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April 25, 2008
Notes from the Pentagon

Nuclear disclosure
The decision to break the seven-month silence on North Korean nuclear cooperation with Syria this week was due to a combination of pressure from Congress and mounting tensions in the Middle East, according to Bush administration officials.

Congressional aides, however, said disclosing the intelligence appeared designed to "inoculate" North Korea and the six-nation nuclear talks from critics who say the nuclear proliferation data ultimately will distract attention from doubts about the questionable format of Pyongyang's required declaration of its nuclear programs.

The intelligence on the Syrian plutonium reactor that was bombed Sept. 6 in a daring covert raid by Israeli warplanes in northern Syria was blocked from disclosure since the fall by the Israelis, who technically owned the information that was shared with the CIA.

The Israelis were concerned that disclosing the information last year might trigger Syrian retaliation but now are more worried about signs of growing tensions in the region and the threat of a new outbreak of conflict between Israel and Lebanese-based Hezbollah terrorists.

The CIA, the National Security Council staff and the State Department's Near East Affairs office worked to release the once-classified intelligence, which is likely to set back the six-party talks and prompt harsh denunciation from North Korea.

North Korea, as part of a recent concession, is being allowed to separate from its formal declaration of nuclear programs, the uranium enrichment activities and the Syrian proliferation element.

The intelligence on the nuclear plant being built in Syria with North Korean help was disclosed yesterday to reporters and members of Congress after a seven-month delay.

It revealed that the plutonium reactor that was bombed was identical to North Korea's Yongbyon facility and that both Syria and North Korea sought to cover up evidence of the secret reactor facility after the Sept. 6 Israeli raid destroyed it.

Critics in Congress say Syria-North Korea nuclear links will undermine support for the recent declaration deal.

"The nuclear cooperation shows extremely bad faith on the part of the North Koreans," one congressional aide said about the communist regime that supplied the reactor to Syria, and at the same time it was negotiating with the United States, China, Russia, South Korea and Japan on dismantling its nuclear weapons programs.

Hot line
A Chinese general has disclosed the arrangements for using the newly established direct telephone link between the Pentagon and China's Ministry of Defense, indicating that it may not be easy to reach a Chinese military leader in a crisis or an emergency.

Chinese Maj. Gen. Qian Lihua, director of foreign affairs for the Ministry of Defense, said in an interview published in the official military newspaper PLA Daily April 16 that the phone link is located in the Chinese Defense Ministry in Beijing, not the real Chinese military command center located underground at a place called Western Hills.

Gen. Qian said the direct communication link is not exactly direct. Before anyone in China will even agree to hold a telephone conversation on any topic of military relations with a U.S. counterpart, a series of steps must be taken, including a "proposal through diplomatic channels" to have a conversation in the first place, he said.

"Specifically speaking, the side wishing to make the call will first notify the other side of the topic and time of the proposed call," Gen. Qian said. "If the other side agrees to talk on the issue, working-level staff from both sides will discuss the specific timing of the call. When everything is ready, the leaders of departments of defense affairs or armed forces of both sides can talk on the phone on the agreed topic at the agreed time."

The cumbersome process would seem to preclude a U.S. defense or military leader from picking up the phone to talk right away to a Chinese general.

But Geoff Morrell, Pentagon press secretary, said that the defense telephone link with China is no different from those with 30 other nations and that in an emergency, a quick connection can be made.

"On an emergency basis, if we have to have an emergency telephone conversation with the Chinese military, a call is placed and the relevant parties are connected very quickly," Mr. Morrell said.

Non-emergency calls, however, require some back and forth before the call is placed, he said.

The phone link is supposed to end the problem of not being able to reach senior Chinese military leaders, as occurred in April 2001 when a Chinese interceptor jet flew into a U.S. EP-3 surveillance plane, killing the Chinese pilot and nearly killing the EP-3 crew, who rather than being assisted were imprisoned after making an emergency landing on Hainan island. Senior U.S. officials were not able to reach any Chinese military leaders until hours after the incident occurred.

Iranian arms
Iran continues to ship arms to Iraq that are being used to kill both Iraqi and U.S. forces. The latest discovery was a huge arms cache uncovered by Iraqi army troops April 19 in a house in the Al Hyyaniyah area of the southern city of Basra.

The arms included weapons with Iranian markings, including a 240 mm high-explosive warhead and about 160 mortars, some that were less than 12 months old.

Additionally, the arms included more than 20 complete improvised explosive devices, large quantities of IED components, several explosively formed projectiles and dozens of grenades and fuses.

The explosively formed projectiles are particularly deadly as they can penetrate armor shielding.

Other weaponry included 20 blocks of plastic explosives, homemade anti-personnel mines packed with ball bearings, hundreds of meters of detonation cord, improvised rocket launching rails, and thousands of rounds of small-arms ammunition.

Lt. Col. Neil Harper, deputy public affairs officer for Multi-National Corps--Iraq, said local Iraqis provided tips that led to the arms cache.

The Iranian weaponry is increasing pressure for the U.S. military to take some type of action against Iran to block the influx of arms to terrorists and insurgents.

  • Bill Gertz covers national security affairs. He can be reached at 202-636-3274, or at

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