive for helping Syria build the reactor was "cash," the senior administration official said.
US intelligence also examined but rejected the possibility that plutonium produced by the Syrian reactor was intended for North Korea.
"Our judgment, based on the overwhelming body of evidence, was this was in Syria for Syria," a senior intelligence official said.
The statements came after the White House and the CIA briefed key lawmakers on the partnership between two countries that have been frequent US foes on a range of issues.
Intelligence and administration officials also briefed reporters, and said Syrian-North Korean nuclear cooperation began in the late 1990s and that the nuclear reactor project was believed to have begun in 2001.
Because other elements of a weapons program, such as a plutonium reprocessing plant, had not been detected, US intelligence was less certain that the plutonium was for nuclear weapons, they said.
Among the evidence displayed were photographs taken inside the reactor showing construction of the shield for the reactor core, and control rods and refueling ports on top of the reactor.
The reactor and the building that housed it were similar in design to the North Korean reactor at Yongbyon, which produces plutonium, the officials said.
Perino said Washington had briefed the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. A US official, who requested anonymity, said Washington would like IAEA inspectors "to investigate this."
The Syrian embassy charged in a statement that the United States "may have helped execute" the Israeli air strike and pointedly tied the charges to the widely discredited weapons-of-mass-destruction case for invading Iraq.
"The Syrian government hopes that the international community and the American public, particularly, will be more cautious and aware this time around in facing such unfounded allegations," it said.


Sarkozy admits to errors but vows to reform France

by Carole Landry*

President Nicolas Sarkozy has admitted to errors during his tumultuous first year in power but said France had no choice but to step up economic reforms on all fronts.
During a live prime-time television interview from the Elysee palace on Thursday, Sarkozy faulted high oil prices, the strong euro and the world financial crisis for some of the shortcomings in his economic policy.
"France has been asleep for the past 25 years… We have a difficult international context, all the more reason to accelerate reforms," Sarkozy said during the one-hour and 40 minute interview marking his first year in office.
"Of course, I have made mistakes," he said, adding that he and his government had not sufficiently explained reforms.
Sarkozy also spoke out on China following the crackdown in Tibet, saying that while he was "shocked" by the violence, he did not "want to see China excluded from the concert of nations".
He reiterated his call to Beijing to open a dialogue with the Dalai Lama on Tibet and said he would consult other European leaders on whether he should boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympics on August 8.
Swept to power last May on a promise to enact a "clean break" in French politics, Sarkozy has seen his approval rating plummet to below 40 percent earlier this year and he has been unable to bounce back.
Only 28 percent of the French now believe his presidency is going in the right direction, according to recent polls, signalling what the leftist opposition has called a "dangerous" loss of confidence in the country.
But Sarkozy rejected suggestion — emanating even from his own camp — that the government should set clear priorities for reforms, arguing that it was necessary to shake up policy on many fronts.
France has failed to adapt to globalisation "which has turned the world into a village" and is lagging behind other countries, Sarkozy said.
"There is only one possible strategy: to enact change."
Sarkozy lamented that previous governments had lacked the courage to go far enough and had brought reforms to a grinding halt at the first sign of resistance.
"In France, there is always a good reason to do nothing, always someone who is unhappy," the 53-year-old president said.
During his first year in office, Sarkozy paid a high political price for his divorce and celebrity romance with former supermodel Carla Bruni, France's new first lady, which jarred with an increasingly gloomy economic mood.
On Thursday, he declined to answer questions about his private life, saying tersely "everything seems to be back in order now."
After critics labeled him "the bling-bling president", Sarkozy underwent a makeover to project a more statesmanlike image that was on full display during the Elysee interview.
But Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, who is vying to lead the Socialist opposition against Sarkozy, said the president appeared at pains to "explain his own powerlessness."
"His first year was a failure for France. He tried to justify this," Delanoe told RTL radio yesterday.
Socialist Segolene Royal, who lost to Sarkozy in the presidential election, charged that the president was being "dishonest" by blaming France's problems on external factors.
She charged that the government still lacked clear direction from Sarkozy after Prime Minister Francois Fillon earlier this week said he expected a "roadmap" from the president to chart the next phase of reforms.