November 17, 2008 / 7:47 PM / 10 years ago

ElBaradei says Syria uranium traces not conclusive

DUBAI (Reuters) - Uranium traces found at a Syrian site bombed by Israel were not sufficient evidence of undeclared nuclear activity but Syria must be more open to help clarify the issue, the head of the U.N. atomic watchdog said on Monday.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei answers questions during a news conference at Cernin Palace in Prague November 11, 2008. REUTERS/David W Cerny

“We won’t be able to reach a quick conclusion unless we have credible information,” International Atomic Energy Agency Director Mohamed ElBaradei told a news conference in Dubai. “There was uranium but it does not mean there was a reactor.”

The IAEA inquiry was spurred by U.S. intelligence that the site was a secret nuclear reactor Syria had almost completed when it was reduced to rubble by an Israeli air raid last year.

Syria has said the target was a disused military building.

ElBaradei said the uranium particles were not highly enriched — the type used to fuel atomic bombs. “It could have come in so many different ways .... We are looking at so many different scenarios,” he said.

Both Syria and Israel should do more to help the IAEA’s investigation, he said. “We need cooperation from Syria; we need cooperation from Israel. I would still like more transparency from the Syrians,” he added.

Diplomats monitoring the IAEA in Vienna told Reuters a week ago that particles of uranium had been retrieved from swipe samples taken by IAEA inspectors from the site in June.

They said the traces appeared to be of a processed form of uranium, possibly at the stage at which it would be loaded into a reactor for enrichment as fuel for civilian energy or for weapons. But the origin of the traces was unclear, they said.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem last week dismissed the disclosures about uranium particles as politically motivated and said they could have been on munitions used by Israel to bomb the site in September last year.

Depleted uranium is a hardening agent in some munitions. But it is not normally used in air force ordnance and would not have been needed to destroy the Syrian target, analysts say.

ElBaradei confirmed the IAEA’s first report on its six-month-old investigation into Syria’s alleged covert atomic activity, to be issued later this week, would not be conclusive.

“The report will say that there is still a lot of work to do. (There will be) no conclusion on whether there was a reactor or not,” said ElBaradei, who also has been investigating Iran’s disputed nuclear enrichment program since 2003.

Damascus denies the site was a reactor designed to produce plutonium for atomic bombs and says the U.S. data were forged.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said ElBaradei’s remarks were important for clarity.

“...Certainly, that would indicate that there was some basis for this investigation and that it should continue until a full picture is able to be drawn by the IAEA as to what exactly happened at that site,” he told a regular news briefing.

Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell in Washington; writing by Mark Heinrich and Inal Ersan; editing by Tim Pearce

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