UNSC gets 'devastating briefing' about Syrian nuke plant

IAEA reports to Security Council on covert nuclear plant, but no immediate action taken; West pushes UN to pursue issue; China, Russia hesitant.

July 15, 2011 09:20
2 minute read.
Syrian nuclear site

Syrian nuclear site. (photo credit: ISIS)


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UNITED NATIONS - The UN nuclear watchdog brought allegations of covert atomic work by Syria before the Security Council on Thursday, but the 15-nation body took no immediate action amid divisions among key powers.

The International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors voted in June to report Syria to the council, rebuking it for stonewalling an agency probe into the Dair Alzour complex, bombed by Israel in 2007.

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Western countries said Thursday's closed-door briefing by Neville Whiting, head of the IAEA safeguards department dealing with Syria and Iran, had made clear that Syria had a secret nuclear plant. They said the council should pursue the issue, but suggested it might not discuss it again before September.

Russia and China, allies of Damascus who can veto any council action, queried whether the council should be involved, as the Syrian complex no longer exists.

US intelligence reports have said the complex was a nascent, North Korean-designed reactor intended to produce plutonium for atomic weaponry, before Israeli warplanes reduced it to rubble. Syria has said it was a non-nuclear military facility.

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters Whiting had given a "devastating briefing ... from which you could only draw one conclusion -- that Syria did have at Dair Alzour a clandestine nuclear plant."

Damascus had "tried to conceal the purpose of that plant ... misled the IAEA about what the purpose was and ... failed to cooperate effectively with the IAEA in following up the questions that the IAEA put to them," he said.

IAEA to produce new report in September

Both Lyall Grant and German Ambassador Peter Wittig noted that the IAEA was due to produce a new report on Syria for its board of governors in September. "And then we take it from there," Wittig said.

But Chinese envoy Wang Min said Beijing was "not very happy" about the council's involvement. "We should not talk about something that does not exist. There are a lot of things that happened in the past -- should we discuss all of them?" he asked.

Russian envoy Alexander Pankin, asked what he had learned from Thursday's briefing, said "not much."

Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari said the meeting "didn't come to any conclusion because the Security Council considers only matters related to threats to peace and security, not to prefabricated, unfounded accusations against a member state of the United Nations."

"The point is that there is no case for the Security Council to consider in its deliberations," he said.

Diplomats have said council members could strive for language urging Syria to cooperate with the IAEA but that Damascus is unlikely to face UN sanctions over the issue.

Syria pledged on May 26 to cooperate with the IAEA and provide access to sites and information related to the probe, but Lyall Grant quoted the nuclear watchdog as saying cooperation had not improved since then.

In a statement, US Ambassador Susan Rice called on Syria to fulfill its pledge and that Damascus's "positive and prompt cooperation with the IAEA would be the best way to resolve outstanding questions about its nuclear program."

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