The Bush administration released detailed photographic images on Thursday to support its assertion that the building in Syria that Israel destroyed in an airstrike last year was a nuclear reactor constructed with years of help from North Korea.
The administration said it withheld the pictures for seven months out of fear that Syria could retaliate against Israel and start a broader war in the Middle East.
The photographs taken inside the reactor before it was destroyed in an air raid on Sept. 6 clearly show the rods that control the heat in a nuclear reactor, one of many close engineering similarities to a reactor halfway around the world where North Korea produced the fuel for its nuclear arsenal.
While the photographs were not dated, some taken on the ground seemed to go back to before 2002.
But after a full day of briefing members of Congress, two senior intelligence officials acknowledged that the evidence had left them with no more than “low confidence” that Syria was preparing to build a nuclear weapon. They said that there was no sign that Syria had built an operation to convert the spent fuel from the plant into weapons-grade plutonium, but that they had told President George W. Bush last year that they could think of no other explanation for the reactor.
Among the photographs shown to members of Congress and reporters on Thursday was one of the manager of North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear plant with the director of Syria’s nuclear agency. A car in the background has Syrian license plates. (see below)
When asked about North Korea’s motivation for the project, one of the senior intelligence officials said simply, “Cash.” He refused to say how much.
Too small image courtesy of Depkafile
The Syrian nuclear reactor allegedly built with North Korean design help and destroyed last year by Israeli jets was within weeks or months of being functional, a top U.S. official said Thursday.
The facility was mostly completed but still needed significant testing before it could be declared operational, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
However, no uranium â€” needed to fuel a reactor â€” was evident at the site, a remote area of eastern Syria along the Euphrates River.
The Syrian reactor was similar in design to a North Korean reactor at Yongbyon that has in the past produced small amounts of plutonium, U.S. officials said. Plutonium is highly radioactive and can be used to make powerful nuclear weapons or radiological bombs.