Samia Nakhoul, Reuters, April 24, 2008
LONDON (Reuters) - Syria on Thursday dismissed U.S. accusations that North Korea was helping it build a nuclear reactor that could produce plutonium.
Syria's ambassador to Britain, Sami al-Khiyami, told Reuters that the accusation, which President George W. Bush's administration was expected to lay out to lawmakers on Thursday, was to put pressure on North Korea in talks about Pyongyang's nuclear program.
"This has nothing to do with North Korea and Syria. They just want to exert more pressure on North Korea. This is why they are coming up with this story," Khiyami said.
"The cooperation between North Korea and Syria has nothing to do with (building) a nuclear facility. Cooperation is mainly economic.
"This is political manipulation ahead of the talks with North Korea to exert more pressure on them," he said.
Khiyami was speaking before what a U.S. official said would be evidence regarding Syria-North Korea nuclear cooperation to be put to lawmakers in Washington on Thursday.
The White House has said little about the possibility of such cooperation between the two since Israel conducted a mysterious September 6 air strike on Syria that media reports said targeted a nuclear site being built with Pyongyang's help.
The presentation to U.S. lawmakers was expected to include still photographs taken from videotape recorded inside the Syrian facility, another U.S. official said.
"Unfortunately the scenario of taking and retaking pictures looks like what happened before the Iraq war, when the U.S. administration was trying to convince the world that Iraq had nuclear weapons," Khiyami said.
"Instead of coming up with these ridiculous photos I think the U.S. administration should put all their effort into clearing the Middle East region of all weapons of mass destruction, starting with its closest ally Israel."
Israel is widely believed to have assembled the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal at Dimona, a plant out of bounds to foreign inspection.
(Editing by Charles Dick)