From: Reuters
Published June 2, 2008 04:39 PM

Syria to let in U.N. nuclear investigators: ElBaradei

By Mark Heinrich and Karin Strohecker

VIENNA (Reuters) - The U.N. atomic watchdog chief said on Monday Syria would let in top inspectors to examine allegations of a secret nuclear reactor, and demanded "full disclosure" by Iran over reports of covert atom bomb research.

The International Atomic Energy Agency added Syria to a growing list of nuclear proliferation worries after Washington in April turned over intelligence suggesting Damascus built a nuclear reactor at a site bombed by Israel last September.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei announced the June 22-24 trip by top aides to Syria after months of what Western diplomats said was Syrian stonewalling on IAEA requests for access.

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The trip was expected to include inspector visits to the remote al-Kabir site targeted by Israel "and other places," a senior diplomat familiar with the matter told Reuters. Other diplomats said 2-3 sites beyond al-Kabir were under scrutiny.

Syria has said the accusations against it are "ridiculous," while Iran has dismissed as bogus the intelligence indicating it combined programs to process uranium, test high explosives and modify a missile cone in a way suitable for a nuclear bomb.

But neither to date has backed up their denials with evidence or granted access to sites and key officials needed by the IAEA to resolve the two dossiers.

ElBaradei told the IAEA's 35-nation Board of Governors that he looked forward to Syria's "full cooperation" with efforts to get to the bottom of the reports of a nuclear reactor built under camouflage in the country's remote northeastern desert.

Syria had no comment on ElBaradei's announcement at the regular summer meeting of the Vienna-based IAEA board.

At issue is whether Syria, an ally of Iran, built a nuclear installation without telling the IAEA, which would violate the Non-Proliferation Treaty banning diversions of nuclear energy technology into atom bomb making.

POSSIBLE COVER-UP?

Washington says the reactor was nearing completion when it was destroyed in the Israeli air raid. Syria has denied it was building a reactor and has accused Washington of involvement in the air attack by Israel, a staunch U.S. ally widely believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal.

Nuclear analysts, citing satellite photos, say Syria has razed and swept clean the al-Kibar area since the bombing and erected a new building over it, possibly to erase evidence.

Washington urged Syria to cooperate fully with U.N. inspectors and allow officials to be interviewed. "Let's hope that the Syrian efforts haven't been too effective in covering up what it is they are trying to cover up: the nuclear facility -- reactor," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

Damascus has said Israel's target was only a disused military building without atomic connections.

Washington said the reactor had been designed to yield plutonium fuel for nuclear weapons. It produced before-and-after aerial photographs of the suspected reactor as well as detailed interior photographs of what it said were key components.

On Iran, ElBaradei said the IAEA believed it had further information, "in particular on high explosives testing and missile-related activities," that should shed more light on the nature of the alleged atomic bomb research.

He said reaching conclusions about the nature of Iran's nuclear energy quest depended on Tehran demonstrating "full disclosure" regarding the intelligence material.

It is contained in 18 classified documents that were briefly summarized at the end of the IAEA's latest report on Iran issued on May 26, an extraordinary step reflecting the gravity with which the U.N. watchdog views the information.

Iran says it is enriching uranium for nuclear fuel only to generate electricity, but is under U.N. sanctions for hiding the work in the past, continuing to restrict IAEA inspections and refusing to halt enrichment in exchange for trade benefits.

(Editing by Ibon Villelabeitia)

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