North Korea and Syria held high-level talks Friday in Pyongyang, the North’s state media reported, amid suspicions that the two countries might be cooperating on a nuclear weapons program.
The talks took place between Choe Tae Bok, secretary of the Central Committee of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, and Saaeed Eleia Dawood, director of the organizational department of Syria’s Baath Arab Socialist Party, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.
The two sides discussed ways of improving friendship and cooperation and other issues of bilateral interest, KCNA said, without elaborating.
Their meeting came amid suspicions that North Korea may be providing nuclear assistance to Syria, a charge both Pyongyang and Damascus deny.
The allegations arose after an alleged Israeli air raid earlier this month on unknown Syrian targets possibly connected to a weapons program.
Andrew Semmel, acting U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear nonproliferation policy, said last week that North Koreans were in Syria, and that Syria may have had contacts with “secret suppliers” to obtain nuclear equipment.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports:
Israel’s decision to attack Syria on Sept. 6, bombing a suspected nuclear site set up in apparent collaboration with North Korea, came after Israel shared intelligence with President Bush this summer indicating that North Korean nuclear personnel were in Syria, U.S. government sources said.
The Bush administration has not commented on the Israeli raid or the underlying intelligence. Although the administration was deeply troubled by Israel’s assertion that North Korea was assisting the nuclear ambitions of a country closely linked with Iran, sources said, the White House opted against an immediate response because of concerns it would undermine long-running negotiations aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.
Ultimately, however, the United States is believed to have provided Israel with some corroboration of the original intelligence before Israel proceeded with the raid, which hit the Syrian facility in the dead of night to minimize possible casualties, the sources said.
The target of Israel’s attack was said to be in northern Syria, near the Turkish border. A Middle East expert who interviewed one of the pilots involved said they operated under such strict operational security that the airmen flying air cover for the attack aircraft did not know the details of the mission. The pilots who conducted the attack were briefed only after they were in the air, he said. Syrian authorities said there were no casualties.