Syria nuke disclosure: why now?

Many commentators have wondered why the Bush adminstration chose last Thursday, of all days, to disclose the intelligence community’s findings on North Korea’s nuclear collaboration with Syria. Well, Glenn Kessler and Robin Wright of the Washington Post have an answer: Key lawmakers nonetheless made it clear that unless the intelligence about Syria was described to ...

Many commentators have wondered why the Bush adminstration chose last Thursday, of all days, to disclose the intelligence community's findings on North Korea's nuclear collaboration with Syria. Well, Glenn Kessler and Robin Wright of the Washington Post have an answer:

Key lawmakers nonetheless made it clear that unless the intelligence about Syria was described to them in detail, they would block funding for the deal and oppose a key waiver of a law preventing U.S. aid to a country that detonates a nuclear weapon.

Officials said the timing of the administration's disclosure was also influenced by a provision of the U.S. law governing state sponsors of terrorism, a list that has long included North Korea. Under the proposed nuclear disarmament deal, Washington has agreed to remove North Korea from the list, but the law requires that it first demonstrate that North Korea has not assisted another country on the list for at least six months. The intelligence presented this week indicated that North Korea helped Syria in removing equipment from the site through early October, meaning the six-month window only recently closed.

Many commentators have wondered why the Bush adminstration chose last Thursday, of all days, to disclose the intelligence community’s findings on North Korea’s nuclear collaboration with Syria. Well, Glenn Kessler and Robin Wright of the Washington Post have an answer:

Key lawmakers nonetheless made it clear that unless the intelligence about Syria was described to them in detail, they would block funding for the deal and oppose a key waiver of a law preventing U.S. aid to a country that detonates a nuclear weapon.

Officials said the timing of the administration’s disclosure was also influenced by a provision of the U.S. law governing state sponsors of terrorism, a list that has long included North Korea. Under the proposed nuclear disarmament deal, Washington has agreed to remove North Korea from the list, but the law requires that it first demonstrate that North Korea has not assisted another country on the list for at least six months. The intelligence presented this week indicated that North Korea helped Syria in removing equipment from the site through early October, meaning the six-month window only recently closed.

Far more often than they get credit for, U.S. officials do things that seem mysterious to outsiders when in reality they’re just following the law. In this case, the aim was ostensibly to move North Korea off the list of state sponsors of terrorism so that a deal could go forward. The irony is that with this disclosure, Republican lawmakers may be much less inclined to give North Korea a pass, and even leading establishment figures want the Bush administration to teach Kim Jong Il a lesson. What seems especially damning is the intelligence showing that North Korea has been dealing with the Syrians all along while pretending to negotiate in good faith.

As an aside, I owe Kessler an apology for this post and this one questioning his early reporting on the Syrian nuclear site. It turns out Kessler’s reporting was spot-on and appropriately caveated, and continues to be invaluable. His biography of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is excellent, too.

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