IAEA slams US intelligence delay on Syria, vows to investigate

Other News Materials 25 April 2008 22:49 (UTC +04:00)

The UN nuclear watchdog on Friday sharply criticized the United States for leaving it in the dark on intelligence on a nuclear reactor secretly built by Syria with North Korean help, dpa reported.

Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), slammed the US in a statement for not providing information on Syria's alleged secret nuclear installations in time.

"The Director General deplores the fact that this information was not provided to the Agency in a timely manner, in accordance with the Agency's responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to enable it to verify its veracity and establish the facts," it said.

The IAEA had received US intelligence on the site destroyed by Israel on September 6 only on Thursday, despite calling for information immediately after the destruction became public.

ElBaradei also said Israel should have given IAEA inspectors the option to investigate the alleged secret nuclear reactor for producing weapons-grade plutonium before bombing it.

"In the light of the above the Director General views the unilateral use of force by Israel as undermining the due process of verification that is at the heart of the non-proliferation regime," the statement said.

Nonetheless the information would be treated with "the seriousness it deserves" and the UN nuclear watchdog would investigate the veracity of the information, ElBaradei said.

The US administration charged North Korea with helping Syria to build a secret nuclear reactor similar to its facilities at Yongbyon and said Syria had broken its international obligations by hiding the facility from the UN nuclear watchdog.

The revelations have the potential to undermine the six-party talks with North Korea, which aim at dismantling the country's nuclear programme and persuading Pyongyang to provide a full declaration of its nuclear activities.

There was however no indication of an ongoing cooperation, Christopher Hill, the US chief negotiator on North Korea, was quoted as saying.

" Syria has an obligation under its safeguards agreement with the IAEA to report the planning and construction of any nuclear facility to the Agency," ElBaradei said.

Syria condemned the accusations, saying the US was attempting to launch a campaign against Syria in order to justify the Israeli airstrikes. Syrian officials had in the past denied any secret nuclear activities in the country.

According to the information provided by the US the purported the purported gas-cooled graphite-moderated reactor at al-Kibar in an isolated desert region in eastern Syria was not yet operational.

This assessment was echoed by David Albright and Paul Brannan of the Institute for Science and International Security, a non- proliferation think tank, in a statement. ISIS also raised doubt about the alleged weapons programme.

They added that lack of an identified source of uranium fuel raised questions about when the reactor could have operated.

"The United States and Israel have not identified any Syrian plutonium separation or nuclear weaponization facilities. The absence of such facilities gives little confidence that the reactor was part of an active nuclear weapons programme," Albright and Brannan said.

The IAEA, who was previously refused an inspection of the site, is now expected to again seek Syria's permission to visit al-Kibar.

Syria has been a member state of the IAEA since 1963. The country has declared one small research reactor to the UN, which is subject to inspections.