Cablegate: Syria's Clandestine Nuclear Program
O 250101Z APR 08
FM SECSTATE WASHDC
TO ALL DIPLOMATIC AND CONSULAR POSTS COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE
AMEMBASSY TRIPOLI IMMEDIATE
E.o. 12958: n/a
Tags: knnp, dprk, sy, iaea, parm, prel
Subject: syria's clandestine nuclear program
1. (U) This is an action request. Please see para 3.
2. (SBU) On September 6, 2007, <> destroyed a
nuclear reactor Syria was clandestinely constructing,
we judge with North Korean assistance. The reactor
site was in Syria's eastern desert region in a
location called al-Kibar. On April 24, Executive
Branch officials briefed Congress and the press on
evidence that lead the USG to conclude that the Syrian
facility at al-Kibar was a nuclear reactor being
constructed clandestinely, and therefore in violation
of Syria's NPT-required safeguards agreement with the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The
briefing described the basis for concluding North
Korean assistance and why the reactor would have been
ill-suited for any purpose other than plutonium
production for a nuclear weapons program. The
briefings also included information on the U.S. policy
approach following the discovery of the facility and
the Israeli air strike.
3. (U) Posts should draw from the background
information in para 4 to respond to host government
inquiries on this issue and for press inquiries as
background information only. The points in the White
House press statement in para 5 can be used in full to
address press inquiries on the record.
4. (sbu) begin text of background information:
- You will recall reports that the Israeli air force
conducted a mission over Syria on September 6, 2007.
- I want to inform you that the purpose of that
Israeli mission was to destroy a clandestine nuclear
reactor that Syria was constructing in its eastern
desert near a place we call al-Kibar.
- The Israeli mission was successful - the reactor was
damaged beyond repair. Syria has completed efforts to
clean up the site and destroy evidence of what was
really there, constructing a new building on the old
- We have delayed sharing this information with you,
because our first concern was to prevent conflict.
- We believe - based on strong evidence - that North
Korea assisted Syria with the reactor at al-Kibar.
- We are working with the North Koreans in the
framework of the Six-Party Talks to focus on North
Korea's role in this proliferation activity, including
as called for in the October 3, 2007, agreement, and
to provide additional explanations as necessary.
- We have now decided that the time has come to share
more information on this issue.
- Our intelligence experts are confident that the
facility the Israelis targeted was in fact a nuclear
reactor of the same type North Korea built
indigenously at its Yongbyon nuclear facility. The U.S.
intelligence community conducted an intensive, months-
long effort to confirm and corroborate the information
Israel provided us on the reactor and to gather more
details from our own sources and methods.
- We have good reason to believe this reactor was not
intended for peaceful purposes.
- First, we assess this reactor was configured to
produce plutonium: it was not configured for power
production, was isolated from any civilian population,
and was ill-suited for research.
- Second, Syria went to great pains to keep this
secret by taking very careful steps to conceal the
true nature of the site.
- Third, by maintaining secrecy and not declaring the
site to the IAEA and providing design information, as
Syria's NPT-mandated IAEA safeguards agreement
requires, Syria undermined the very purpose of IAEA
safeguards - to provide the international community
with the necessary assurance/verification that the
reactor was part of a peaceful program.
- Finally, Syria's concealment and lies about what
happened for months now after the Israeli air strike
is compelling proof that it has something to hide. In
fact, after the attack on the site, Syria went to
great lengths to clean up the site and destroy
evidence of what was really there. If there were
nothing to hide, Syria presumably would have invited
IAEA inspectors, other experts, and the news media to
the site to prove that.
Violations of international obligations
- Article III of the NPT requires Syria to maintain
comprehensive safeguards over all of its nuclear
activities. Syria's IAEA Safeguards Agreement requires
Syria to make early declaration of any new nuclear
facilities. Specifically, Syria is legally obligated
to inform the IAEA of such new facilities at the time
a decision is taken to build them. Syria, however,
failed to make such a declaration to the IAEA, or to
provide design information and access during the
reactor's construction intended to allow the IAEA to
verify that design information.
- If North Korea provided technical training, advice,
services or assistance related to the provision,
manufacture, maintenance or use of nuclear-related
items subject to UN Security Council resolution 1718
to the Syrian Government after the effective date of
that resolution (October 14, 2006), this would
constitute a violation of the resolution by both North
Korea and Syria. Paragraph 8(b) of the resolution
requires all member states to prohibit the procurement
from North Korea of nuclear related items contained in
S/2006/814 (which encompasses the control list of the
Nuclear Suppliers Group).
- The existence of this reactor was dangerous and
destabilizing for the region, and we judged that it
could have been only weeks away from becoming
operational at the time it was destroyed by the
Israeli air force.
- Specifically, we assessed that once the pumphouse
and pipe system were complete in early August, the
reactor could begin operation at any time. Once
operations began, certainly a military option would
have been much more problematic with radioactive
- We have long had indications of Syrian covert
nuclear-related interaction with North Korea, and
identified the al-Kibar facility in the fall of 2006
as an enigmatic site. In Spring 2007, we acquired
information that enabled us to conclude that the Al-
Kibar facility was a reactor.
- Information was brought to our attention at that
time by Israeli officials who had conclusive
intelligence that a reactor was being constructed at
- The Israeli reports were confirmed by our own
independent intelligence and analysis and were
consistent with less definitive information we already
- At the same time, we conducted our own intensive
internal policy deliberations regarding what to do
about this disturbing and destabilizing development.
- We discussed policy options with the Israelis, but
in the end Israel made its own decision to destroy the
reactor. This decision was made by Israel alone - they
did not seek our consent. Nonetheless, we understand
- <> saw this reactor, and what Syria may have
intended to do with it, as an existential threat that
required it to act to defend itself.
The way forward with syria
- Syria's secret construction of this nuclear reactor
is the latest in a series of unacceptable actions by
the Asad regime.
- Syria is a state that supports terrorism,
destabilizes Lebanon, and is the largest conduit for
foreign fighters and suicide bombers entering Iraq to
kill Iraqis, Americans, and Coalition forces.
- The Syrian Government supports terrorist groups such
as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hizballah, and
others, including by playing host to leaders of some
of these groups.
- Syria is a proliferator in every sense - of
terrorism, of instability to its neighbors, including
Lebanon, and now as a recipient and developer of
dangerous nuclear technology.
- The Syrian regime, in going down this path, has
shown a disregard for the security of the region and
of its own people.
- We call upon the Syrian regime to reveal the full
extent of its nuclear activities, as it is required to
do under the NPT and its safeguards agreement, and
verify that its covert nuclear-related activities have
- For better relations with the international
community, in addition to full disclosure and
cooperation regarding its covert nuclear program,
Syria needs to end support for insurgents and foreign
fighters in Iraq, support for Palestinian terrorists,
and interference in Lebanon. If willing to do so,
Syria can expect to be welcomed by the international
The way forward -- six-party talks
- In September 2007, the U.S. began raising its
concerns with North Korea about nuclear cooperation
with Syria. We have also raised this matter with the
other participants in the Six-Party Talks.
- We have made our concerns known to North Korea in a
frank and comprehensive way. The North Koreans have
acknowledged our concerns.
- The North Koreans have stated that there is no
ongoing nuclear cooperation with any foreign country
in violation of applicable domestic and international
laws and treaties, and that there will be no such
cooperation in the future.
- North Korea has agreed to cooperate on verification
activities in line with its past commitments on non-
proliferation, including as stated in the October 3,
2007, agreement, and to provide additional
explanations as necessary.
- We have been following Syrian/North Korean
interactions since the destruction of the reactor, and
we have not seen the same level of interaction as we
did before the reactor's destruction, however we
cannot be certain all cooperation has ceased.
- We continue to be on alert for signs of any nuclear
cooperation, and any renewed activities.
- We remain attuned to potential North Korean
relationships worldwide, especially given North
Korea's continued proliferation of missiles and other
weapons. We plan to follow up on North Korea's
agreement to cooperate on verification and to provide
further explanations as necessary.
- We are working with the Chinese to establish such a
mechanism within the Six Party framework to address
- We cannot allow the world's most dangerous weapons
to fall into the hands of the world's most dangerous
regimes. This is the policy we have applied with
respect to Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, and it is the
policy that we continue to pursue. We are concerned by
the cooperation between regimes that sponsor
proliferation, especially when those same regimes also
sponsor terrorism and foster instability.
- A Syrian nuclear weapons capability would have been
a catastrophic development for the Middle East and the
world. It could spark a nuclear arms race in the
region, and could escalate already high tensions with
unpredictable and dire consequences.
- The international community must come together to
put a stop to dangerous behavior such as this. There
is a consensus among nations that proliferation cannot
be tolerated. This episode reminds us of the dangers
of proliferation and that we must rededicate ourselves
and act cooperatively to prevent the spread of weapons
of mass destruction.
End text of background information.
5. (u) begin text of press statement:
Today, administration officials have briefed select
Congressional committees on an issue of great
international concern. Until Sept. 6, 2007, the
Syrian regime was building a covert nuclear reactor in
its eastern desert capable of producing plutonium. We
are convinced, based on a variety of information, that
North Korea assisted Syria's covert nuclear activities.
We have good reason to believe that reactor, which was
damaged beyond repair on Sept. 6 of last year, was not
intended for peaceful purposes. Carefully hidden from
view, the reactor was not configured for such purposes.
In defiance of its international obligations, Syria
did not inform the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) of the construction of the reactor, and, after
it was destroyed, the regime moved quickly to bury
evidence of its existence. This cover-up only served
to reinforce our confidence that this reactor was not
intended for peaceful activities.
We are briefing the IAEA on this intelligence. The
Syrian regime must come clean before the world
regarding its illicit nuclear activities. The Syrian
regime supports terrorism, takes action that
destabilizes Lebanon, allows the transit of some
foreign fighters into Iraq, and represses its own
people. If Syria wants better relations with the
international community, it should put an end to these
We have long been seriously concerned about North
Korea's nuclear weapons program and its proliferation
activities. North Korea's clandestine nuclear
cooperation with Syria is a dangerous manifestation of
those activities. One way we have chosen to deal with
this problem is through the Six Party Framework.
Through this process we are working with our partners
to achieve the verifiable denuclearization of the
Korean Peninsula. The United States is also committed
to ensuring that North Korea does not further engage
in proliferation activities. We will work with our
partners to establish in the Six Party Framework a
rigorous verification mechanism to ensure that such
conduct and other nuclear activities have ceased.
The construction of this reactor was a dangerous and
potentially destabilizing development for the region
and the world. This is particularly true because it
was done covertly and in violation of the very
procedures designed to reassure the world of the
peaceful intent of nuclear activities. This
development also serves as a reminder that often the
same regimes that sponsor proliferation also sponsor
terrorism and foster instability, and cooperate with
one another in doing so. This underscores that the
international community is right to be very concerned
about the nuclear activities of Iran and the risks
those activities pose to the stability of the Middle
East. To confront this challenge, the international
community must take further steps, beginning with the
full implementation of the United Nations Security
Council resolutions dealing with Iranian nuclear
activities. The United States calls upon the
international community to redouble our common efforts
to ending these activities and preventing the spread
of weapons of mass destruction in this critical region.
End text of press statement.
6. (U) Posts are requested to report any substantive
reactions as soon as possible.
7. (U) Minimize considered.