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IAEA Nears Compromise on Helping Syria With Nuclear Study


Diplomats say U.N. nuclear agency board members are nearing a compromise on whether to help Syria plan the building of a nuclear power plant.

Representatives of 35 nations attending a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna are expected to discuss the compromise proposal Wednesday.

Under the proposal, Western nations would drop their opposition to Syria's request for IAEA help in studying the feasibility of a Syrian nuclear power station.

In return, diplomats say the IAEA governing board would note the West's concerns that Damascus could divert the project to military use. They say the IAEA also would delay sending equipment to Syria until the latter stages of the study.

Western states say it is not appropriate for the IAEA to help Syria while the agency investigates allegations that Damascus carried out secret nuclear activities. Russia, China and other developing countries support the project.

IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei told board members in Vienna Tuesday that there is "no legal basis" to scrap the feasibility study. He said an IAEA investigation into an alleged nuclear site in eastern Syria has not yielded clear-cut evidence of guilt or innocence.

ElBaradei also said there is no risk of Syria abusing IAEA technical assistance for military purposes.

Supporters of the Syrian nuclear study say a decision to scrap it for political reasons would hurt the IAEA's mission of promoting the development of civilian nuclear energy. The $350,000 project would run from 2009 to 2011.

ElBaradei also said that past claims about Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction program turned out to be, in his words, "bonkers." The U.S. and its allies justified their 2003 invasion of Iraq mainly on allegations that Baghdad had such weapons. No weapons were found.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.