The New York Times reported Wednesday that United States government officials are divided over the significance of Israeli intelligence provided to the White House prior to its backing of an Israel Air Force attack on a reported nuclear facility in Syria on September 6.
According to the paper, U.S. officials say the debate centers on the question of whether the information Israel presented to the White House, which reportedly claimed that Syria had begun developing nuclear weapons with the North Korean help, had been conclusive enough to warrant the strike and to possibly alter U.S. policy on both Damascus and Pyongyang.
The report says that one side is represented by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and the conservative hawks in the administration, who argue that American policy must change in accordance with the Israeli information, which they portray as accurate and credible.
The Times says that on the opposing side is U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her allies, who maintain that the intelligence does not warrant any change in the U.S. diplomatic policy on the two countries.
"Some people think that it means that the sky is falling," a senior administration official told the New York Times. "Others say that they're not convinced that the real intelligence poses a threat."
ABC News reported last week that the strike was originally scheduled to take place on July 14, but was delayed due to hesitance on the part of the Americans.
The ABC report added that the U.S., embroiled in a war in Iraq partially due to faulty intelligence, was nervous about the accuracy of the information and the implications on the region an attack would have.
The New York Times reported that during a meeting last week in the White House, Rice and her chief North Korea negotiator Christopher Hill presented to U.S. President George W. Bush two possible diplomatic approaches toward Pyongyang. The first approach would be to operate in accordance with previous agreements struck with North Korea and offer the country incentives to disarm. The other option would be to revert to the administration's previous policy, led by Cheney, which its opponents argue compelled North Korea to begin its nuclear program.
The vice president and national security adviser Stephen Hadley, who were also present at the meeting, expressed their dissatisfaction with the president's decision to take the first option and honor the current agreement. They maintained that the information presented by Israel proves that North Korea cannot be trusted and that the U.S. must be prepared to withdraw from the agreements if Pyongyang refuses to admit to contacts with Syria.
Bruce Riedel, formerly of the CIA and the National Security Council, told the newspaper that the American intelligence agencies are careful not to jump to conclusions based on the IAF activity in Syria. Still, Riedel said that Israel would not have targeted the Syrian facility unless it believed sophisticated weaponry was being developed there.
"You don't risk general war in the Middle East over an extra 100 kilometers' range on a missile system," he said.
Since the nuclear experiment the North Korea carried out last year, Rice has been pressuring Bush to take a more diplomatic approach to the Asian country and embark on talks over disarmament. The talks, including Russia, Japan, China and South Korea, led to a preliminary agreement on the closing of the North Korean nuclear reactor in exchange for food and fuel aid.
The deal sparked resistance among Capitol Hill conservatives who said that the Bush administration was putting too much weight on negotiations with North Korea instead of investing resources in preventing the spread of illicit weapons in the Middle East.
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