Syria to assist in reactor probe

IN a major turnaround, Syria has pledged full co-operation with the UN to probe evidence that it secretly built a reactor that could have been used to make nuclear arms, according to a secret document.

If Syria fulfils its promise, the move would end three years of stonewalling by Damascus of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Since 2008, the agency has tried in vain to follow up on strong evidence that a target bombed in 2007 by Israeli warplanes was a nearly built nuclear reactor that would have produced plutonium once active.

Syria’s sudden readiness to co-operate seems to be an attempt at derailing US-led attempts to have Damascus referred to the UN Security Council amid already strong international pressure on the Syrian leadership to end its crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.

An IAEA report last week said the Vienna-based agency “assesses that the building destroyed . . . was a nuclear reactor”, the finding sought by Washington and its allies to push to have Syria reported to the council by a 35-nation IAEA board meeting next month.

That apparently triggered Syria’s decision to compromise.

In a confidential note sent on Friday to board members, IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano cites top Syrian nuclear agency officials as saying “We are ready to fully co-operate with the agency” on its probe of the suspect site.

Mr Amano said the pledge was contained in a letter dated last Thursday, two days after his agency delivered its assessment.

Washington, however, is continuing its push.

It has put forward a restricted draft of a resolution to be voted on at the IAEA board meeting beginning next Monday that, if passed, would report Syria to the Security Council for violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The draft notes “with serious concern” Syria’s refusal to allow IAEA inspectors follow-up visits to the bombed site after the one they made in 2008. As a result, the board “decides to report . . . Syria’s noncompliance” with its NPT commitments.

The Syrian pledge of co-operation will allow it to lobby uncommitted nations to vote against any IAEA resolution on Security Council involvement.

Western nations fear that it is a tactic meant to allow Damascus to draw out the issue even further and destroy any remaining evidence of nuclear activity at the site.

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