Six-party talks delayed. Is it nuke-related?

David Silverman/Getty Images News A number of reports out of Asia today add precious little clarity to what is becoming a growing international story: Israel’s alleged bombing on September 6 of nuclear materials of North Korean origin in Syria. First, South Korean and Japanese officials mysteriously said that the next round six-party talks to end ...

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599321_070917_jets_05.jpg

David Silverman/Getty Images News

A number of reports out of Asia today add precious little clarity to what is becoming a growing international story: Israel's alleged bombing on September 6 of nuclear materials of North Korean origin in Syria. First, South Korean and Japanese officials mysteriously said that the next round six-party talks to end North Korea's nuclear program, which had been scheduled for September 19, are being delayed. Japanese officials told the Associated Press they did not know why Pyongyang delayed the talks. However, AFP reported that South Korean officials said the talks were pushed back because the Chinese had yet to deliver 50,000 tons of fuel, as they agreed to do in February. An unidentified South Korean foreign ministry official said:

It appears the North's refusal is a simple protest against something it is not happy with, rather than to squeeze more out of the others.

David Silverman/Getty Images News

A number of reports out of Asia today add precious little clarity to what is becoming a growing international story: Israel’s alleged bombing on September 6 of nuclear materials of North Korean origin in Syria. First, South Korean and Japanese officials mysteriously said that the next round six-party talks to end North Korea’s nuclear program, which had been scheduled for September 19, are being delayed. Japanese officials told the Associated Press they did not know why Pyongyang delayed the talks. However, AFP reported that South Korean officials said the talks were pushed back because the Chinese had yet to deliver 50,000 tons of fuel, as they agreed to do in February. An unidentified South Korean foreign ministry official said:

It appears the North’s refusal is a simple protest against something it is not happy with, rather than to squeeze more out of the others.

News of the delay was unexpected, given Kim Jong Il’s recent cooperative moves. It’s also suspicious, as the most likely reasons for a delay would seem to be related to the charge North Korea was providing nuclear assistance to Syria. That connection was disputed by Joseph Cirincione here, but the story continues to gain traction in the British press, with detailed new reports over the weekend alleging the North Korea-Syria axis. On Saturday, U.S. nuclear negotiator Chris Hill didn’t directly address the allegations, but told reporters the plan in any case was to press ahead with the six-party talks. On Sunday, U.S. Defense Secretary Gates neither denied nor confirmed the allegations, but said that the U.S. was watching both North Korea and Syria closely.

Then on Monday morning, Seoul’s foreign minister dismissed any nuclear connection between North Korea and Syria. Granted, this could be an effort by the South Koreans to salvage the talks the progress made in the last year, and the upcoming summit between the two Koreas. But given the sensational quality of the reports—clandestine air strikes, dumped fuel tanks on the Turkish border, secret nuclear caches and such—this story is not likely to disappear.

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