ElBaradei clashes with US over Syria

IAEA chief says Syria has right to agency aid in developing nuclear energy; US: It's inappropriate.

ElBaradei 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
ElBaradei 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
The chief UN nuclear inspector said Monday that Syria had a right to his agency's help in planning a power-producing atomic reactor, in what diplomats described as a rejection of US-led efforts to block the aid. The clash reflected tensions between Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the UN nuclear agency, and key Western nations over whether Syria should be given potentially sensitive nuclear guidance at a time when it is being investigated. Russia, China and developing nations also back the aid project, said diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the International Atomic Energy Agency talks. US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said it was "totally inappropriate, we believe, given the fact that Syria is under investigation by the IAEA for building a nuclear reactor outside the bounds of its international legal commitments. "And then for the IAEA to be involved in providing technical information concerning nuclear activities would seem to be contradictory, if not ironic," McCormack said. A report circulated last week by ElBaradei confirmed that soil samples taken at the site of a building in Syria bombed last year by Israel revealed "a significant number" of uranium particles. The report also said that satellite imagery and other information appeared to bear out US intelligence that the building was a nuclear reactor - one Washington said was nearly completed and almost ready to produce plutonium, a fissile warhead component. Syria denies hiding nuclear activities. But the report strengthened both concerns that it might have something to conceal and arguments from the US and its allies that Damascus should not be offered agency help in planning its civilian reactor. Beyond helping the Syrians develop expertise, the $350,000 aid project would send the wrong signal about a country under investigation by the IAEA, critics like the Americans argued. Those concerns were voiced again Monday, according to diplomats inside the closed meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation board. US delegate Jeff Pyatt was the most outspoken in opposition to the planned project and receiving backing from the European Union, France, Britain, Australia and Canada, the diplomats said. But ElBaradei disagreed, saying there was no legal basis to withhold the program. Two years ago, Iran was stripped of IAEA technical aid meant to help it build a heavy water reactor that also will produce plutonium when completed. However, the country was already under UN Security Council sanctions for refusing to freeze both construction of that reactor and its program of uranium enrichment - both pathways that could yield to nuclear arms. ElBaradei cited Teheran's case to emphasize the difference between the two situations and to argue in favor of the Damascus project, diplomats said. Iran and other nonaligned nations also warned against withdrawing the project. "Syria or any member state of the IAEA should benefit (from) technical cooperation without any discrimination," Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran's chief delegate to the IAEA, told The Associated Press. Separately, he accused those nations opposed to the Syrian project of "poisoning" the meeting's atmosphere. And speaking for the nonaligned countries, Norma M. Goichochea, the chief Cuban delegate said technical aid to members "should not be blocked, delayed or otherwise hindered for mere suspicion or unproven allegations."