Friday, October 3, 2008
VIENNA (Reuters) – Syria said on Friday it was cooperating fully with a U.N. inquiry into allegations of secret nuclear work in the country but would not go as far as opening up military sites because this would undermine its security.
But, faced with stiff opposition among 145 member states of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Syria dropped a bid for a seat on the IAEA’s governing body, clearing the way for rival Western-backed Afghanistan to get the post, diplomats said.
The Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog has been probing Syria since May over U.S. intelligence allegations that it was close to completing a secret, plutonium-producing reactor before Israel flattened the site in an air strike a year ago.
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Syria — an ally of Iran, which is the subject of a much longer-running, and now stalled, IAEA investigation — has denied having a clandestine nuclear programme. It does have one declared nuclear site — a research reactor.
The IAEA said last week that preliminary findings from test samples taken by inspectors granted a visit to the desert location in June bore no traces of atomic activity. Syria says all that was there was a disused military building.
“We would like to underline that my government is cooperating with the agency in full transparency and will follow suit all along the way,” said Ibrahim Othman, director-general of Syria’s Atomic Energy Commission.
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“However, this cooperation will not in any way come at the expense of exposing our military sites or causing a threat to our national security,” he told the annual meeting of the IAEA’s 145-nation General Conference, or assembly, in Vienna.
Diplomats close to the IAEA have said Syria has ignored agency requests to check three military installations believed connected to the alleged reactor site.
SAME ISSUE STALLS IRAN PROBE
An IAEA probe into unverified intelligence about covert atomic bomb research by Iran has hit the same stumbling block — the barring of inspectors from military sites to which the IAEA has no legal right of access without proof of nuclearisation.
Iran has dismissed the intelligence, provided by 10 countries, as fabricated. The IAEA says the allegations are “serious” but Iran has not supplied evidence to refute them.