International Atomic Energy Agency officials in talks last week attempted without success to win Syria's permission to investigate locations in the nation with possible ties to a clandestine atomic effort, the Associated Press reported on Saturday (see GSN, Oct. 28).
The Vienna, Austria-based organization has sought for years to investigate suspicions that Syria's Dair Alzour facility had housed a reactor intended to produce weapon-usable plutonium. Israel in 2007 bombed the site, which Damascus says was a military installation with no nuclear component.
Officials with the nuclear agency have only once been allowed to visit the razed site of the Dair Alzour facility. Inspectors during that June 2008 trip found signs of atomic activity, including traces of anthropogenic natural uranium. The U.N. organization said in May the destroyed installation had "very likely" housed a secret nuclear reactor.
A team headed by IAEA safeguards chief Herman Nackaerts in Damascus last week sought clearance to again travel to Dair Alzour, and to investigate three additional locations thought to be linked to the bombed facility.
The team's trip was for the most part unsuccessful, according to envoys representing a pair of IAEA member states. Syrian representatives said their government would put forward new data indicating that the Dair Alzour facility was not an atomic site, obviating the need for additional inspections, one of the envoys said.
Syria offered no schedule for providing the new data and did not specify the nature of the information, making the nation's response less than ideal in the view of the IAEA representatives, the envoy said. The response suggests Damascus seeks only to push back any potential actions against the Middle Eastern state, one source said.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog has indicated it would describe the results of the talks to its 35-nation governing board, which is due to convene in November.
Damascus vowed to address agency concerns following the governing board's June referral of the Syria issue to the U.N. Security Council for potential action, according to AP.
The board's June 9 referral measure voiced "serious concern" on "Syria's lack of cooperation with the IAEA director general's repeated requests for access to additional information and locations as well as Syria's refusal to engage substantively with the agency on the nature of the Dair Alzour site." The Security Council considered the matter in July.
Syria's violent crackdown on dissent has intensified international questions over possible undeclared atomic efforts, according to AP (George Jahn, Associated Press/Google News, Oct. 29).