April 22, 2008 -- In an oddly timed move, the White House has decided to brief Congress this week about a nuclear facility the North Koreans allegedly helped Syria build more than a year ago.
The facility was destroyed last September by the Israeli air force. Neither Israel nor the United States have said anything publicly about the facility or about the Israeli strike.
The Sept. 6 strike came just as the U.S. was in the midst of intense negotiations with North Korea about dismantling its nuclear program in exchange for the loosening of economic sanctions.
The classified briefings will be conducted by top intelligence officials and given to multiple House and Senate committees, including Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Armed Services.
The move comes just as the State Department is in the final stages of striking a deal with Kim Jong Il's government that would take North Korea off the State Sponsors of Terror list in exchange for disabling its nuclear program and disclosing its nuclear activities.
Some are now worried these classified briefings could derail that effort.
"This just made a difficult job impossible," a senior State Department official told ABCNews.
The prospective deal has been criticized by many, especially conservatives — both inside and outside of the administration — who say North Korea cannot be trusted. A briefing like this would appear to support that argument.
But senior officials involved in this process say the briefing is not intended to derail or even complicate the North Korean talks. In fact, the briefing may be a sign that the North Korea deal is imminent.
"It certainly is not an effort to undercut policy," a senior U.S. official told ABCNews.
Key members of Congress in both parties have been demanding a briefing on a North Korea-Syria connection for months and warning that the White House should not make any deals with North Korea before explaining what happened in Syria last September.
The briefing will lay out the evidence that North Korea helped Syria develop the nuclear facility. But it will also show that North Korea's help came a significant period of time BEFORE the Israeli strike (and before the North Korea nuclear negotiations began making progress). It will also show that the Israeli strike eliminated any threat the facility posed.
There may be another issue at play here, as well. This is not just about North Korea's nuclear proliferation activities. It is also about Syria's previously unknown effort to acquire nuclear weapons. As one White House official told ABCNews, "Syria has to be held to account for what they did."