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Bush pushes 3 nations on nuclear issue

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  • White House last week said bombing target in Syria was covert nuclear reactor
  • Message to North Korea: "We may know more about you than you think"
  • Bush says he intended to send message to Iran about nuclear proliferation
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Tuesday his administration went public with information about Israel's bombing of a site in Syria last year in order to increase pressure on Iran, Syria and North Korea.

The administration said last week the target of the bombing was a covert nuclear reactor that was likely "not intended for peaceful purposes."

The White House wanted to make it "abundantly clear" to North Korea that "we may know more about you than you think," Bush told reporters in his clearest public comments to date about the incident last September.

The White House has accused North Korea of helping Syria build a nuclear facility. Senior administration and intelligence officials briefed select members of Congress Thursday on the evidence to support their viewpoint.

Syria's ambassador to the United States criticized the Bush administration's claims, saying Syria never worked with North Korea on a nuclear program.

Bush said he also intended to "send a message to Iran and the world just how destabilizing nuclear proliferation will be in the Middle East."

And he accused Syria of "intransigence" on issues including Iraq, Lebanon and Hamas.

The White House asked the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency to investigate the alleged Syrian nuclear program, prompting a complaint from the agency that the United States should not have waited eight months to contact it.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he "deplores the fact" that U.S. officials did not provide intelligence sooner. At the same time, ElBaradei said the IAEA will treat the information provided by the United States "with the seriousness it deserves and will investigate the veracity of the information."

Congress also criticized the Bush administration over the length of time it took to reveal what it knew.

Bush said Tuesday the White House had wanted to avoid inflaming the situation.

"We were concerned that an early disclosure would increase the risk of a confrontation in the Middle East or retaliation in the Middle East," he said.

The risk is now "reduced," he said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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