Syria Joins the Axis of Evil
By JOHN R. BOLTON
September 25, 2007; Wall Street Journal -Page A19
The six-party talks on North
Korea's nuclear weapons program are set to resume on Sept.
27 in Beijing. Since
the last session, a raft of "working group" meetings and Democratic
People's Republic of Korea propaganda events have purportedly shown "progress"
in implementing the Feb. 13 agreement to eliminate the North's nuclear
capabilities. On Oct. 2, South Korean President Roh Muh-hyun will travel to Pyongyang to embrace Kim
Jong Il. Mr. Roh hopes to boost political allies in a close presidential race
against opponents of his appeasement policies.
But this entire diplomatic minuet has been reduced almost to
insignificance by news from an unexpected place: the Middle
East. A dramatic and apparently successful night-time Israeli air
attack on Syria,
whose details remain extraordinarily closely held, has increased the stakes. North Korea immediately condemned the raid, an
action that raises this question: What is it about a raid in Syria that got
Kim Jong Il's attention?
specific target is less important than the fact that with its objection to the
raid, North Korea
may have tipped its hand. Pyongyang's interest
in the raid may be evidence of secret nuclear cooperation between the regime
There is much still unknown about a potential North
Korea project in Syria, such as whether it was a
direct sale of technology or equipment to the Syrians, a stand-alone facility
or some sort of joint venture. In any case, the threat to Israel of such
a project would be acute, perhaps existential -- which is why it would risk all-out
regional war to strike pre-emptively.
Outsourcing strategic programs is nothing new for North Korea. For
years, Pyongyang has been an aggressive
proliferator of ballistic-missile technology, especially to the Middle East. In 1998, North Korea conducted a successful
Taepo Dong missile launch and shortly thereafter gained an enormous propaganda
boost by announcing a moratorium on launch-testing from its territory. But it
didn't halt missile development and benefited greatly from Iran's
ballistic missile program. Sharing data made eminent sense since both countries
used the same basic Scud technology. Having successfully worked this shell game
in ballistic missiles, it should come as no surprise that North Korea
would try it again in the nuclear field.
increasing hegemony over Syria
makes Syrian-North Korean cooperation in nuclear matters unlikely without its
consent. Although Iran's
involvement here is murky, its incentive to conceal its own nuclear program
raises the possibility of a three-way deal. Most chillingly, the United States and Israel must now ask whether the
Iranian and North Korean nuclear challenges can be resolved in isolation from
Until more details become public, debate over the full
extent of Syrian-North Korean cooperation will continue. What the Israeli
attack highlights, however -- even if it does not prove conclusively for now --
is that North Korea
is a global threat.
If the North is engaging in nuclear cooperation with Syria, the Feb.
13 agreement should be terminated. How much more evidence of mendacity do we
need before we wake up? In fact, the Feb. 13 agreement is now merely a slogan. Its
deadlines and its "actions for actions" mantra have disappeared, lost
in a "process" of endless meetings and working groups. This "process"
is inherently favorable to Kim Jong Il because it enables the North's legendary
ability to trade the same obligation multiple times for tangible rewards, whether
or not it performs.
Even if we "only" have evidence of continued North
Korean ballistic missile cooperation with Syria,
that alone should keep the North on the U.S. list of state sponsors of
terrorism. Syria -- and its
senior partner, Iran
-- are both long-time denizens of that same list of state sponsors of terrorism.
Can we really delist North
Korea when it partners with other terrorist
states in the most destructive technologies?
Moreover, where are Syria's ballistic missiles -- and
its weapons of mass destruction -- aimed? With American forces at risk in Iraq, no increase in the threats they face is
acceptable, especially given Syria's
record on Iraq
to date. Syria remains at
war with Israel and with Lebanon's Cedar
Revolution. No one concerned about Israel's
security or Lebanon's
democracy should countenance giving North Korea a pass on the terrorism
If the evidence is uncertain or mixed, the State Department
will, unfortunately, desperately cling to "the process." If so, to
protect the U.S. from the national security risk and international humiliation
of another Pyongyang diplomatic triumph, we must insist on real dismantling of
the North's nuclear program and a broad, deep and lasting verification
mechanism. Moreover, what was once a subsidiary verification issue -- North
Korean outsourcing off the Peninsula -- now
assumes critical importance.
When will real verification experts from across our
government finally receive a significant role? As one verifier said recently, "we'll
know what's really going on when U.S. physicists start talking to [North
Korean] physicists." State's diplomats should welcome this assistance, although
traditionally they view the arrival of verifiers into arms control negotiations
the same way Al Capone saw Elliot Ness and "The Untouchables." Of
course, beyond negotiations, we need the concrete verification itself, which is
barely a mirage in the six-party talks.
Developments in Syria should have brought the
administration up short. Instead, the State Department has accelerated its
efforts to declare "success," a deeply troubling and dangerous sign. This
reflects a cultural problem at State, where "zeal for the deal" too
often trumps the substance of the deal itself.
President Bush stands at a dispositive point regarding his
personal legacy on North
Korea. Until now, one could say with a
straight face, if not entirely accurately, that implementing the Feb. 13
agreement was the State Department's responsibility. No longer. The Israeli
strike and the possible Syrian-North Korean nuclear cooperation associated with
it have presidential consequences. Further concessions to the North can now be
laid only at the White House door, just as only the president can bring a
tougher, more realistic attitude to the issue. That would be a real legacy.
Mr. Bolton is senior fellow at the American Enterprise
Institute and author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defeating America at
the U.N. and Abroad," forthcoming from Simon & Schuster.
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