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Bush Defends Late Disclosure Of Syria-N. Korean Nuclear Link


U.S. President George Bush says last week's intelligence briefings to Congress on the Syrian-North Korean nuclear link were designed to send a message to North Korea. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from the White House.

The Bush administration's release of intelligence information alleging North Korean involvement in the construction of a suspected Syrian nuclear site came eight months after the site was destroyed by an Israeli air strike.

Some critics of the administration have questioned why there was such a long delay in the release of the information.

During a news conference dealing with a range of separate issues, the president said the disclosure was designed to send a tough message to North Korea at a time when Pyongyang is dragging its feet in providing a detailed declaration of its nuclear activities.

"We wanted to advance certain policy objectives through the disclosures," said President Bush. "And one would be to the North Koreans to make it abundantly clear that we may know more about you than you think."

But Mr. Bush says there is a message for Syria and Iran as well - that nuclear proliferation in the Middle East can not be tolerated.

"One of the things that this example shows is that these programs can exist and people don't know about them," he said. "And the Syrians didn't declare the program. They had a hidden program."

Last week, the U.S. intelligence community released photographs and other information about the suspected Syrian nuclear facility during a series of closed door meetings with key U.S. lawmakers. Some of the details were also shared later with reporters.

At his news conference, President Bush was asked, simply, why release the information now?

He talked about the strategic and diplomatic importance of the delay. But the president also brought up the need to wait months after the Israeli attack to give tempers time to cool.

"We were concerned that an early disclosure would increase the risk of confrontation in the Middle East or retaliation in the Middle East," said Mr. Bush.

American intelligence officials maintain the bombed Syrian nuclear site was nearing completion. But Syria denies U.S. allegations that it is operating a secret nuclear weapons program or receiving help from Pyongyang.

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