WASHINGTON, April 25, 2008 – Syria’s building of a secret nuclear facility with North Korean help reinforces the need to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today. “It should serve as a reminder to us all of the very real dangers of proliferation and need to rededicate ourselves to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, particularly into the hands of a state or a group with terrorist connections,” Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said during a Pentagon briefing.

The reactor, destroyed by Israel in September before it became operational, was being built to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, and “not intended for peaceful purposes,” White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said in a statement issued yesterday.

The reactor was “carefully hidden from view,” in the eastern Syrian desert and not configured for peaceful uses, the statement noted. In addition, it was being built in defiance of international obligations, without notification to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

But even more damning, the statement noted, was the fact that Syria scrambled to “bury evidence of its existence” after Israeli aircraft bombed it Sept. 6. “This cover-up only served to reinforce our confidence that this reactor was not intended for peaceful activities,” the statement said.

The White House pointed a finger directly at North Korea for helping Syria build the facility. “We are convinced, based on a variety of information, that North Korea assisted Syria’s covert nuclear activities,” the statement said.

“We have long been seriously concerned about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and its proliferation activities,” it continued. “North Korea’s clandestine nuclear cooperation with Syria is a dangerous manifestation of those activities.”

The White House called the construction of the reactor “a dangerous and potentially destabilizing development for the region and the world.” It also shows that often “the same regimes that sponsor proliferation also sponsor terrorism and foster instability, and cooperate with one another in doing so,” the statement said.

The United States will continue working with its partners in the Six Party framework to ensure North Korea stops its nuclear activities, the White House said.

It also pressed Syria to “come clean before the world” about its illicit nuclear activities.

“The Syrian regime supports terrorism, takes action that destabilizes Lebanon, allows the transit of some foreign fighters into Iraq and represses its own people,” it said. “If Syria wants better relations with the international community, it should put an end to these activities.”

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