An Israeli airstrike on Syria last month targeted a partially built nuclear reactor that was years away from completion, the New York Times reported Saturday, citing U.S. and foreign officials.

The report said President Bush's administration had intense discussions with the Israeli government before the strike and U.S. officials were divided over whether it would be premature.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has said Israel bombed an "unused military building" in the Sept. 6 raid. Israel has been extremely secretive about the affair. It only recently relaxed censorship to allow Israel-based journalists to report that Israeli aircraft attacked a military target deep inside Syria.

In the weeks that followed the attack, U.S. officials said it was aimed either at a nuclear or missile facility that Syria operated jointly with North Korea.

The New York Times said the nuclear reactor was modeled on one North Korea had used to create its stockpile of nuclear weapons fuel, though the role of any North Korean assistance in building it remains unclear. North Korea has denied involvement in any such activities in Syria.

Satellite photographs detected the partly constructed Syrian reactor earlier this year, the Times said, citing American officials.

The Syrian reactor was years away from be able to produce the spent nuclear fuel that could be reprocessed into bomb-grade plutonium, the newspaper said.

Syria's nuclear program has long been considered minimal, and the country is known to have only a small research reactor.

The New York Times cited American officials as saying Israel's strike may have been intended as a signal to Iran and its nuclear aspirations. In 1981, Israeli warplanes destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor being built by Saddam Hussein's regime.

The White House and Israeli officials declined to comment