September 16, 2007 / 8:37 AM / 12 years ago

N.Korea denies nuclear ties with Syria: report

SEOUL (Reuters) - A senior North Korean official denied a report that Pyongyang was giving nuclear expertise to Syria, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported on Sunday.

The Washington Post, citing unnamed sources, last week reported that intelligence gathered over the past six months had led some U.S. officials to believe Syria was receiving help from North Korea on some sort of nuclear facility.

The intelligence, including satellite imagery, suggested the facility could be used to produce material for nuclear weapons, the Post said.

“They often say things that are groundless,” Yonhap quoted Kim Myong-gil, deputy chief of the North Korean mission to the United Nations, as saying.

Kim said he had nothing more to say and hung up the phone when asked to elaborate, Yonhap said.

North Korea is widely thought to sell conventional weapons to Syria though analysts say its armaments trade in general has been hit hard by tough sanctions since the reclusive state nearly a year ago tested its first nuclear device.

Pyongyang agreed earlier this year to start dismantling its nuclear facilities, and source of weapons-grade plutonium, in return for massive aid. More recently, the United States has held out the possibility of normalizing ties if the ostracized North completely scraps its nuclear weapons program.

The Syria reports have angered U.S. conservatives who believe North Korea cannot be trusted to keep its word and that talks on nuclear disarmament with regional powers, expected to resume next week, the six-party talks, are bound to fail.

On Friday, the lead U.S. negotiator with North Korea declined to confirm the Syria reports but said they underscored the need for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear programs.

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