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Interview with nuclear proliferation expert, -

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TONY JONES: Well our guest tonight is an expert on the proliferation problems posed by countries
such as Iran, North Korea and Libya. Mark Fitzpatrick spent much of his 26 years in the US State
Department overseeing policy on non proliferation. He's now the senior fellow for non proliferation
at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. I spoke to him just a short time
ago.

Mark Fitzpatrick, thanks for joining us.

MARK FITZPATRICK: You're welcome.

TONY JONES: How credible is this speculation of an Israeli air strike targeting Syrian secret
nuclear facilities?

MARK FITZPATRICK: It's very hard to assess the credibility of a story that is based on so little
actual fact. There are various strands of evidence and information and innuendo that lead to this
story. But I'd be sceptical of it until we saw some further real evidence.

TONY JONES: Does Syria even have a civilian nuclear program or the scientific resources to build
one?

MARK FITZPATRICK: Well, Syria has a very small civilian nuclear program. They have one very small
research reactor and they have some nuclear scientists. They use that research reactor to produce
isotopes for medical and industrial purposes. So that civilian program does not present a threat.
The question has been for some time, "Is Syria dabbling in anything on the side in a clandestine
way, the way in which its neighbour Iran did?"

TONY JONES: Does the International Atomic Energy Agency have any information that Syria has been
attempting, as other countries have, and as the Agency understands, attempting to acquire nuclear
material or nuclear know-how?

MARK FITZPATRICK: No, the International Atomic Energy Agency has not come up with any evidence at
all that Syria is doing anything in a clandestine way to obtain nuclear material or to pursue any
programs that might lead to weapons capabilities. The only piece of evidence that the IAEA has come
up with is that the Pakistani nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, who sold nuclear weapons
technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea, also had visited Syria during his travels, among some
more than dozen other countries that he travelled to.

TONY JONES: What about the alleged connection between Syria and North Korea? Because this in a
sense, as the allegation has come out in some of the reporting, that there is a secret connection,
that North Korea's been supplying something to the Syrians. And in fact, the former UN ambassador,
US ambassador to the UN I should say, John Bolton, actually fuelled that speculation yesterday on
Israeli television?

MARK FITZPATRICK: The Syria-North Korea connection is where the story gets interesting. There is a
very strong connection between the two countries in the field of missile technology. North Korea
started supplying Syria with scud missiles back in 1989 and for the last almost two decades has
been strengthening that cooperation. There have been various North Korean officials, technicians,
visiting Syria over this time, most of them connected with the missile program.

But there have been some questions about some of the other North Koreans who have visited, some of
whom may have had some connection in some way to North Korea's nuclear program. That's not proven,
that's one of the signs that have been mentioned in the press and it's one of the reasons why some
people suspect that this missile cooperation could extend to the nuclear sphere.

TONY JONES: Now this all got started, the story got started because of an Israeli air strike
evidently inside Syria, the target of which is unknown. But, for example, one prominent British
newspaper The Sunday Times just over the weekend suggested that the Israelis had "blown apart a
Syrian nuclear cache" - whatever that means - but they didn't provide any evidence. Indeed, nearly
all of these stories are based on unsourced material from unnamed officials.

MARK FITZPATRICK: The suggestion that Israeli planes blew up a Syrian nuclear facility or a nuclear
cache of some sort is really hard to say that that's credible at this stage. But one can point to a
few things that are known. One is the timing of the Israeli air strike. It happened three days
after a North Korean vessel unloaded something for Syria.

That something was said in the manifest to be cement. But there are reasons to believe that it
might have been something else. Was it nuclear related? Maybe. Maybe it was chemical related, maybe
it was missile technology for Hezbollah. But the suggestion that it was nuclear is also fuelled by
North Korea's own protestations. A North Korea news agency was one of the first news agencies in
the world to condemn the Israeli attack. And so one wonders, maybe it did have something to do with
North Korea. But it might have been something entirely other than nuclear and it's conceivable that
Israeli officials, that American officials, have given a nuclear cast to this story in order to
serve as a kind of warning to Iran that Israel has capabilities to take out facilities and that
Iran better suspend its nuclear program or it could face itself some kind of, such attack.

TONY JONES: Yes, that's a very interesting thought because it actually comes on a day when the
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is actually warning the world it should prepare for the
worst, and the worst he says is war with Iran over its nuclear facilities?

MARK FITZPATRICK: There is a growing sense in several capitals of Western countries that if Iran
does not suspend its nuclear enrichment program, that a military strike may have to be the resort,
the measure of last resort. And I think that Foreign Minister Kouchner is making this kind of
statement in order to remind Iran that this is not the result that anyone wants, but it's the
result that the world may be driven to if Iran does not abide by the Security Council mandate to
suspend its program.

TONY JONES: It's a fascinating thought that people may have officials in Israel, and the United
States may have somehow conflated a series of stories to put out there a story in the public
suggesting that Israel is prepared to attack nuclear facilities as a warning. I mean, do you, have
you any sort of, have you ever seen anything similar to that to indicate that that might be the
case?

MARK FITZPATRICK: Well, the suggestion that Israel would have the capability and the intent to
strike an Iranian nuclear facility is something that has recurred over the past couple of years,
almost regularly. But this is the first time that it has really been, this kind of a scenario, has
been given the kind of, based in reality of a strike on something. Whether that something was a
nuclear facility, I really don't know.

TONY JONES: Should we sceptical about the whole story, I mean, given the way in which intelligence,
faulty intelligence as it turns out of weapons of mass destruction programs including nuclear
programs in Iraq, were actually used to take us to war?

MARK FITZPATRICK: I think we have to be very sceptical of this kind of a story. Several American
bloggers, friends of mine, lead off their blogs by saying, "This story smells, this story stinks.
It's based on unsourced evidence, vague intelligence, rumours and innuendo, building up something
from very little real evidence".

But all that said and done, I wouldn't totally rule it out that Syria and North Korea may have had
some sort of nuclear cooperation. They have had the cooperation in the missile area. North Korea
has shown itself ready to sell any manner of illicit goods to anyone who would buy them. And Syria
is a close country and has, possibly, nuclear weapons aspirations. There's no solid evidence for
saying that but I wouldn't rule it out entirely.

TONY JONES: Mark Fitzpatrick, it's a minefield trying to sort our way through all this unsourced
reporting, but we thank you again for trying to help us do that with a bit of expertise tonight.

MARK FITZPATRICK: You're welcome, happy to speak with you again.