Syria Accuses U.S. of Spreading 'False' Claims About Nuclear Activity

Syria criticised the United States on Tuesday, accusing it of spreading "false" claims of Syrian nuclear activity and cooperation with North Korea to excuse an Israeli air incursion over the country this month.

A front-page editorial in the government newspaper Tishrin also was critical of Washington for failing to condemn the Sept. 6 Israeli incursion, which it called a violation of international law.

Details of the incursion remain unclear. U.S. officials have said Israeli warplanes struck a target. A senior U.S. non-proliferation official said last week that North Korean personnel were in Syria helping its nuclear program, raising speculation that the Israelis were targeting a nuclear installation.

North Korea on Tuesday strongly denied it secretly helped Syria develop a nuclear program, claiming the charge was fabricated by U.S. hardliners to block progress in the North's relations with the United States. Damascus has also denied any nuclear cooperation with North Korea.

The editorial in Tishrin, which reflects Syrian government thinking in a country where the press is tightly controlled, said the U.S. accusations reflect Washington's pro-Israel bias and have no credibility.

"Of course, none of the American officials said that the aerial piracy committed by Israel was illegal and was a flagrant aggression against the sovereignty of a state, because they disregard international law whenever they want when it comes to Israel," the Syrian newspaper said.

It said Washington was "busy on behalf of Israel circulating claims" that the incursion involved "possible nuclear facilities supplied by (North) Korea."

"The strange thing is that the Americans are talking on behalf of Israel and are providing excuses and concocting new false spins such as talking about presumed Syrian nuclear activity and completely turning a blind eye about the Israeli nuclear danger," the Syrian editorial said.

Israel has never acknowledged it had the nuclear bomb but it is widely believed to have a nuclear weapon.

The Syrian newspaper said the accusations "recall those false claims that the Americans and the British circulated about Iraq's nuclear programs."

Tishrin was referring to Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction program, one of the pretexts used to invade Iraq in 2003. No WMD were found after the fall of the Baghdad government and the occupation of Iraq.

It said Washington's "blatant bias toward Israel has hurt — and continues to hurt — the image the United States and its role of justice, fairness and the preservation of international peace."

Israel has declined to comment on the air operation. Syria has said only that warplanes entered its airspace, came under fire from anti-aircraft defenses, and dropped munitions and fuel tanks to lighten their loads while they fled.

A U.S. government official has said Israeli warplanes hit weapons destined for Hezbollah guerrillas. But the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, said he believes the Israelis were hitting a nuclear facility.

Both Syria and Israel appeared to seek to avoid escalation over the incident. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday that he is prepared for peace negotiations with Syria if the conditions are right.

Olmert has made the same offer of peace talks many times in the past, but this was the first time he has mentioned Syria at all since the reported airstrike. In 2000, Israel-Syria talks neared agreement but broke down over final border and peace arrangements.

There was no immediate Syrian comment on Olmert's statement.