IAEA investigating claims of nuclear weapons in Syria

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IAEA investigating claims of nuclear weapons in Syria

Post by Admin on Sun Apr 27, 2008 5:33 am

The
head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog pledged on Friday to investigate what
he called serious U.S. accusations that Syria secretly built a nuclear
reactor with North Korean help.


Syria,
which denies the U.S. allegations, accused the United States of
involvement in an Israeli air attack in September that Washington says
destroyed the site of an atomic reactor in a remote part of the Arab
state.


Mohamed
El Baradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said
the allegations by U.S. intelligence against Syria would be
investigated with due vigor.


"The
Agency will treat this information with the seriousness it deserves and
will investigate the veracity of the information," ElBaradei said in a
statement.


He
criticized the United States for not disclosing its intelligence
information sooner. Israel should have given IAEA inspectors a chance
to investigate any Syrian nuclear activity before bombing the site, he
added.

El
Baradei confirmed Washington had handed over information which said
that a Syrian installation destroyed by an Israeli air strike in
September was an unfinished atomic reactor.


The
U.S. intelligence material, which included photographs, said the
suspected Syrian nuclear plant built with North Korean help was
"nearing operational capability in August 2007" -- the month before the
Israeli strike.

ElBaradei
said in his statement: "According to this information, the reactor was
not yet operational and no nuclear material had been introduced into
it."


Thursday's
U.S. disclosure did not amount to proof of an illicit nuclear arms
program since there was no sign of a reprocessing plant needed to
convert spent fuel from the plant into bomb-grade uranium, analysts
said.

"The
United States and Israel have not identified any plutonium-separation
or nuclear weaponisation facilities," David Albright and Paul Brannan
of the Institute for Science and International Security said in an
email commentary.


"The
absence of such facilities gives little confidence that the reactor was
part of an active nuclear weapons program," they said. "The United
States does not have any indication of how Syria would fuel this
reactor..., which raises questions about when this reactor could have
operated."


During
Thursday's briefing, a senior administration official said that
Washington feared that immediately revealing its evidence would add to
the pressure on Syria and might lead it to retaliate. That could have
triggered a wider conflagration in the Middle East, he said.


Other
experts point out that this all played out as the US was planning for
Annapolis peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians -- which the
Arabs particularly wanted Syria to attend so it would feel invested in
the process. I'm working with a colleague on a story to look at the
other reasons for this delay. Congress is clearly quite unhappy about
the delay, which triggered an interesting response even among
Republicans on the Hill yesterday.


Syria Compares Situation to Iraq

Syria
compares the U.S. allegations to those made against Iraq about illegal
weapons that were never found. It accused the United States of
colluding in Israel's air strike.


"The
U.S. administration was apparently party to the execution" of the
September raid by Israeli warplanes on eastern Syria," a Syrian
government statement said, without giving details. A U.S. official said
Washington did not give Israel any "green light" to strike the area.


Israel is widely believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal which experts estimate at up to 200
warheads.
The Jewish state has never declared its nuclear firepower as part of a
"strategic ambiguity" policy to deter adversaries.


El
Baradei said Syria would have been obliged under its non-proliferation
safeguards agreement with the Vienna-based IAEA to inform its
inspectors in advance of any planning and construction of a nuclear
facility.


But
he deplored Washington's failure to turn the information over to the
IAEA on the alleged reactor, said to have been launched in 2001, much
earlier to help "enable us to verify its veracity and establish the
facts."

"In
light of the above, (I) view the unilateral use of force by Israel as
undermining the due process of verification that is at the heart of the
non-proliferation regime," ElBaradei added.


Syria has belonged to the 144-nation IAEA since 1963 and has one, declared small research reactor subject to U.N. inspection.

Diplomats
close to the IAEA said Syria refused requests for agency inspectors to
visit the alleged reactor site after the air raid. Syria subsequently
razed and buried the installation and removed "incriminating
equipment," Washington said.


The
IAEA has been investigating the disputed uranium enrichment program of
Iran, Syria's close ally, since 2003. Iran is under U.N. sanctions for
failing to prove the work is only for electricity, not atom bombs, and
refusing to halt it.


The
White House said the United States was convinced that North Korea had
helped Syria to construct a clandestine nuclear reactor. The comment
came after intelligence officials briefed U.S. lawmakers about the raid.


Under a deal North Korea struck with five regional powers, it had until the end of 2007 to disclose a complete
list
of its fissile material and nuclear weaponry as well as answer U.S.
suspicions of enriching uranium and proliferating technology.


North Korea tested a nuclear device in October 2006.


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