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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Syria's nuclear program still on agenda

In his confirmation hearings, US ambassador designate to Syria Robert Ford listed five issues on which the US hopes (probably futilely) to 'engage' the Syrian government:
Four were familiar: the United States wants Syria to prevent jihadi fighters from entering Iraq, end its support for Hezbollah, return to peace talks with Israel, and respect human rights at home.

But the fifth issue was a new one: Ford argued that Washington should insist that Syria end its foot-dragging on the International Atomic Energy Agency's investigation into its nuclear activities. For nearly two years, Syria has refused to cooperate with the IAEA's probe of a suspected nuclear reactor that was destroyed by Israel in September 2007. Now the IAEA may request a rare "special inspection" of Syrian sites, making the country's nuclear defiance the international community's main point of contention with Damascus -- eclipsing even the investigation into Syrian officials' involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri.
What's that? You thought that Israel destroyed Syria's nuclear program when it destroyed the al-Kibar reactor in September 2007? Well, maybe.
In April 2008, U.S. intelligence authorities released a video showing that the building had hid construction of a graphite-cooled nuclear reactor similar to North Korea's reactor at Yongbyon, which produces plutonium for the country's nuclear weapons. The video contained satellite photographs of the site, still shots of the reactor under construction, and a photograph of the directors of North Korea's and Syria's nuclear programs standing arm in arm.

In June 2008, Syria allowed the IAEA to access the Al Kibar site, but inspectors were unable to examine the reactor ruins because Syria had cleared the site of wreckage, buried what remained, and constructed a new building on top. Nevertheless, they found particles of chemically processed uranium of a type Syria had not declared to the IAEA. Satellite photos of the site and the list of parts Syria had procured for its construction posed additional questions. Syria soon cut off cooperation with the IAEA investigation, denying further visits to Al Kibar and three associated sites.

Separately, IAEA inspectors found other unexplained uranium particles during a routine inspection of Syria's miniature neutron source reactor, a research reactor outside Damascus that had been declared to the IAEA. Syrian authorities twice tried to explain the presence of these particles, but IAEA inspectors found their explanations inadequate, believing instead that they raised concerns about possible links to the particles found at Al Kibar. Although Syria allowed IAEA inspectors to return to the research reactor this month, it continues to spurn IAEA requests to visit Al Kibar, citing national "sovereignty." (A report written by Gregory L. Schulte, who was U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA from 2005 to 2009, lays out the IAEA's investigation, Syria's defiance, and the resulting policy recommendations. Schulte also contributed to this article.)

The IAEA's latest report on the Syria investigation was the first released by the new IAEA director-general, Yukiya Amano, who took office in July 2009. It was blunt and forthright, clearly restating that the destroyed facility had all the characteristics of a nuclear reactor and openly questioning whether Syria's declarations were correct and complete.
So Syria could still have a nuclear program? Well, yes, and that's one reason why Syria's nuclear program is still on the World agenda.
Second, the particles found at the research reactor, plus Syria's refusal to allow the IAEA access to three other suspect sites, suggest the existence of a larger program. Particularly troubling is the apparent involvement of North Korea, a notorious nuclear violator and weapons proliferator. Reports of Iran's involvement are equally worrisome. The IAEA has an obligation to ensure that there are no other undeclared activities in Syria, and the world has an interest in breaking up further multinational proliferation ventures, whether they traffic in missiles or nuclear weapons technology.
What could go wrong?


At 12:24 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Baby Assad is not exactly frightened of this Administration. He knows no matter how badly he behaves, Washington will be coming a-calling.

If only Netanyahu received that kind of treatment. George Mitchell just canceled his latest visit to the Middle East.


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