WASHINGTON – The target of Israel's air strike in northeastern Syria earlier this month was either a joint nuclear or missile facility with North Korea, John R. Bolton, a former senior Bush administration official, said Wednesday.
"I am definitely hearing it from U.S. and Israeli sources," Bolton said in an interview. "The information is very closely held."
The strike raised tensions in the region, but has not stopped the Bush administration from including Syria in its plans for Mideast peacemaking or for six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program. Those discussions are due to commence Thursday in Beijing.
"What the Israelis struck I cannot say; whether a nuclear or missile facility is not clear," Bolton said from his office at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
He offered the possibility that it was a joint research venture or simply a North Korea facility located in Syria. "Any of these options is enough to show proliferation by the North Koreans and that is very dangerous," Bolton said.
He ruled out other theories, meanwhile, including that the target was Iranian missiles to be shipped to Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon for attacks on Israel or that Israel was testing Syria's air defenses.
"I don't think the Israelis would have taken the risk unless it was a very high-value target," Bolton said.
Neither American nor Israeli officials are saying whether the target was a nuclear or missile facility and many don't know, Bolton said.
The former State Department official and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said he did not object to the Beijing talks, which are designed to disable North Korea's nuclear program. At a session last February, North Korea agreed to shut down its main nuclear facility and eventually disable its programs in exchange for aid equivalent to 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil.
Bolton said it would be wrong, however, to remove North Korea from the U.S. list of countries that support terror and therefore are ineligible for various benefits.
"If they are cooperating with either Syria or Iran, such as on ballistic missile stuff, they should stay on (the list) with Syria and Iran," he said.
"If you are supporting terrorist regimes, you are a state supporter of terror," he said.
Bolton, as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security in the Bush administration, guided U.S. programs designed to try to halt the spread of dangerous weapons and technology. North Korea, Iran and Syria were among his primary targets.
Democrats, with a smattering of Republican help, blocked President Bush's subsequent nomination of Bolton to be the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Bush installed him in a temporary appointment in August 2005 but surrendered to congressional foes last December and gave up his fight to make Bolton the permanent ambassador.