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    Syria to cooperate with nuclear team on its own terms

    AFP
    21.06.2008 - 14:07 | Son Güncelleme:

    UN atomic inspectors begin a three-day visit to Syria on Sunday to probe allegations that a mysterious site bombed by Israel last year was a nuclear facility.

    Syria has said it is ready to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency team led by IAEA deputy Olli Heinonen, but would only allow them to visit the remote desert site of Al-Kibar on the Euphrates River.

    "Syria invited the IAEA and will cooperate with it," President Bashar al-Assad said this month, dismissing allegations made by the United States and Israel that the bombed site was a nuclear facility.

    "It is a military facility... it is not nuclear," he said again last week before a landmark visit to nuclear power India.

    According to US press reports the UN nuclear watchdog would like to inspect two or three other sites in Syria but Damascus is adamant that its cooperation stops at Al-Kibar.

    "It is in our interest that the agency visits the site but to talk about other sites is not in line with the agreement" between Syria and the IAEA, Assad said.

    The Israeli attack of September 6 was shrouded in mystery and Israel kept an uncharacteristic cloak of secrecy about the site it bombed in northeastern Syria for days afterwards.

    Seven months later the United States made a bombshell revelation by announcing that it had intelligence to back accusations that the site attacked by Israel was a nuclear facility built with assistance from North Korea.

    Al-Kibar was close to becoming operational, said Washington and it provided photographs which it said were taken inside the reactor showing construction of the shield for the reactor core, control rods and refueling ports on top of the reactor.

    US officials said the reactor and the building that housed it were similar in design to the North Korean reactor at Yongbyon, which produces plutonium.

    For Assad the evidence is "fabricated 100 percent" and part of a US campaign to ratchet pressure on Damascus which Washington accuses of supporting terrorism along with its key regional ally Iran.

    "Of course they talked about photos of Koreans in Syria but we have normal relations with North Korea," Assad told India’s The Hindu newspaper earlier this month.

    "We all know... and most of the countries know about the problem between Syria and the United States. They always try to find traps for Syria. This is reality."

    The US revelations also triggered the ire of IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei who has criticized Washington for withholding information from the nuclear watchdog and Israel for carrying out unilateral action.

    Syrian analyst Ibrahim Darraji said Damascus would cooperate with the IAEA "to prove the mistaken allegations made by the Israelis and the Americans and avoid any conflict which some want to provoke between Syria and the IAEA."

    Syria has been a member of the IAEA since 1963 and ratified in 1969 the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which Israel refuses to sign.

    According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) website, Syria has "limited nuclear resources and capabilities" and only "one nuclear research reactor at Deir el-Hajjar" near Damascus regularly inspected by the IAEA.

    "Syria’s current nuclear capacity indicates that it is focusing its nuclear energy primarily on civilian research. At present Syria does not seem to have the capability for clandestine nuclear activities," NTI said.

    "So far, there is inadequate evidence to conclusively prove that Syria is pursuing a secret nuclear programme, with or without Pyongyang’s assistance," the authoritative NTI said in March.

    Because of its close ties with Iran and North Korea -- both of whom are under IAEA scrutiny over their nuclear programmes -- Syria has fuelled concern about its nuclear intentions.

    Syria fed the suspicion when late last year it wiped the destroyed site clean of rubble and erected a new building over what

    Damascus insisted was a disused military facility, making any UN
    inspection difficult.

    But IAEA chief ElBaradei sounded upbeat ahead of the visit, telling Al-Arabiya news channel "we have no evidence that Syria has the human resources that would allow it to carry out a large nuclear programme."

    Despite the nuclear allegations, Israel and Syria announced last month that they have launched indirect peace talks, with Turkey acting as mediator, after previous negotiations were broken off in 2000.

     

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