Syria Dismisses IAEA Call for More Access to Nuclear Sites

Syria yesterday dismissed an International Atomic Energy Agency recommendation to allow its inspectors unrestrained access, days after the agency said a bombed Syrian complex could have been a nuclear site.

An IAEA report released on Thursday said uranium particles found at a Syrian complex destroyed by an Israeli air strike in 2007 suggest the possibility of covert nuclear activity at the site.

The report, compiled by IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano, prodded Syria to adopt the agency's Additional Protocol, which permits unfettered inspections at declared nuclear sites to check out any covert atomic activity.

"We are committed to the non-proliferation agreement between the agency and Syria and we [only] allow inspectors to come according to this agreement," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said after meeting with his Austrian counterpart Michael Spindelegger. "We will not allow anything beyond the agreement because Syria does not have a military nuclear program. Syria is not obliged to open its other sites to inspectors."

Moallem did not address the findings of the latest IAEA report on Syria and repeated his country's position that its nuclear activities are peaceful and related primarily to medicine.

The United States said the site bombed by Israeli warplanes three years ago at al-Kibar, around 60 kilometers west of the city of Deir al-Zor, was a North Korean-designed nuclear reactor geared to making weapons-grade plutonium. The IAEA report lent public support to the American assessment for the first time.

"Unlike Israel, our program is peaceful," Moallem said, referring to the Arab view that Israel has a massive nuclear arsenal that contributes to Middle East instability.

Previous IAEA reports on its investigation into al-Kibar said lack of Syrian cooperation impeded the investigation. United Nations inspectors examined the site in June 2008, but Syrian authorities have since barred them access and did not let them visit three military sites.

The IAEA has also been examining a possible link between the particles uncovered at al-Kibar and similar traces detected in swipe samples taken at a Damascus nuclear research reactor later in 2008. The report said Syria had refused a meeting last month to address the issue. But inspectors plan to visit the reactor on Tuesday.

Syria, is an ally of Iran, which is under IAEA investigation over its nuclear facilities. Moallem said Western proposals for fresh UN sanctions on Iran were counterproductive. "We do not think sanctions will solve the issue," he said. "They will complicate the chances for a constructive dialogue between Iran and the West."

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said in Damascus yesterday that world powers would have to take new action against Iran if Tehran made no further gestures. During his visit, France and Syria signed 11 cooperation agreements bolstering ties in agriculture, civil aviation, culture and administrative cooperation. The bilateral trade is estimated at around 800 million euros.