Nuclear panel urges inquiry of Syrian site bombed by Israel

Tests renew fear of covert reactor

By George Jahn
Associated Press / October 29, 2008
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VIENNA - Freshly evaluated soil and air samples from a Syrian site bombed by Israel on suspicion it was a covert nuclear reactor provide enough evidence to push ahead with a UN investigation, diplomats said yesterday.

The findings are important after months of uncertainty about the status of the investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Preliminary results regarding environmental samples collected from the site by an IAEA team and made public earlier this year were inconclusive, adding weight to Syrian assertions that no trips beyond the initial IAEA visit in June were necessary. But the diplomats told the Associated Press that the IAEA's final evaluation, completed a few days ago, has the agency convinced it needs to press on with its investigation.

The agency feels "there is enough evidence there to warrant a follow-up" said one of the diplomats. He and a colleague from another IAEA country demanded anonymity in exchange for divulging confidential information, which is not meant to be made public until the IAEA's meeting of its 35-nation board of governors next month.

Damascus denies running a covert program. Yesterday, Ambassador Mohammed Badi Khattab - his country's chief IAEA delegate - told the AP he was unaware that the evaluation had been completed and could not comment until his country was told of the findings.

Ibrahim Othman, Syria's nuclear chief, has said his country would wait for final environmental results before deciding how to respond to repeated IAEA requests for follow-up visits to the one in June, when the samples were collected. Khattab repeated that stance, saying "further developments will depend on us receiving the final result."

In an oral report to an IAEA board meeting last month, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei told the board meeting that preliminary results from the environmental samples came up with "no indication" to back the claims that the destroyed target was a nuclear facility.

Alluding to Othman's stance, he said Syria would decide on whether to provide more information and allow further IAEA visits depending "on the results of the samples taken during the first visit" - implying that Damascus could shut the doors on the investigation if the all the samples came up empty.

A diplomat attending that closed meeting said Khattab suggested Syria would not allow further visits because it was still technically at war with Israel and was concerned any additional IAEA investigation would expose some of its military secrets.

Another cited ElBaradei as saying "the corpse is gone," alluding to the difficulty of investigating the bombed site months after it was hit last year by Israel and subsequently cleaned up and altered by the Syrians.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei reportedly said, "The corpse is gone," alluding to the difficulty of investigating the site.


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