North Koreans were in Syria and Damascus may have had contacts with “secret suppliers” to obtain nuclear equipment, a senior US nuclear official said Friday.
Andrew Semmel, acting deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear nonproliferation policy, did not name the suppliers, but said there were North Koreans in Syria and that he could not exclude that the network run by disgraced Pakistan nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan may have been involved.
Semmel was responding to questions about an Israeli air strike in northern Syria last week.
Neither side has explained what exactly happened, but a US government official
confirmed that Israeli warplanes were targeting weapons from Iran and destined for Hizbullah in Lebanon.
The Washington Post reported Thursday that Israel had gathered satellite imagery showing possible North Korean cooperation with Syria on a nuclear facility.
Semmel, who is in Italy for a meeting Saturday on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, said that Syria was certainly on the US nuclear “watch list.”
“There are indicators that they do have something going on there,” he said. “We do know that there are a number of foreign technicians that have been in Syria. We do know that there may have been contact between Syria and some secret suppliers for nuclear equipment. Whether anything transpired remains to be seen.”
“So good foreign policy, good national security policy, would suggest that we pay very close attention to that,” he said. “We’re watching very closely. Obviously, the Israelis were watching very closely.”
Asked if the suppliers could have been North Koreans, he said: “There are North Korean people there. There’s no question about that. Just as there are a lot of North Koreans in Iraq and Iran.”
Asked if the so-called Khan network, which supplied nuclear technology to Iran,
Libya and North Korea, could have been involved, he said he “wouldn’t exclude” it.