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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

It’s Official: the IAEA on Syria

by | May 31st, 2011 | 07:53 am
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Earlier, we posted on the IAEA’s dance with the press over its Syria work. Well, it seems to be the season of purloined and leaked documents. The Institute for Science and International Security has posted a copy of the restricted-circulation IAEA report on Syria on its website, embedded in a very useful parsing of the report. Its official: the IAEA has concluded that the bombed site was indeed a reactor. The report necessarily focuses on the Agency’s relationship with Syria and the violations of its safeguards agreement that the Dair Alzour site implied.

The report does not offer any firm conclusions with respect to the origins of technology and materiel. However, it does reiterate evidence from earlier satellite imagery from 2001 to 2007 to conclude that “the dimensions of the building are comparable to those for nuclear reactors of the type and power alleged, i.e. similar to the 25 MW gas cooled graphite moderated reactor at Yongbyon in the DPRK.”

What to do about it is not obvious to us given the other issues in play with respect to Syria. In any case, that is someone else’s rogue state, not ours. But the implications for understanding North Korea are a little bit more troubling than has been acknowledged. It is often assumed by prominent North Korea watchers that Pyongyang has a highly-calibrated understanding of red lines, and that proliferating a nuclear capability is different than acquiring your own or selling missiles. But behavior with respect to both Syria and Iran calls that assumption into series doubt, as hawks like Bruce Bechtol have long argued. His book, Defiant Failed State, makes the case for alarm.

On May 24, the State Department announced that two Syrian entities, the Industrial Establishment of Defense and Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), were being sanctioned under the Iran, North Korea and Syria Nonproliferation Act.