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Amanpour: Syria claim could affect U.S.-North Korea talks

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  • Amanpour: U.S. hardliners could be trying to aggravate North Korea
  • White House claims North Korea helped Syria's alleged nuclear activities
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(CNN) -- The head of the UN nuclear watchdog berated U.S. officials Friday for failing to share earlier that they had evidence that allegedly shows North Korea helped Syria develop a nuclear reactor.

U.S. officials say the video shows a Syrian nuclear site.

U.S. intelligence officials only told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Thursday of its belief that a building destroyed by Israel was in fact a nuclear facility, Mohamed ElBaradei said. That was the same day the information was given to legislators and reporters. Syria is rejecting the accusation that it was building a reactor.

CNN's Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour talked to American Morning's John Roberts about the controversy.

ROBERTS: What do we know about what was going on in Syria?

AMANPOUR: First of all, Israel did strike that building in Syria on September 6. We broke the fact and confirmed it on September 11 of 2007. Israel had really put down draconian military censorship on its own press. The U.S. wasn't talking, but very quickly we found out both the United States and Israel thought that was a nascent nuclear plant.

The question has been why didn't they brief the international community and, indeed, the IAEA. The other question that's being asked right now is, since everybody has known about this ... the U.S., Israel, and the Europeans have been able to share intelligence, this is a seven-month-old issue. Why is it being broadcast now?

ROBERTS: The United States claims this was a nascent nuclear plant modeled on the Yongbyon facility in Pyongyang. What about the veracity of the U.S. claims? They got it so wrong when it came to what was going on in Iraq. We also found out that they were wrong about what was going on in Iran. They say they've now clarified that. So are we to be certain that what they say about this place is true?

AMANPOUR: That's a very good question, and, in fact, those who are concerned about nuclear proliferation are concerned about the track record of the administration when it comes to credibility on these issues of weapons of mass destruction.

However, having said that, there are a good number of people who do believe that was a nascent nuclear facility. Perhaps it wasn't quite ready to come online, according to others who I have spoken to. It did not have all the final and full elements that would actually link it as a nuclear facility. But nonetheless, most people do believe it was a nuclear facility.

The real question right now, John, is how does it affect the very serious negotiations that are going on between the United States and North Korea to de-arm and disarm North Korea's nuclear plant. I was in North Korea in February. We did get an exclusive look with another news agency at Yongbyon. That plant is disabled. There are American experts there monitoring and supervising that. I also spoke with North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator just after I had been at the plant, and he assured us that those diplomatic negotiations are going ahead to try to disarm North Korea.

ROBERTS: But again, this idea that they were helping Syria build this plant out there in the Syrian desert gives more cause for alarm and this issue of proliferation -- that while North Korea may be entering negotiations into disabling and dismantling their facilities, at the same time they appear to still be trying to help out other countries develop nuclear power.

AMANPOUR: Well, this is one of the issues that the United States is looking into during its negotiations right now. They want to know not just about all the plutonium the North Koreans have been able to make and weaponize. They also want to know about what proliferation activities they may have had.

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I think we need to watch in the next few days as to how North Korea is going to react to this presentation of these photos by members of the U.S. intelligence and others yesterday. Is North Korea going to use that briefing to scuttle back these negotiations and get back under its shell or is it going to be able to sit tight and proceed with the nuclear negotiations with the United States as they say they have been going well.

Analysts have said that the kindest reason to suggest that hardliners in the U.S. administration decided to release this information just now is to strengthen the U.S. negotiation bargaining hand. But they're more fearing that, in fact, a sharply different reason is underfoot, and that's to scuttle these negotiations because, as you know, there's an element within the administration who believes that North Korea should not be talked to and they should be squeezed and basically have a regime change. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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