'Processed uranium found at Syrian site'

Report by UN agency notes significant slowdown in Iran's effort to expand uranium enrichment program.

syrian reactor 224 88 (photo credit: Courtesy ISIS)
syrian reactor 224 88
(photo credit: Courtesy ISIS)
UN nuclear agency samples taken from a Syrian site suspected of being a secretly built reactor have revealed new traces of processed uranium, the agency reported Thursday. A separate report by the same organization - the International Atomic Energy Agency - noted a significant slowdown in Iran's efforts to expand its uranium enrichment program. The UN Security Council has slapped sanctions on Iran for not freezing enrichment, which can be used to make both nuclear fuel and the core of warheads. The report did not suggest any reason for the slowdown. But agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said earlier this week that the reason appeared to be "political" - indicating that Iran may be waiting for conciliatory signals from the new US administration, which has said it is ready to break with past American policy and talk directly with Iran on nuclear and other disputes. Both reports - meant for restricted release Thursday only to the 35 nations of the IAEA board - were obtained by The Associated Press ahead of a board meeting starting March 2 that will have the nuclear activities of the two Mideast nations on its agenda. The two documents painted a generally disheartening picture of the nuclear agency's efforts to probe the Iranian and Syrian nuclear programs. On Iran, the report "regrettably" noted Teheran's "continued lack of cooperation" in agency efforts to investigate suspicions the Islamic Republic had at least planned to make nuclear weapons. It also said Iran continued both uranium enrichment and building a heavy water reactor that will produce plutonium - like enriched uranium, a possible component of nuclear warheads. The Syria report noted Syria's refusal to allow agency inspectors to make follow-up visits to sites suspected of harboring a secret nuclear program despite repeated requests from top agency officials. The brevity of the reports - the one on Iran ran five pages, the one on Syria was just three - reflected the lack of progress in the separate agency probes. Still, a senior UN official who asked to remain anonymous in exchange for commenting on the restricted reports, described as significant the find of new uranium traces from samples taken during a one-off visit in June to the Al Kebab site bombed in 2007 by Israeli jets. The first minute traces of processed uranium from those samples were found late last year. The official said additional analysis had found 40 more uranium particles, for a total of 80 particles. Additionally, the official said, experts were analyzing minute traces of graphite and stainless steel found at and near the site, although he cautioned it was too early to say whether they were related to nuclear activity. Inspectors at the Al-Kibar site were known to be looking for graphite, an element in the type of North Korean prototype that the United States says the Syrians were trying to build with help from Pyongyang.