News / Middle East

    IAEA Chief Wants Syria to Allow In Nuclear Inspectors

    Margaret Besheer

    The chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Tuesday that the U.N. nuclear watchdog has been pressing Syria to admit inspectors to at least two suspect sites, but so far the Arab nation has resisted.

    IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said his agency has repeatedly asked Damascus to allow inspectors to visit the desert site where a partially built nuclear reactor sat until an Israeli airstrike destroyed it in September 2007. IAEA inspectors visited the site, known as Dair Alzour, once in 2008 and collected samples from the area around the destroyed facility, but have not been allowed to return.

    "Later, after analyzing the samples, we found that they are the particles of man-made uranium," said Amano. "But up to today we cannot identify what is the origin."

    He told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations that he has pursued the issue with Syria and has continued to request access to Dair Alzour, as well as to a small research reactor near Damascus.

    "Syria has not given us access, and therefore, we cannot make progress," he said. "What is the status? What is our thinking? Judging from the information that we have, we think it is possible, or quite possible, that it was a reactor."

    Asked if he would move beyond voluntary requests and invoke the agency's most powerful inspection provision, known as a "special inspection," to compel Syria to comply or be referred to the U.N. Security Council, Amano was non-committal.

    "In Syria, special inspection is of course one of the options, but for now I am continuing to request Syria to provide us with access and will continue to do so for now," he said. "For the future, as I said, I am open."

    He said special inspections have only been implemented twice before in the 1990s - once in the case of North Korea and another time for Romania.

    But he appeared reluctant to say he would seek to employ special inspections at this point, saying there is dialogue between the IAEA and Syria.

    Amano also addressed concerns about North Korea and Iran. On North Korea, he repeated his warning that a very "serious situation" exists there, saying Pyongyang has kicked out international inspectors and has claimed to have detonated nuclear devices. He said North Korea's behavior has implications for global security.

    On Iran, he said Tehran has not provided the necessary cooperation to permit the IAEA to confirm that all of its nuclear material is for peaceful purposes.

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