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US Urges Syrian Cooperation with Nuclear Inspectors

The United States Monday urged Syria to fully cooperate with an International Atomic Energy Agency investigation of charges it was secretly trying to build a nuclear reactor. U.S. officials believe North Korea was helping Syria build the reactor, which was destroyed in an Israeli air strike last year. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Syrian work crews carted away the wreckage of the building hit by the Israeli aircraft and carefully swept the site, near the Euphrates River.

But U.S. officials say lingering evidence, plus testimony from Syrians who worked on the project, should allow the IAEA to make an informed judgment about the nature of the project.

Though Syria has denied any nuclear weapons project or cooperation with North Korea, the Bush administration believes Pyongyang was helping Syria build a reactor much like the one in North Korea that yielded the plutonium for that country's nuclear weapons project.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei told the agency's board of governors in Vienna Monday, Syria has agreed to admit inspectors June 22-24.

In a talk with reporters, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack urged Syria to fully cooperate with the IAEA inspectors, and allow them to do whatever they need to, in order to make an authoritative report about the disputed site.

"Let's hope that the Syrian efforts haven't been too effective in covering up what it is they were trying to cover up, the nuclear facility, a reactor on their grounds," he said. "But there were people, surely, who worked on that reactor, and who have intimate knowledge and can provide the IAEA with important information. Let's hope that those people are not only made available to the IAEA, but are entirely forthcoming to IAEA requests."

The alleged North Korean role in the Syrian project figures heavily in diplomacy on the declaration Pyongyang is to make on its nuclear program under last year's six-party disarmament accord.

McCormack stressed that the overdue North Korean statement is to include not only an accounting of its nuclear holdings but any proliferation activity it was involved in.

He said an IAEA report on its Syria investigation would not substitute for a North Korean declaration on proliferation, but would serve to inform the other parties to the nuclear talks as they seek to verify Pyongyang's statement.

The North Korean declaration is five months overdue, but diplomats have indicated it may be issued soon. Last month, Pyongyang turned over to the United States thousands of documents detailing plutonium production at its now-closed Yongbyon reactor complex.