September - October 2007

P.O. Box 190, Mount Holly, Virginia 2252
Volume 37, Number 5, Jerry Strope, Editor

 “To the extent that they [North Korea] are proliferating, we expect them to stop that proliferation, if they want the six-party talks to be successful.”                                                  

            President George W. Bush at September news conference.

In This Issue
     The Amazing Secret Attack  
Iran Hit With Sanctions

The Amazing Secret Attack      

  It seems nearly certain now that the Israeli air force really did conduct a bombing attack on Syria the night of September 6. One would think that such an attack would have started a major Mid-East war but no such thing. Israel is usually no good at keeping secrets. Yet, a month after the attack, why and how it happened remained surprisingly mys-terious.

   On September 21, a good two weeks after the attack, Charles Krauthammer, who usually has good sources in Israel, wrote the following: “On Sept. 6, something important happened in northern Syria. Problem is, no one knows exactly what. Except for those few who were involved, and they’re not saying.”

  The best summary of what was known a month after the attack was found in World magazine: “The Israeli Air Force raided a site in northeastern Syria near a town called Dayr az-Zawr. The aircraft dumped refueling tanks on the Turkish side of the border before fleeing to the Mediterranean. What is under speculation is why Israel was in Syria at all. According to some anonymous leaks to media—apparently from US, not Israeli, sources—Israel has been watching ihe site for months. Israeli commandos swooped in and collected material right before the air raid, and found it was of North Korean origin.”

. The North Korean connection was reinforced by at least two other incidents. Krauthammer noted: “Three days earlier, a freighter flying the North Korean flag docked in the Syrian port city of Tartus with a shipment of “cement.” The second incident was equally strange. Syria never did admit being attacked, only of a violation of their air space. North Korea did just the opposite. They condemned the raid. Why should North Korea care about the raid? 

  Then, with little explanation, North Korean delegates delayed a new round of nuclear disarmament talks due to start on September 19. According to John Bolton, speaking up was a blunder and may give “some indication there had been North Korean casualties. They’ve been very careful not to say anything since.”

  Syria continued to deny that an attack occurred. On October 8, foreign journalists toured an agricultural research center in a small town at the Syrian government’s invitation to prove that no nuclear program or Israeli attack had occurred there. “There was no raid here. We heard nothing,” said the director of the research center. The same week, however, President Bashar al-Assad told BBC Israeli jets bombed empty military buildings but he did not give a specific location. His statement contradicted the initial Syrian claim that it had repulsed the air raid before an attack could occur as well as the crude efforts of his government to mislead the New York Times.

  On October 24, the Washington Post reported that new satellite photography of the Syrian site indicated that ruins of a suspected nuclear facility had been completely cleared away. “They are clearly trying to hide the evidence,” said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security , “It is a trick that has been tried in the past and it hasn’t worked.”

  Images of the site before the air raid show a tall, box-shaped building about the size of a baseball diamond with features similar to the North Korean reactor building. Albright said that the Israeli strike punched a hole through the roof, forcing the Syrians to clear the building away very quickly so that satellites and spy planes could not see what was hidden inside. Albright added that roofs are usually put on last to permit cranes to put in heavy equipment but North Korean practice was to put the roof on early.

  In another Post story, we learn that during the last week of October North Korean officials were visiting Syria for talks on “mutual cooperation . . . and ways of developing them in the economic, commercial and social fields,” according to Syrian state media, adding that Pyongyang “stands by Syria” in facing new challenges. 

What Now, Pyongyang?

  North Korea for years has sold its missile technology to Syria and Iran. If it is now sharing nuclear material and technology with Syria, it means not only that Syria is expanding its weapons program but also that Pyongyang may be aiding Iran’s nuclear program as well. It also means that the North already is reneging on its promise to disarm.

  What has happened during the past two months almost passes human under-standing. It started with Israeli jets destroying a partially-built Syrian nuclear reactor. The whole Middle East should have gone up in flames over that aggression. Instead, a fog of silence fell over the whole affair, so much so that most media reporting has been as if it never happened.

  The whole thing must have shaken Chris Hill, the top US negotiator at the six-nation negotiations in Beijing. The negotiations had been going well with the North back at the table and talking. The next session was due on September 19. But the situation following the Israeli attack revealed some long-standing rifts within the State Department between Hill’s bureau, which is eager for a deal to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, and the nonproliferation office, which is for regime change. According to World, hours before Hill was due to discuss the sixth round of six-party talks, Andrew Semmel, a nuclear nonproliferation off-icial, traveling in Italy, “dropped a bombshell.” Answering a reporter’s question concerning the Israeli strike on Syria, he said he suspected the Syrians of having a covert nuclear program and that North Korean technicians were in Syria. Though Hill expressed the need to push even stronger at negotiations, the revelation clearly threatened the six-party talks. Pyongyang threatened to walk out and then declared a two-week delay. The mild US response was the president’s seeming off-the-cuff remark that is this issue’s “quotable quote.”

   Apparently, all six nations—China, Russia, Japan, the two Koreas, and the US—agreed to ignore the attack by joining the fog of silence. The six-party talks resumed on September 27 but the first news report was a short wire-service one as follows: “BEIJING—Negotiators at North Korea’s disarmament talks tentatively agreed to a draft plan yesterday on disabling the country’s nuclear facilities by year’s end, though they said the detailed blueprint requires further consideration by their governments.

  “The four days of talks, which began after North Korea earlier agreed to a Dec. 31 deadline, were supposed to set specifics for the disabling, among other issues. Envoys described the talks as being in recess, with host China saying that they may reconvene in 48 hours depending on what the six governments decide.”

  Media coverage of the Korean “summit meeting” between Kim Jong Il and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, which occurred during the first days of October, did not mention the Syrian affair. According to the Associated Press, the White House said it hoped the talks would contribute to peace amd security. “Ultimately, it needs to lead to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” said Dana Perino, White House press secretary.

  On October 1, negotiator Chris Hill flew from Beijing to New York, where he briefed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the plan. Both of them had breakfast the following day with the president at the White House.  Asked whether the plan was an easy sell, Amb. Hill said, “Man, it’s never an easy sell in Washington. It was certainly necessary to explain some things.” The president gave his approval.

 Iran Hit With Sanctions

  “I officially announce that, in our opinion, the nuclear issue of Iran is now closed.” With these words to the United Nations General Assembly in New York Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadine-jad voiced his nation’s defiance of demands by the UN Security Council to stop its uranium enrichment process. With a flourish near the end of a tumultuous mid-September week in America, Ahmadinejad denied the legitimacy of the UN Security Council demands, calling existing UN sanctions illegal and asserting Iran’s “legal rights” to have nuclear power for peaceful purposes. What on earth was this all about?

   Here is a summary by the Associated Press: Chief UN nuclear inspector Mo-hamad ElBaradei is walking a fine line in trying to cajole Iran into revealing past nuclear secrets. Since wresting a promise from Tehran in July to clear up its nuclear record by year’s end, ElBaradei, head of IAEA, has been vilified as pro-Tehran and accused of overstepping his authority.

  There now are two sets of UN Security Council sanctions for Iran’s refusal to suspend uranium enrichment—a possible pathway to nuclear arms. But Iranian leaders have seized on their agreement with the IAEA to argue that the Council is acting out of turn. President Ahmadinejad told world leaders at the United Nations earlier in the week that  Iran’s nuclear case now is “closed.” with only the IAEA authorized to monitor the nation’s activities.

   Such comments underline Wash-ington’s fears that Iran is using the cooperation agreement with the IAEA to draw attention from its defiance of the Security Council and further complicate attempts to impose more sanctions.

  Russia’s stance suggests such concerns are well-founded. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared Thursday that “sanctions would undermine the International Atomic Energy Agency’s efforts” to clear up Iran’s nuclear past.

   Still, the US has publicly endorsed the ElBaradei plan—with conditions. US o9fficials say Tehran must uncondition-ally answer all questions by the agreed-upon time, year’s end. They also say it does not change the need for Iran to fulfill other Security Council demands.

  But the Bush Administration decided not to wait for the UN Security Council, imposing new sanctions of its own on October 25. These were financial sanctions. State-owned Bank Melli, Bank Mellat and Bank Saderat were named supporters of global terrorist groups. Bank Melli is Iran’s largest. It provides services to Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, Assets in the US must be frozen. Americans are also forbidden from doing business with them. Foreign businesses must do the same if they want to do business with us. US officials insist the new moves do not hasten war.

  Since the next issue will be in your hands in January, accept my best wishes for the Holiday Season and the coming year.