Pentagon suspects chemical weapons ties between Syria and North Korea

Firefighters participate in an anti-chemical, biochemical and radiological terror exercise against a possible terrorist attack, at the Marriott Hotel on April 21, 2005 in Seoul, South Korea. North Korea, which like a Syria is one of only a few countries not to sign international treaties on chemical weapons, has long been suspected of developing poison gas.

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said Thursday it believes North Korea and Syria may have cooperated on the chemical weapons front as well as nuclear program.

"I think there's been sharing between North Korea and Syria on any number of fronts," George Little, press secretary for the Defense Department, said at a news briefing. "There has been a relationship and an exchange of information between North Koreans and the Syrian regime for some time."

He cited the Al Kibar nuclear facility in Syria, allegedly built with North Korea's help and destroyed by an Israeli strike in 2007.

"I can't count out the possibility that they've discussed or shared information on chemical weapons," Little said, without further elaborating.

His comments came as the Barack Obama administration is apparently inching towards a missile strike against Syria's Assad dictatorship, accused of having used sarin gas against innocent civilians.

US officials underscore the need to set a precedent for possible similar problems created by North Korea, Iran and terrorist groups.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said in Congress earlier this week that North Korea has a massive stockpile of chemical weapons.

His spokesman, Little, said, "We have very good information" that suggests that Hagel's view is true.

"If we sit idly by and allow the Syrian regime to perpetrate atrocities the likes of which we've seen recently, then what signal does that send to countries like North Korea?" Little said.

Sarin gas, developed by German pesticide researchers in 1938, is a nerve agent that causes death, usually by asphyxia, by paralyzing muscles.

In Seoul, South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin openly expressed concern over alleged links between North Korea and Syria on chemical weapons. Kim met with Hagel in Brunei last week on the sidelines of ASEAN defense ministers' meetings.

Peter Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, said Kim and Hagel talked about the Syria issue, especially "the implications of how the Syrian use of chemical weapons is handled for North Korean behavior."

But a direct commercial or some other connection between North Korea and Syria on chemical weapons was not discussed in detail, Lavoy said, speaking separately to reporters at the Pentagon.

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