Western countries seek to prevent Syria IAEA board seat

Other News Materials 3 October 2008 15:08 (UTC +04:00)

Western countries are seeking to keep Syria from taking a rotating seat on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board, as the Middle Eastern nation is alleged to have built a secret nuclear reactor.

According to diplomats, the United States and other western IAEA members are set to vote for Afghanistan rather than Syria to become one of 35 board members until 2010 later on Friday at the agency's general conference in Vienna, reported dpa.

The fact that a ballot is needed to decide the matter is a sign of a split among IAEA members. Usually, the group of Middle East and South Asian countries agrees on a candidate who is then accepted by the general conference as a matter of course.

A first visit of IAEA inspectors to the alleged site in the Syrian desert yielded inconclusive results.

In April, Washington provided the Vienna-based agency with intelligence indicating Damascus was close to completing a reactor that was bombed by the Israeli air force last year.

Syria maintains the site was a conventional military installation.

Several western nations have criticized Syria for not having allowed further visits by inspectors, and for banning access to additional sites.

"We would like to underline that my government is cooperating with the agency and we will follow suit all along the way," Ibrahim Othman, director general of Syria's Atomic Energy Commission, told the general conference on Friday.

"However, this cooperation will not be in any way at the expense of disclosing our military sites or causing a threat to our national security," he added.

Afghanistan was confident it could win the support of the majority of IAEA members, a diplomat told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. For the US, the credibility of the nuclear agency was at stake, the diplomat said.

But another diplomat from a European country said the outcome of the vote was uncertain.

Developing countries are expected to support Syria, as the nuclear allegations have not yet been proven.

"Afghanistan surely must have different problems than a seat on the IAEA board," the European diplomat said.