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U.S. frets about N. Korea in Mideast

NEW YORK – The United Nations Security Council holds a special ministerial meeting on the crisis in the Middle East this week, and one topic overshadowing the gathering is North Korea.

Numerous published reports have speculated about the extent of North Korean involvement both in the Syrian conflict and Iran’s nuclear standoff.

A retired State Department negotiator confirmed that speculation about North Korean “advisers” in the Mideast is well-founded.

“There is a strong evidentiary case to be made,” explained Evans Revere, a former State Department North Korean negotiator.

A group of high-level North Korean officials headed by Vice-Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, recently concluded a U.S. visit where it participated in several private symposiums and met groups of current and former American policy makers.

Revere, now a lecturer with Princeton University, was a former State Department veteran who participated in numerous negotiations with the Pyongyang government for the administrations of both Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush.

Revere spent more than six hours with the North Koreans in New York City on Saturday.

One issue raised was the on-going North Korean presence in Iran and Syria.

In September 2007, Israel attacked a suspected secret Syrian nuclear reactor complex in “Operation Orchard.”

At the site was a reactor said to have a design almost identical to one inspected by U.S. officials at the North Korean Yongbyon Research Center.

Revere confirmed Washington was well aware of a troubling North Korean “presence” in both Syria and Iran.

That presence, says Revere, involved the proliferation of nuclear technology to both Tehran and Damascus.

“I raised in my comments (with the North Koreans) in a very prominent fashion, relations with Syria. You cannot have a serious conversation without raising these issues. … These are legitimate concerns with a strong evidentiary case to be made. Not only does the DPRK have the ability to proliferate arms, but has already done so.”

In the case of Syria, it is believed that North Korea actually supervised the construction of the secret nuclear reactor eventually destroyed by Israel.

In Iran, the involvement would appear to be more extensive, with North Korea actually training groups of Iranian scientists both in the country and in the DPRK itself.

Iranian engineers were believed by the Pentagon to actually be on site when North Korea exploded its second atomic device in May 2009. The device’s explosion resulted in a small earthquake registering 4.7 on the Richter scale, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

While never actually confirmed, Iranian and North Korean diplomats at the U.N. in New York refused any comment on the issue when raised in 2009.

According to U.S. sources, North Korea saw the “export” of nuclear technology as a means to raise much needed hard currency. Iran, seeking to resurrect a project first begun under the shah, was more than eager to supply such cash.

In Iran’s case, North Korea provided covert cooperation, while Moscow, also attracted by Tehran oil money, was an overt supplier, a main public contractor.

Russia was the prime contractor in building the recently activated Bushehr Nuclear Power Station.

Bushehr, an internationally approved project, was originally intended by the shah to wean the Iranian economy from oil so more of the “black gold” could be used for export.

Now, partially operational, Bushehr, when fully activated, will be among the 20 largest nuclear-power stations in the world, says the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, the U.N.’s atomic watchdog.

While the IAEA insists that Bushehr poses no military threat, Israel insists that Iranian engineers operating the complex will gain “critical” experience in handling nuclear materials which could have military use.

In the Syrian controversy, the construction of a reactor almost identical to the one which had been mothballed in Yongbyon under a U.S. agreement, was believed to have been built to allow the North Koreans and their Syrian “hosts” to engage in banned “research” away from the prying eyes of Washington and the IAEA.

North Korean involvement in Syria is believed by U.S. intelligence to date back as far as 2001 when several DPRK officials visited new President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

In April 2004, a train accident near the North Korean city of Ryongchon was believed to have killed numerous Syrian engineers who, it is believed, may have been attempting to transport nuclear fuel fabricated by the DPRK back to Syria.

The cause of the accident was never released by Pyongyang, but British newspapers speculated Israel sabotaged the train to stop the Syrian scientists.

What is known by U.S. intelligence is that North Korea quarantined the accident site for several days while American satellites observed what appeared to be a nuclear decontamination operation in progress.

Former U.S./U.N. Ambassador and U.S. arms-control negotiator John Bolton was not surprised with the North Korean meddling.

Bolton told WND: “One likely reason Syria has barred wider access for the IAEA is the presence of more North Korean [and/or] Iranian nuclear weapons related activities. … The key to understanding the Assad regime’s brutality in Syria is to recognize the hidden hand of Iran [and North Korea].”

Both Syrian/U.N. ambassador Bashar Ja’afari and U.S./U.N. ambassador Susan Rice refused comment.