What's Bush's Big Secret?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, September 21, 2007; 1:56 PM

President Bush knows lots more nimble ways to dodge a question than snapping "no comment." So what was so hush-hush about Israel's recent bombing raid that he couldn't come up with anything to say about it -- or even find an elegant way to explain his silence?

Here's Bush's three-snap exchange with NBC's David Gregory at yesterday's 35-minute news conference:

Gregory: "Sir, Israeli opposition leader [Benjamin] Netanyahu has now spoken openly about Israel's bombing raid on a target in Syria earlier in the month. I wonder if you could tell us what the target was, whether you supported this bombing raid, and what do you think it does to change the dynamic in an already hot region in terms of Syria and Iran and the dispute with Israel and whether the U.S. could be drawn into any of this?"

Bush: "I'm not going to comment on the matter. Would you like another question?"

Gregory: "Did you support it?"

Bush: "I'm not going to comment on the matter."

Gregory: "Can you comment about your concerns that come out of it at all, about for the region?"

Bush: "No. Saying I'm not going to comment on the matter means I'm not going to comment on the matter. You're welcome to ask another question, if you'd like to, on a different subject."

Washington Post reporters Glenn Kessler and Robin Wright today suggest why the topic is so radioactive: "Israel's decision to attack Syria on Sept. 6, bombing a suspected nuclear site set up in apparent collaboration with North Korea, came after Israel shared intelligence with President Bush this summer indicating that North Korean nuclear personnel were in Syria, U.S. government sources said.

"The Bush administration has not commented on the Israeli raid or the underlying intelligence. Although the administration was deeply troubled by Israel's assertion that North Korea was assisting the nuclear ambitions of a country closely linked with Iran, sources said, the White House opted against an immediate response because of concerns it would undermine long-running negotiations aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.

"Ultimately, however, the United States is believed to have provided Israel with some corroboration of the original intelligence before Israel proceeded with the raid, which hit the Syrian facility in the dead of night to minimize possible casualties, the sources said."

When asked later, a bit more generically, "whether or not you believe that North Korea is aiding Syria with a nuclear program," Bush responded bluntly that "to the extent that [the North Koreans] are proliferating, we expect them to stop that proliferation."

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