UN agency approves Syria nuclear aid

According to deal, IAEA expertise, equipment will be provided to help Syria build power-producing reactor.

Syrian reactor 224 (photo credit: Courtesy ISIS)
Syrian reactor 224
(photo credit: Courtesy ISIS)
The UN nuclear agency on Wednesday overrode US concerns and approved sensitive technical aid for Syria, despite allegations the country has a secret atomic program that could be used to make weapons. In the end, Washington and its allies agreed to the deal, which provides IAEA expertise and equipment to help Syria build a power-producing reactor. But they did so only after three days of deadlock at a closed meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The dispute pitted Western nations against backers of Syria, which included Iran, Russia and China. Agreeing to approval appeared to have been a painful concession for the US, Canada, Australia, France and Britain - the nations that at the start of the meeting spearheaded the effort to deny Syria the aid. Syria portrayed the decision as vindication. Approval by the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency showed an "understanding of the position of Syria," Ibrahim Othman, head of Syria's nuclear agency, told The Associated Press. An IAEA report last week said satellite imagery and other information suggested a site allegedly bombed last year by Israel was a nuclear reactor, adding that agency inspectors had found traces of processed uranium on location. The US said the target was a nearly completed reactor that would have produced plutonium, a possible fissile warhead component. But Syria denies running a secret nuclear program. And on Wednesday, Othman dismissed Western assertions that a country being probed by the IAEA should not be privy to sensitive nuclear technological aid - and even denied his country was being probed. "We are not under investigation," he said, calling the case against his country "accusations without any proof." Reluctant Western acceptance of the aid project came only after a spirited endorsement by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei earlier in the week that appeared strengthen pro-Syria sentiment. The US and its allies could have forced a vote. But the outcome would have been uncertain. And it would have further charged the tense atmosphere of a meeting that normally decides by consensus and without controversy on projects to IAEA members meant to help them master civilian nuclear projects. Nations opposed instead settled for language allowing to express their concerns in the text approving the deal. That text, made available to The Associated Press, noted that "a number of states expressed strong reservations" and committed the IAEA to "monitor the project closely ... and ensure that any equipment provided is used only for the purposes intended."