Key members of the U.S. Congress are being briefed Thursday on U.S. intelligence information indicating North Korean nuclear cooperation with Syria. North Korea is being pressed to disclose its proliferation activity as part of the six-party agreement to end its nuclear program. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
State Department officials say the intelligence briefings were requested by congressional leaders, and acknowledge they come at a sensitive point in negotiations aimed at getting Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program.
News reports say legislators are being shown a video obtained by Israel and said to show North Koreans helping build a nuclear reactor in northern Syria, nearly identical to North Korea's now-shuttered main reactor at Yongbyon.
The Syrian facility was destroyed by Israeli war planes last September in action condemned by Syria, though Damascus said the Israeli target was an unused military site.
In advance of the briefings, Syria denied any nuclear cooperation with North Korea and suggested that the video has been faked.
Some analysts caution that the high-profile exposure of the North Korean project in Syria could anger the Pyongyang government and upset the six-party process.
There have also been suggestions of conflict within the Bush administration itself over the wisdom of dealing with Pyongyang given its role with the Syrians.
But in a talk with reporters, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack dismissed the idea of a factional rivalry among U.S. agencies over North Korea policy as "cartoonish."
He said North Korea will have to decide for itself whether it is in its interests to give up the potential benefits of the six-party process.
"The North Koreans will make their own decision. And if they were going to, at some point, use some perceived slight as a pretext to not perform, then they were going to do that in any case," McCormack said. "But there's been, within the six-party framework among all the parties including the North Koreans, a discussion about the importance of verification as well as the importance of the non-proliferation aspect to the nuclear programs."
North Korea agreed last year to scrap its nuclear program including weapons in return for aid and diplomatic benefits from the other parties in the Chinese-sponsored negotiations.
Pyongyang is more than three months overdue in making a promised declaration of its nuclear assets and activities, including any nuclear help given to, or obtained from, other countries.
Senior U.S. and North Korean diplomats reported making progress on the declaration at a meeting in Singapore earlier this month. The State Department's Korean affairs chief, Sung Kim, is en route back to Washington after more talks this week in Pyongyang.
Conservative critics of the State Department's handling of the matter have seized on press reports that a Singapore understanding requires North Korea only to acknowledge U.S. concerns about proliferation, rather than be explicit about its dealings with Syria.
But the State Department has said the declaration will be subject to strict verification and that if North Korean deception is discovered, it could halt the process at any point.
If the declaration is completed and accepted by all the parties, the next phase of the process would involve among other things the dismantling of North Korean nuclear facilities and lifting terrorism-related U.S. sanctions against Pyongyang.