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US Envoy Says Syria Evidence Highlights Need For N. Korea Nuclear Verification


The United States Ambassador to South Korea says the public disclosure of nuclear cooperation between Syria and North Korea should not impact talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear weapons program. However, U.S. officials say they need to verify such cooperation has ended for good. VOA Seoul Correspondent Kurt Achin has more.

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow said Monday the Syria-North Korea nuclear connection was already a "complicating factor" in nuclear talks for months before last week's evidence was disclosed.

"The fact that we have briefed the Congress and the public on this doesn't add to the gravity of the situation - it just kind of rekindles public focus on the issue," Ambassador Vershbow said.

U.S. officials released photo and video evidence last week indicating North Korea was building a nuclear facility in Syria last year before it was bombed by Israeli warplanes in September.

North Korea's activities in Syria are a key factor in Pyongyang's four month delay in declaring all of its nuclear programs, stockpiles, and activities. The declaration is required to advance a multinational process aimed at getting rid of North Korea's nuclear weapons altogether.

Washington says the document, which the North promised to produce by the end of 2007, must account for its nuclear activities in Syria. Ambassador Vershbow says the Syria issue highlights the need to ensure North Korea never engages in such cooperation again.

"The fact that they were involved in a covert program with Syria just underscores the gravity of the proliferation risk, and it puts even more weight on the requirement to achieve an effective verification regime," the ambassador said.

Dan Pinkston is a senior analyst in Seoul for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group research organization. He says North Korea is extremely unwilling to disclose its activities in Syria, because Pyongyang could no longer credibly promise confidentiality to secret weapons clients around the world.

"This would damage their reputation amongst other potential buyers," Pinkston said. "Any potential buyer of North Korean weapons does not want this revealed to the United States. They don't want to see the North Koreans telling the United States about it just because they are under pressure."

It is unclear exactly how the United States and North Korea will reconcile the Syria issue with the requirement for a full nuclear declaration. Experts say U.S. and North Korean officials may plan to address the issue in a document separate from the public declaration.