November 23, 2010 / 7:29 PM / 8 years ago

Syria's nuclear stonewalling deepens: IAEA report

VIENNA (Reuters) - Syria is refusing U.N. nuclear inspectors access to multiple suspect sites and has provided scant or inconsistent information about its atomic activities, an International Atomic Energy Agency report showed.

For over two years Syria has blocked IAEA access to the remains of a desert site which U.S. intelligence reports say was a nascent North Korean-designed nuclear reactor to produce bomb fuel.

The site, known as either al-Kibar or Dair Alzour, was bombed to rubble by Israel in 2007. Syria, an ally of Iran, denies ever having an atom bomb program.

Earlier this year the IAEA gave some weight to suspicions of illicit atomic work at the site by saying that uranium traces found in a 2008 visit by inspectors pointed to nuclear-related activity.

“With the passage of time, some of the information concerning the Dair Alzour site is further deteriorating or has been lost entirely,” IAEA chief Yukiya Amano wrote in a confidential report obtained by Reuters, adding that it was “critical” that Syria cooperated without delay. The agency wants to re-examine the site so it can take samples from rubble removed immediately after the air strike.

Washington has said the IAEA may need to consider invoking its “special inspection” mechanism to give it the authority to look anywhere necessary in Syria at short notice.

The agency last resorted to special inspection powers in 1993 in North Korea, which still withheld access and later developed nuclear bomb capacity in secret. The IAEA lacks legal means to get Syria to open up because the country’s basic safeguards treaty with the U.N. nuclear watchdog covers only its one declared atomic facility, an old research reactor.

INCONSISTENT, STALLING

The report also showed Syria had refused an IAEA request for access to a pilot plant used for acid purification. The agency wanted to make checks on a by-product of the plant, uranium ore, which if further processed can be used as nuclear fuel.

Syria said it needed more information from the IAEA before allowing a visit.

Amano also repeated a call for IAEA access to three other Syrian sites under military control whose appearance was altered by landscaping after inspectors asked to visit.

Syria has allowed inspectors to visit the research reactor in Damascus where they have been checking whether there is a link with the Dair Alzour site after discovering unexplained particles of processed uranium at both.

Some analysts say the uranium traces raise the question of whether Syria used some natural uranium intended for a reactor at Dair Alzour in tests that could help it to learn how to separate bomb-grade plutonium from spent nuclear fuel, like North Korea.

The report showed Syria dodging agency questions about nuclear material at the Damascus site, failing to keep to an inspection and monitoring plan agreed earlier this year and giving inconsistent information in letters to the IAEA.

“These (letters) did not clarify the issues identified (by the IAEA) and the plan of action. In addition, the letters appear to have added further inconsistencies concerning the preparation of the uranyl nitrate and subsequent irradiation activities.” Amano wrote.

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