UN atomic watchdog may clamp down on Syria

Diplomatic sources: If IAEA implicates Syria in building covert nuclear reactor in upcoming report, UN Security Council action could follow.

syria nuclear reactor site 311 (photo credit: Courtesy ISIS)
syria nuclear reactor site 311
(photo credit: Courtesy ISIS)
VIENNA - UN inspectors may say in an upcoming report that a Syrian desert site bombed to rubble in 2007 was probably a covert nuclear reactor, opening the way for the UN Security Council to take up the case, diplomats said.
Previous International Atomic Energy Agency reports have said there are indications nuclear activity may have taken place at the Dair Alzour site, but the next report could use more pointed wording, according to Vienna-based diplomats.
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The IAEA declined to comment about the report, which will be presented to its 35-nation governing board in June.
The board has the power to refer countries to the Security Council if they are judged to have broken IAEA rules based on the global Non-Proliferation Treaty that ban diversions of nuclear technology to weapons development.
Diplomats said it was not clear whether a Security Council referral would come at the June board meeting in Vienna and that it could take much longer for possible action.
Syria has denied the IAEA follow-up access to the site that US intelligence reports say was a nascent plutonium-producing reactor designed by North Korea and meant to yield bomb fuel.
Israeli warplanes wrecked the site in September 2007 and Syria has allowed IAEA investigators to visit it only once, in June 2008, stonewalling all further requests for access. Syria, an ally of Iran, denies ever having a nuclear weapons program.
The board referred Iran to the Security Council in 2006 over its failure to clarify suspicions of illicit nuclear weaponization work. Tehran has denied seeking atom bombs but has refused to curb uranium enrichment and has been hit with an escalating series of Security Council sanctions.
"There is a discussion in the agency about whether to make a final evaluation on Syria about what it constructed at Dair Alzour," one diplomat accredited to the IAEA said.
If there is an assessment, it is possible the IAEA will say bin the report there is a "high degree of confidence" the site was a nuclear reactor or something similar, the diplomat said.
Diplomats said the IAEA was unlikely to make a definitive, final assessment due to a lack of further access to the site. They also said the report had not been drafted but that discussions were taking place.
"We're hearing that is what the report might say," another diplomat said. A third said that pressure was building on Syria and that the IAEA board could not allow Damascus to continue stalling the agency's investigation.
Syria says the agency does not need to visit the site again and argues that the Vienna-based IAEA should focus on Israel instead because of its undeclared nuclear arsenal.
Damascus has suggested the uranium traces uncovered at the site after the one-off IAEA visit came with Israeli munitions used in the attack. The agency has dismissed this as unlikely.