North Korea’s alleged involvement in a Syrian nuclear facility has touched off a dispute between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and conservatives opposed to her diplomatic efforts with the communist regime.
On Wednesday Rice reportedly had a tense private meeting with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Several days earlier Ros-Lehtinen co-authored an opinion piece questioning the Bush administration’s approach to North Korea, which offers incentives to the rogue nation to dismantle its nuclear program.
The article also criticized the administration for failing to brief more than a handful of legislators on Israel’s air strike on the suspected Syrian nuclear facility in September.
Ros-Lehtinen believes that if lawmakers knew the details behind the facility and the Israeli strike, they would be more concerned about the nuclear agreement with North Korea that Rice is backing.
After the meeting with Ros-Lehtinen, Rice appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and said her diplomatic approach was using “the teeth of diplomacy, not just the carrots of diplomacy,” the New York Times reported.
That drew a sharp response from Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo. “I would really like to know specifically what those teeth might be,” he declared.
Tancredo continued: “So if in fact it turns out to be the case that they did provide weaponry or some form of nuclear materials to Syria, then that would put them in violation of the agreement?”
Rice did not directly answer the question. “The United States is finally in a position to perhaps do something about the North Korean program, and I think we want to keep that capability,” she said.”
Satellite photographs taken about a month before the Israeli strike have begun to circulate and show what appears to be a reactor under construction in Syria near the Euphrates River, according to the Times.
Now the White House is attempting to fend off criticism from fellow Republicans, including conservatives within the administration, that Rice is pressing ahead with the diplomatic agreement despite national security concerns.
One administration official who has had access to the intelligence regarding the Syrian site worried that “we are shaking hands with the North Koreans because they have once again told us they are going to disarm.”
And former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, who advocates the tough approach to North Korea that Bush took in his first term, told the Times: “Republicans are brokenhearted that the administration has done a complete U-turn on this issue.”
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