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Syria stonewalling threatens nuclear probe - IAEA

MYT 8:02:09 AM

VIENNA (Reuters) - Syria's refusal to allow U.N. inspectors access to a desert site where secret nuclear activity may have taken place is endangering potential evidence in the investigation, the International Atomic Energy Agency said.

Head of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Yukiya Amano listens to questions from journalists during an address at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore August 2, 2010. (REUTERS/Vivek Prakash/Files)

It has been over two years since the IAEA was allowed to inspect the site, bombed to rubble by Israel in 2007. Syria, an ally of Iran, denies ever having an atom bomb programme.

"With time, some of the necessary information may deteriorate or be lost entirely," the IAEA chief Yukiya Amano wrote in a confidential report obtained by Reuters.

U.S. intelligence reports have said the site, known as either al-Kibar or Dair Alzour, was a nascent North Korean-designed nuclear reactor to produce bomb fuel.

Earlier this year the IAEA gave some weight to suspicions of illicit atomic activity at the site by saying that uranium traces found in a 2008 visit by inspectors pointed to nuclear-related activity.

"The features of the building and its connectivity to adequate cooling are similar to what may be found at a nuclear site," the latest report said.

The agency wants to re-examine the site so it can take samples from rubble removed immediately after the air strike.

Amano urged Syria to cooperate and criticised it for failing to provide documents related to Dair Alzour and making only statements "limited in detail" about it.

He also repeated a call for IAEA access to three other Syrian sites under military control whose appearance was altered by landscaping after inspectors asked for access.

CALLS FOR SPECIAL INSPECTION

Washington's envoy to the IAEA said last month a "number of countries" were beginning to ask whether it was time to invoke the IAEA's "special inspection" mechanism to give it the authority to look anywhere necessary in Syria at short notice.

A leading Washington-based think tank said on Monday that the time was ripe for the IAEA to make such a move with the backing of its 35-nation board of governors.

"A special inspection is necessary in order to gain a better understanding of Syria's undeclared activities, some of which may continue," the Institute for Science and International Security said.

"The sooner a special inspection takes place, the fewer opportunities Syria will have to cover up evidence about the project."

The agency last resorted to special inspection powers in 1993 in North Korea, which still withheld access and later developed nuclear bomb capacity in secret.

The IAEA lacks legal means to get Syria to open up because the country's basic safeguards treaty with the U.N. nuclear watchdog covers only its one declared atomic facility, an old research reactor.

Syria has allowed inspectors to visit the research reactor in Damascus where they have been checking whether there is a link with the Dair Alzour site after discovering unexplained particles of processed uranium at both.

Some analysts say the uranium traces raise the question of whether Syria used some natural uranium intended for a reactor at Dair Alzour in tests that could help it learn how to separate bomb-grade plutonium from spent nuclear fuel.

A diplomat familiar with the investigation said the IAEA "could not yet confirm all of Syria's statements as regards the material" the agency found. The Syria report, along with an update on the IAEA's probe into Iran, will be discussed at a week-long IAEA meeting starting next Monday in Vienna.

(Editing by Peter Graff)

(For more news visit Reuters India)

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