IAEA's Syria Probe Remains Stalled

By Crail, Peter; Hood, Anna | Arms Control Today, October 2009 | Go to article overview
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IAEA's Syria Probe Remains Stalled


Crail, Peter, Hood, Anna, Arms Control Today


Syria continues to refuse full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) investigation into allegations that it pursued a secret nuclear weapons program, according to an Aug. 28 IAEA report. Syria has not given the agency access to additional sites of interest or turned over sufficient information to explain the presence of undeclared uranium particles detected last year, the report said.

Washington accused Damascus last year of attempting to construct a nuclear reactor with North Korean assistance to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons, prompting the agency's investigation. (See ACT, May 2008.) Israel destroyed the suspected reactor in a September 2007 air raid. Syria claims the facility, located near the village of Dair al Zour, was a military building with no nuclear applications.

In addition to urging Syria to provide additional transparency, the IAEA report asked other states with information relevant to Syria's suspected nuclear activities, "including Israel," to share it with the agency.

The report described the most recent Syrian explanations for refusing requests for additional access to sites and information. A key part of the agency's probe deals with the presence of chemically processed uranium discovered in samples taken from the Dair al Zour site in June 2008. (See ACT, December 2008.)

Although Damascus claims that the particles came from the bombs Israel used to destroy the facility, the agency maintains that the particles are inconsistent with the type used in munitions. According to the report, Syria has "not yet provided the necessary cooperation" to allow the IAEA to determine the origin of the particles.

In an Aug. 13 letter to the agency, Syria said that it has already provided all of the necessary information on the facility. Damascus also rebuffed agency requests for access to the debris from the site, claiming in the letter that it could not do so because it has been more than a year since the building's destruction. Neither Syria nor the IAEA provided additional details on that point.

Syria also refused to give the IAEA access to three additional locations the agency has described as "allegedly functionally related" to the Dair al Zour site, claiming that it has no obligation to provide such access because those locations are of a "military and non-nuclear nature."

Responding to this claim, the IAEA stated in the August report that there is "no limitation... on Agency access to information, activities or locations simply because they may be military related."

According to a diplomat who was present at the meeting, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei told the agency's Board of Governors June 17 that the IAEA is "ready to work with any modality to protect Syria's confidential military and non-military information."

In contrast to the frustration it expressed over Syria's lack of cooperation at the Dair al Zour site, the Aug. 28 report noted that Damascus has provided further explanation regarding the presence of uranium particles discovered at the site of Syria's sole nuclear reactor.

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