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BERLIN - Relations have been tense between Iran and Syria in recent weeks, according to the German weekly Der Spiegel, which quotes Western intelligence sources. Iran has demanded that Syria return the uranium delivered to it prior to the Israeli bombing of the Syrian reactor two years ago, says the weekly.

Moreover, Iran reportedly wants the radioactive material restored in its entirety and without Syria's receiving compensation in any form, as it has remained unused since the destruction of the reactor.

The Der Spiegel article says Syrian President Bashar Assad considered recently an unusual political move: to publicly expose his nuclear program to the West - but without revealing the collaboration between Syria, Iran and North Korea in the field. The idea was to follow in the footsteps of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddhafi, who was rewarded by the international community for his candor in a thawing of relations with the West.

According to the report, North Korea was quick to dispatch a senior envoy to Assad when it learned of his intentions, warning that all cooperation with Damascus on chemical weapons would cease if he proceeded with unveiling his nuclear program.

Tehran was reportedly more severe in its response: Saeed Jalili, secretary of Iran's National Security Council, sent a letter to Assad on behalf of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: "Unacceptable; end of the strategic alliance; severe blow to relations."

The article in Der Spiegel was written by veteran journalist Erich Follath, who is considered well-connected in the Middle East. He told Haaretz on Tuesday that "this is very interesting news." In May, he broke the news that a secret United Nations report on the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, which concluded that the killing was not the work of Syria but of Hezbollah.

The report on friction between Iran and Syria completes a Der Spiegel expose earlier this week on the Israeli bombing of the Syrian reactor. The weekly uncovers the events on the night of September 6-7, 2007 in the Syrian desert near Deir al-Zur "as one of the greatest mysteries of modern history." The article, entitled Operation Orchard, is based on the name given to the operation by Israel.

The article claims that the incriminating evidence on activities at the Syrian reactor was collected by the Mossad by hacking into the computer of a senior Syrian official and by tapping into conversations between Syrians and North Koreans at the nuclear installation.

A month prior to the bombing, a special Israel Defense Forces unit went into Syria, and collected on site intelligence.