US: Syria 'can't be allowed' to block IAEA nuclear probe

Ambassador Davies says US will not "let matter simply fade, go away"; suggests Arab state may still be pursuing "clandestine nuclear activities."

March 9, 2011 21:26
2 minute read.
The N. Korea reactor in Yongbyon, the Syrian site.

Syrian nuclear site 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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VIENNA - The United States warned Syria on Wednesday it "can't be allowed" to stonewall a UN watchdog investigation into a desert site where covert atomic activity may have taken place before it was destroyed by Israel in 2007.

"The United States position on this is that we are not going to let this matter simply fade away or go away," US Ambassador Glyn Davies told reporters on the sidelines of a week-long meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation governing board.

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Davies suggested the Arab state may still be pursuing secret atomic work, accusing it of "deliberate efforts to conceal the full extent and scope of what we strongly believe were, and may still be, clandestine nuclear activities."

Davies said the Syrian case represented a challenge to the IAEA's nuclear safeguards regime. "They can't be allowed to simply stonewall and block the investigation."

For more than two years Syria has refused the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) follow-up access to the Dair Alzour site that US intelligence reports said was a nascent North Korean-designed nuclear reactor, intended to produce bomb fuel. The complex was bombed to rubble by Israel in 2007. Damascus has suggested the uranium traces at the bombed site came with Israeli munitions used in the attack, an assertion the UN agency has dismissed as unlikely.

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said on Monday he saw possible movement in the Syrian probe, referring to a statement from Damascus it would work with the UN body to resolve all outstanding technical questions.

Syria last week agreed to allow UN inspectors to visit an acid purification facility where uranium concentrates, or yellowcake, were a by-product. But letting inspectors only go to the Homs plant would not satisfy Western concerns about Syria, which are focused on Dair Alzour and sites linked to it.

The United States has suggested the IAEA may need to consider invoking its "special inspection" mechanism to give it authority to look anywhere necessary in Syria at short notice, if Syria does not agree to inspectors visiting Dair Alzour.

The agency last resorted to such inspection powers in 1993 in North Korea, which still withheld access and later developed a nuclear bomb capacity in secret.

"I think it is still the case that this is a situation that could be addressed by a special inspection," Davies said.

Syria denies ever concealing work on nuclear weapons and says the Vienna-based agency should focus on Israel instead because of its undeclared nuclear arsenal.

President Bashar Assad said in a Wall Street Journal interview in January that Syria would not grant IAEA inspectors unrestricted access to possible nuclear sites because it would amount to a violation of sovereignty.

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