WASHINGTON (AFP) — Top US legislators questioned why the US only revealed this week that Syria had built a military-oriented nuclear facility, and asked why Washington had not shared its intelligence with the UN's nuclear watchdog.
"I was surprised that they hadn't given the information to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)," Senator Diane Feinstein, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said on CNN Sunday.
"And I was also surprised by the timing of it, because there have been some reports that Israel and Syria were looking at a settlement, quite possibly, and this could very well disrupt that settlement," she said, referring to a possible Israeli-Syrian political deal.
Feinstein said she did not doubt US intelligence briefers who said that the Syrian facility was nuclear weapons-oriented -- a charge denied by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
But she said the slow US disclosure was wrong.
"I think it should have gone immediately to the IAEA. That's why the IAEA is there. And by not sharing information immediately, what we do is destroy their verification potential as an independent, outside agency."
Peter Hoekstra, a Republican on the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said the data on Syria's nuclear facility presented by US intelligence officials was "compelling information."
Both he and Feinstein said they supported Israel's move to destroy the plant in an air attack on September 6, 2007 as it was nearing completion.
But, Hoekstra said, the two committees should have been briefed at least at that time.
"Because there are a lot of other questions that are out there, questions about how close was this to being operational? Who funded this for Syria? How close was the North Korean/Syrian cooperation in this? And where else might North Korea have been involved in proliferation?"
"And that's why ... if we would have gotten this information seven months ago to the full Intelligence Committee, we could have spent the last seven months going through and peeling back the onion and having a lot more information than what we have at this point."
Asked why the administration of US President George W. Bush only shared the intelligence this week, Feinstein said she did not know.
"I think they're sending some kind of a message, which candidly I don't understand, to North Korea, and I think they're also one way or another influencing an agreement with Syria and Israel. And to me, the timing is very suspect."
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