Proliferation Article 10/17

See No Proliferation

October 17. 2007 Page A18

The silence from the Bush Administration over Israel’s recent bombing of a site in Syria gets louder by the day. U.S. officials continue to look the other way, even as reports multiply that Israel and U.S. intelligence analysts believe the site was a partly constructed nuclear reactor modeled after a North Korean design.

The weekend was full of reports about these intelligence judgments, first in the U.S. media then picked up by the Israeli press. Israel’s former chief of military intelligence, Major General Aharon Zeevi Farkash, called them “logical.” That’s the term of art people use to confirm things in Israel when they want to get around the military censors.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Israel and offered her own non-confirmation confirmation. “We’re very concerned about any evidence of, any indication of, proliferation,” she said, according to the New York Times. “And we’re handling those in appropriate diplomatic channels.” Just what you need when your enemies are caught proliferating nuclear expertise — a little more diplomacy. The world is lucky Israel preferred to act against the threat, in what seems to have been a smaller version of its 1981 attack against Iraq’s Osirak reactor.

Ms. Rice went on to say that “The issues of proliferation do not affect the Palestinian-Israeli peace efforts we are making,” adding that “This is the time to be extremely careful.” In other words, even if North Korea is spreading nuclear weapons, she doesn’t want to say so in public because it might offend a country — Syria — that is refusing even to take part in the regional Palestinian-Israeli peace conference next month. That’s certainly being “careful.”

Or perhaps she fears offending North Korea, which the Bush Administration has agreed to trust for finally pledging to dismantle its nuclear weapons program and disavowing proliferation. In return for that promise, the U.S. is shipping fuel oil to Pyongyang and is taking steps to remove North Korea from its list of terror states. It would certainly be inconvenient, not to say politically embarrassing, if North Korea were found to be helping Syria get a bomb amid all of this diplomacy.

All the more so given that only last year, after North Korea exploded a nuclear device, President Bush explicitly warned North Korea against such proliferation. “America’s position is clear,” he said at the time. “The transfer of nuclear weapons or material will be considered a grave threat to the United States.” More than once, Mr. Bush added that, “We will hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences.”

Even granting some leeway in defining the words “fully accountable,” they cannot mean winking at the spread of nuclear know-how to a U.S. enemy in the most dangerous corner of the world. With its continuing silence about what happened in Syria, the Bush Administration is undermining its own security credibility. More important, the see-no-evil pose is showing North Korea that it can cheat even on an agreement whose ink is barely dry — and without “consequences.”

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