U.S. tells Syria not to restrict nuclear probe
VIENNA (Reuters)-Wednesday June 4 - The United States on Wednesday demanded Syria give free rein to U.N. nuclear investigators after diplomats said Damascus would bar access to some sites Washington believes are linked to a secret atomic reactor.
The United States says Syria was close to completing a reactor that could have yielded plutonium for nuclear arms before it was bombed by Israel last September.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog began an inquiry after receiving U.S. intelligence documentation in April.
International Atomic Energy Agency director Mohamed ElBaradei said on Monday that Syria, which had not responded to IAEA requests for explanations since the bombing, would allow in United Nations inspectors on June 22-24 to pursue the inquiry.
Informed diplomats said Syria would let inspectors examine the al-Kibar site in its northeast desert, but not go to three other locations believed to house facilities or equipment for producing plutonium from fuel from the reactor.
That prompted Gregory Schulte, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, to demand that Syria not hinder agency investigators in any way.
"The United States welcomes the announcement that the IAEA will visit Syria and stands ready to support a rigorous IAEA investigation into Syria's clandestine nuclear activities," Schulte said in a statement sent to Reuters.
"It is imperative that Syria fully cooperate with the IAEA and in no way hinder the investigation either by further delaying an inspection or by refusing the IAEA unfettered access to any site requested by the IAEA," he said.
Syria, which has said the bombed site was a disused military building and that it has no clandestine nuclear programme, has not confirmed publicly the IAEA visit.
But a senior Syrian official told an Arab League meeting outside an IAEA governors' conference in Vienna on Tuesday that the IAEA trip would go ahead and inspectors would get access to the al-Kibar site, diplomats in the meeting said.
But they said Syrian Atomic Energy Agency chief Ibrahim Othman told them Damascus would not permit checks of other sites Washington had urged inspectors to examine as possible places for processing nuclear material.
They said the position of Syria, which is in a state of war with Israel, was that the other sites were off-limits military installations essential to national security and irrelevant to the IAEA because they had no nuclear connection.
Syria was granting inspectors access to al-Kibar as a one-off gesture to dispel international doubts and it expected the IAEA to close the file after the June mission, they said.
But nuclear analysts, citing satellite photos, say Syria has bulldozed and swept clean the al-Kibar zone since the bombing and erected a new building over it, possibly to erase evidence.
The United States says Syria had been building the nuclear reactor since 2001 with the help of North Korea, which quit the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003 and tested a nuclear device three years later.
Washington produced for reporters in April before-and-after aerial photographs of the suspected reactor as well as detailed interior photographs of what it said were key components.
Syria has one old research reactor under IAEA monitoring.
It is a close ally of Iran, whose secretive uranium enrichment programme has been under IAEA investigation since 2003 due to Western suspicions of a covert drive for atom bombs.
Iran says it wants only nuclear-generated electricity.
Syrian President Bashar Assad said earlier this week Damascus was not seeking nuclear arms but wanted access to peaceful atomic energy through a collective Arab project. (Source)