IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

U.N. expert heads to Syria over nuke assertions

The U.N. nuclear watchdog chief urged Syria on Friday to show "transparency" and cooperate with inspectors from the world agency due to visit the Mideast country this weekend.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The U.N. nuclear watchdog chief urged Syria on Friday to show "transparency" and cooperate with inspectors from the world agency due to visit the Mideast country this weekend.

The visit will be the start of an international fact check of U.S. and Israeli assertions that Damascus had tried to build a plutonium-producing facility under the radar of the international community.

Mohamed ElBaradei, who heads the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, told the pan-Arab Al-Arabiya Television that he hoped Syria will let IAEA inspectors visit "all locations" they are interested in.

Syria said earlier this month it won't allow IAEA to probe beyond a site bombed by Israel last September, despite IAEA's expressed eagerness to visit three other suspect locations.

"We will go (to Syria) with open eyes and we will observe the facts ... All I ask of Syria is to show absolute transparency and help" the IAEA probe, ElBaradei said in the interview, aired late Friday.

"I hope that Syria will take us to all the locations," where allegedly there could be other reactors, ElBaradei added.

One site was destroyed by Israel
His remarks reflected IAEA hopes that Syria could still warm to giving IAEA access to the three other sites. The main focus on the agency's June 22-24 visit is the Al Kibar facility — a building in the country's remote eastern desert that was destroyed in September by Israeli jets.

Syria in early June agreed to an IAEA check of U.S. assertions that the target was a plutonium-producing reactor, nearly complete and thus at the stage where it could generate the fissile material for nuclear arms.

Neither the U.S. nor Israel told the IAEA about the bombing until late April, about a year after they obtained what they considered decisive intelligence: dozens of photographs from a handheld camera of the inside and outside of the compound.

The satellite photos appeared to show construction crews using the interval to erect another structure over the site — a move that heightened suspicions of a possible cover-up.

ElBaradei again rebuked Israel for the bombing, condemning its "use of solo military force" and for not sharing its information with the IAEA.

"Before (Israel's) hitting Syria ... we could have had the time to go to Syria to investigate and learn of any covert Syrian reactor," ElBaradei said.

'No evidence' against Syria
ElBaradei stressed that he had told the Syrians that, "if they, as they claim, don't have any covert nuclear program, they have to practice absolute transparency." But he also cautioned that the probe of the bombed site will be "very difficult because the body (of evidence) is gone, that reactor has been destroyed."

In the interview, part of which was aired earlier this week, ElBaradei also said that his agency doesn't have evidence Syria possesses the fuel or technical know-how for a large-scale nuclear plant.

"We have no evidence that Syria has the human resources that enable it to initiate a large-scale nuclear program," he said. "We did not see nuclear fuel in Syria that facilitates it to operate this reactor; we don't have any information telling us that it (Syria) has nuclear fuel."

But he did point out that Syria has a nuclear system that is similar to North Korea's. Of the three other sites IAEA is interested in, at least one is thought to possibly contain equipment that can reprocess nuclear material into the fissile core of warheads.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has repeatedly denied that his country has a secret nuclear program.

Israel has never officially confirmed September's air strike on Al Kibar, though it has not disputed the foreign reports, or U.S. government comments, on the incident.