By Paul Richter and Greg Miller
The CIA officials will tell lawmakers that they believe the reactor would have been capable of producing plutonium for nuclear weapons but was destroyed before it could do so, the U.S. official said, apparently referring to a suspicious installation in Syria that was bombed last year by Israeli warplanes.
The CIA officials also will say that though U.S. officials have had concerns for years about ties between North Korea and Syria, it was not until last year that new intelligence convinced them that the suspicious facility under construction in a remote area of Syria was a nuclear reactor, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity when discussing plans for the briefing.
By holding closed, classified briefings for members of several congressional committees, the administration will break a long silence on North Korean-Syrian nuclear cooperation and on what it knows about last year's destruction of the Syrian facility. Nonetheless, it has been widely assumed for months that many in the administration considered the site a nuclear installation.
It was not clear Tuesday how recently
A senior Senate aide said the timing appears driven by a Bush administration desire to apprise committee members of the latest intelligence on the reactor before releasing some of the information.
"I have this strong impression the reason they want to brief the committee is they want to say something publicly," said the aide, who discussed contacts with the administration only on condition of anonymity.
The administration has briefed senior members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, a senior Senate aide said. But other lawmakers have remained in the dark. The administration has been under pressure to extend briefings to a larger circle of lawmakers.
The administration is planning to ease sanctions on
After a breakthrough last year in which North Korea agreed to shut down its only functioning nuclear production facility, it was rewarded with fuel oil and the release of frozen bank funds. But talks stalled after the Bush administration demanded that
The administration shift appeared to give ground to
But under the latest approach,
Danielle Pletka, a vice president of the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute think tank, said the congressional briefings were simply a step the administration needed to take to move forward. "This is a box-checking exercise," she said.
Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said, "The administration routinely keeps appropriate members of Congress informed of national security and intelligence matters." He declined to comment on specific sessions, however.
Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, complained in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal in October that the administration "has thrown an unprecedented veil of secrecy around the Israeli airstrike," and that based on information he had been given "it is critical for every member of Congress to be briefed on this incident, and as soon as possible."
Some administration officials are believed to be unhappy with the latest developments in talks with
"You'll have some outcry, but I doubt there are enough people on Capitol Hill even paying attention to oppose it," said Gordon Flake, who follows the issue as executive director of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation and is a critic of such a pact.
He speculated that lawmakers would be reluctant to stand in the way of the deal, because that would risk criticism that they had blocked a hopeful avenue of progress on a top national security problem.
Another senior Senate aide said that although the disclosure might bring complaints, Congress would not turn against the negotiations with
Paul Richter and Greg Miller
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