JUDY WOODRUFF: This latest intelligence comes at a sensitive time, as the U.S. and other nations are in talks with North Korea over Pyongyang's nuclear program.
For an assessment of this intelligence and its significance, we get two views. David Albright is president of the Institute for Science and International Security, which studies nuclear programs worldwide.
Henry Sokolski is executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, which is a Washington research organization.
Gentlemen, thank you both for being with us. And I'm going to start with you, David Albright.
Now that you've had a day to look over this evidence put forward by the administration and by intelligence officials, how persuasive is it?
DAVID ALBRIGHT, Institute for Science and International Security: I think the information is very persuasive that Syria was secretly building a nuclear reactor, and it was taking great steps to hide it from visual observation, it was getting help from North Korea, and it appeared quite determined to get it to operate.
Where I think the information is lacking is certain key things that would conclusively show Syria was engaged in trying to make nuclear weapons, things like you have to have a facility to separate plutonium in order to make a nuclear weapon.
There is no information about how Syria was going to actually get the uranium fuel to run the reactor, which is a little bit like finishing a car but not having any gasoline to run it.
And so there remain several questions where you have to be careful before you accuse Syria of having an active nuclear weapons program.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Henry Sokolski, how do you size up the evidence?
HENRY SOKOLSKI, Nonproliferation Policy Education Center: Well, I agree with all the comments made, but it's perhaps a different take, which is it certainly looked like a duck and it walked like a duck. And I think what you can't find is always a problem. We tend not to find fuel-making facilities all the time.
How far along the project was is, perhaps, a matter of open dispute, but, boy, they were definitely gunning for plutonium production. There's no question of that. And you wait long enough, you'd have another Iran crisis for sure.
JUDY WOODRUFF: When you say "we often," I think you said we often don't find uranium fuel facilities, what are you referring to?
HENRY SOKOLSKI: Well, or processing facilities. I remember being in the Pentagon, and we debated for nearly a year as to what a photographed reprocessing plant at Yongbyon in North Korea was, whether it was a textile plant or not.
So even when it's in plain sight, we have disputes as to what's going on. And frequently it's not in plain sight.
You can hide some of these facilities, as we've found in the case of Natanz, which is the Iranian enrichment program, and it being out of sight for quite a while until it's fairly far along.
So I think even this plant took a long time to find. That's one of the most remarkable things about this story is we didn't picture it ourselves until late in the game.
JUDY WOODRUFF: David Albright, what about this argument that if it walks, quacks like a duck, it must be?
DAVID ALBRIGHT: That's the kind of argument, unfortunately, that got us into a lot of trouble in Iraq and also in Iran. So I think you have to be very careful and find the evidence.
And particularly, if Syria is accused of having an active nuclear weapons program, that is different than accusing them of having a secret reactor, and particularly in a region where there's lots of tension...
JUDY WOODRUFF: What's the difference?
DAVID ALBRIGHT: Well, the difference is, is that it's a much greater violation of the nonproliferation treaty if you can show that they were actively trying to build nuclear weapons, and particularly if it was further along.
Right now, Syria wasn't loading fuel into that reactor, because then the bombing showed that and the work after the bombing. And so they hadn't violated major international treaties.
But if they were -- if you can prove they were engaged in making nuclear weapons and you can have evidence of that, then it's a very serious issue. And in a region where -- or particularly with Syria bordering Israel, you have to always worry in these cases that it could escalate into a military confrontation.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But very quickly, why would they have been building a facility to make plutonium if they weren't going to do something lethal with it?
DAVID ALBRIGHT: Well, one is we don't know the purpose. I mean, it looks like they were building it to get plutonium. And you would think that it's probably for nuclear weapons.But the point I'm making is that things can change and they can fail. For example, maybe they were going to depend on North Korea to provide the uranium, but North Korea was no longer going to provide that uranium, and they would have ended up with a machine that could never operate.