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IAEA says Syria lacks skills for nuclear facility

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei waits for the start of a board of governors meeting in Vienna, March 3, 2008. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer

DUBAI (Reuters) - There is no evidence Syria has the skilled personnel or the fuel to operate a large-scale nuclear facility, the head of the United Nations atomic watchdog said in remarks aired on Tuesday.

“We have no evidence that Syria has the human resources that would allow it to carry out a large nuclear programme. We do not see Syria having nuclear fuel,” International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamad ElBaradei told Al Arabiya television.

In an interview with the Dubai-based television station, ElBaradei said the IAEA only had pictures of a site in Syria bombed by Israel last year, which resembled a nuclear facility in North Korea.

Arabiya aired only part of the interview.

The IAEA added Syria to its proliferation watch list in April after receiving U.S. intelligence material, including photographs suggesting Damascus had almost finished building a nuclear reactor in secret with North Korean help before Israel destroyed it in an air strike in September.

Damascus, a U.S. foe and ally of Iran, denies any covert nuclear activity and says the site Israel bombed was a military facility under construction. It has said it would cooperate with a U.N. investigation into the allegations of nuclear activity.

ElBaradei has said previously that Syria had agreed to a June 22-24 inspection visit to examine the allegations. In the interview, he called on Damascus to cooperate with the IAEA inspectors.

Diplomats have said Syria has refused IAEA requests to examine three sites other than the bombed one.

Reporting by Inal Ersan, editing by Tim Pearce