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UN Official Criticizes US for Withholding Syrian Nuclear Intelligence


The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Friday criticized the United States for withholding information about an alleged nuclear reactor in Syria - and Israel for reportedly bombing it. Lisa Bryant has more for VOA from Paris.

In a statement issued by his office, International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohammed ElBaradei said he deplored that information about Syria allegedly building a nuclear reactor was not provided to the Vienna-based agency in a timely manner. The criticism comes a day after Washington accused Damascus of building a secret nuclear reactor with the help of North Korea.

According to reports, Israeli jets destroyed the reactor in September, weeks or months before it was to be up and running. ElBaradei was briefed by a top U.S. official on the matter Thursday, the same day U.S. officials also briefed a congressional committee on intelligence issues.

U.S. intelligence officials told reporters they believed North Korea had helped Syria with its nuclear program with the aim of producing plutonium. But they said they were less certain the alleged Syrian site was meant for weapons development.

In the statement, ElBaradei accused Israel of using unilateral force in bombing the alleged reactor -- and by doing so undermining verification that is central to nuclear nonproliferation issues. The IAEA depends on information from member states to curb nuclear proliferation.

For his part Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja'afari, has denied that a nuclear reactor had ever existed in his country's territory.

"We said it many times in the past, that there were no Syrian-North Korean cooperation whatsoever in Syria," he said. "We deny these rumors. This is what I can say with this regard."

The U.N. agency said it would investigate the allegations about the nuclear facility in Syria. Some fear the allegations about North Korea's help might undermine international talks aimed at getting Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear program.

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