DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem dismissed as politically motivated on Wednesday diplomatic disclosures that traces of uranium were found at a suspected nuclear complex in Syria.
The uranium could have come from munitions used by Israel to bomb the site in September last year, he said.
Diplomats in Vienna told Reuters on Monday that particles of processed uranium turned up in test samples taken by International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors from the site in eastern Syria, but cautioned the findings warranted further investigation before any conclusions were drawn.
“The objective of this campaign of anonymous leaks is to find something to pressure Syria with. This is being turned into a political issue,” Moualem told reporters after meeting his Iraqi counterpart Hoshiyar Zebari in the Syrian capital.
Washington, Israel’s chief ally, says the site was a secret nuclear reactor almost built before it was bombed by Israel, which embarked on indirect peace talks with Syria months later. Syria denies the site was a nascent plutonium-making reactor, saying U.S. intelligence had been fabricated.
The diplomats, who are close to the IAEA, said the particles retrieved from some environmental swipe samples were of processed uranium -- which could include the enriched version that in large quantities would fuel power plants or bombs.
“The U.S. complaint submitted to the IAEA seven months after the Israeli raid says that the facility was a reactor under construction, not operational. The question therefore is where did uranium particles come from?” Moualem said.
“Didn’t anyone ask what did the Israeli bombs contain? Didn’t anyone pay attention that the United States and Israel have precedents in using ... uranium when bombing, whether in Iraq, south Lebanon or Afghanistan?”
Some Israeli shells do have depleted uranium in their tips, but experts say it is not commonly used in air force ordnance and would not have been needed to destroy the Syrian structure.
Robert Hewson, editor of Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, also said Moualem’s argument “would not explain the traces and the type of material” that diplomats said had been found by IAEA inspectors.
Moualem criticized the sources behind the leaks and Arab media that published them. The disclosures came before the IAEA was due to discuss a report it is preparing on its findings in Syria during the agency’s November 27-28 governors meeting.
“We are waiting for the report before we give an answer to it,” Moualem said.
The IAEA described the leaks as an effort to prejudice the agency’s conclusions. IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the IAEA’s evaluation of findings from a June visit to the site was not finished and a verdict was unwarranted until the report.
Given the sensitivity of the issue, the diplomats did not reveal their names in exchange for information.
Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem
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