IAEA 'serious' about Syria nuclear probe

ElBaradei says report on alleged reactor to be on IAEA agenda, won't confirm uranium found at site.

ElBaradei 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
ElBaradei 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
The chief UN nuclear inspector said Tuesday his agency is taking allegations of a secret Syrian atomic program seriously and urged the country to cooperate fully with his investigation. Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, also urged other nations with information that could help the investigation to share what they know. He spoke a day after diplomats told The Associated Press that IAEA samples taken from a Syrian site bombed by Israel on suspicion it was a covert nuclear reactor contained traces of uranium combined with other elements - a finding that merits further information. Syrian officials had no comment Tuesday. Syria has previously denied any covert nuclear program. Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad has said Damascus would consider a request by the nuclear watchdog to revisit the bombed site. Elbaradei, who spoke to reporters in the Czech capital after meeting Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, declined to comment on what the diplomats said, telling reporters only that his agency still has "a number of questions" linked to the allegations. Indirectly criticizing Israel for launching the strike more than a year ago, ElBaradei said "the fact that we were not allowed to investigate that issue before the facility was destroyed" had made the probe "much more complicated for us." The US says the facility was a nearly completed reactor that - when on line - could have produced plutonium, a pathway to nuclear arms. In the IAEA's Vienna headquarters, agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the latest findings on Syria are "still being drafted and our assessment and evaluation is still under way." "Once it is finished, the report will be submitted to the IAEA Board of Governors ahead of its next meeting, which is scheduled to take place on 27-28 November." For his part, Elbaradei urged "Syria to give us maximum transparency." "But I also continue to call on all these countries who have any information including satellite imageries to share it with the agency," Elbaradei said. Ibrahim Othman, Syria's nuclear chief, has said his country would wait for final environmental results before deciding how to respond to repeated IAEA requests for follow-up visits to the one in June, when the samples were collected. But a diplomat attending a closed IAEA meeting in September told the AP that Syrian Ambassador Mohammed Badi Khattab suggested his country would not allow further visits under any circumstances because it was still technically at war with Israel and was concerned any additional IAEA probe would expose some of its non-nuclear military secrets. Beyond wanting to revisit the site bombed by Israel, IAEA experts also want to follow up on US Israeli and other intelligence that North Korea was involved in building the alleged Syrian program. Also, IAEA officials have been seeking permission to visit three other sites purportedly linked to the alleged reactor destroyed by the Israelis - although Syria already has said that those locations are off limits because they are in restricted military areas. Syria fears the IAEA probe could lead to a massive investigation similar to the probe Iran has been subjected to for more than five years - and to related fallout. Iran is under UN sanctions because of its refusal to heed Security Council demands to curb its nuclear activities.