(Adds Syrian comments, background, paragraphs 7-8, 11)
By Randall Mikkelsen
WASHINGTON, April 28 A suspected Syrian reactor
bombed by Israel had the capacity to produce enough nuclear
material to fuel one to two weapons a year, CIA Director
Michael Hayden said on Monday.
Hayden said the plutonium reactor was within weeks or
months of completion when it was destroyed in an air strike
last Sept. 6. Within a year of entering operation it could have
produced enough material for at least one weapon.
"In the course of a year after they got full up, they would
have produced enough plutonium for one or two weapons," Hayden
told reporters after a speech.
The reactor was of a "similar size and technology" to North
Korea's Yongbyon reactor, Hayden said, disputing speculation it
was smaller than the Korean facility.
"We would estimate that the production rate there would be
about the same as Yongbyon, which is about enough plutonium for
one or two weapons per year," he said.
Hayden's comments were the first statement on the suspected
reactor's capacity, and his first public remarks since the
United States released photos of what it said was a secret
nuclear reactor built with North Korean aid.
Syria repeated its flat denial of any nuclear bomb bid at
the opening of two-week gathering in Geneva on the nuclear
"We remind everyone of the falsifications the U.S. made
about mass destruction weapons in Iraq," Syrian Ambassador
Faysal Hamoui told the meeting.
Syria has denied the U.S. charges and accused Washington of
involvement in the air attack by Israel, which is believed to
have the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East.
A diplomat close to the U.N. nuclear watchdog and outside
analysts have said the U.S. disclosure did not amount to proof
of an illicit arms program because there was no sign of a
reprocessing plant needed to convert spent fuel from the plant
into bomb-grade plutonium.
The United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency has
also criticized the United States for waiting until this month
to share its intelligence. The delay complicates IAEA effort to
confirm whether the facility was a plutonium reactor.
Hayden said the United States lacked the liberty earlier to
pass on the intelligence, which he said was acquired in a "team
effort." ABC News reported in October that Israel had obtained
pictures of the Syrian complex from an apparent mole and showed
them to the CIA.
"We did not have complete control of the totality of the
information," Hayden said. U.S. officials have declined to
identify sources of the intelligence.
Asked whether Washington had eventually gotten approval to
pass on the intelligence, Hayden said, "One would never share
the intelligence without consultation with that nation, as a
A senior Bush administration official said at a briefing
last week the intelligence was disclosed this month in part to
pressure North Korea in disarmament talks to fully acknowledge
its nuclear and proliferation activities, and to widen the
circle of U.S. lawmakers briefed on the issue.
Congressional support is key to President George W. Bush's
goal of making progress toward ending North Korea's nuclear
Senior intelligence officials said at the briefing they
told Bush the Syrian facility was a plutonium reactor built
with North Korean cooperation and intended to fuel a nuclear
They acknowledged their confidence level was relatively low
over its purpose as a weapons facility, due to limited
The officials said there was no reprocessing facility in
the area of the destroyed reactor, but declined to further
discuss their views of any Syrian reprocessing capability.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)