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IAEA makes little headway on Syria, Iran

by Staff Writers
Vienna (AFP) Nov 19, 2008
The UN atomic watchdog on Wednesday reported scant progress in its investigations into alleged suspect nuclear activities in both Iran and Syria.

In its first official report on the Syrian dossier, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it could not yet determine if a building in a remote site in the Syrian desert bombed by Israeli planes last year was a nuclear reactor, as the United States claims.

The IAEA also complained that it had made no "substantive" progress in its six-year investigation into Iran's disputed nuclear activities.

Both matters are set to top the agenda of the traditional November meeting of the IAEA's 35-member board of governors next week.

The watchdog dispatched a team of experts to Damascus in June to investigate US allegations that Syria had been building a clandestine nuclear facility with North Korean help.

However, an official close to the agency said Wednesday that the IAEA was "not in a situation to say that it was a nuclear reactor" even if "we cannot exclude that it was" one.

In the restricted report, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, the IAEA said: "While it cannot be excluded that the building in question was intended for non-nuclear use, the features of the building... along with the connectivity of the site to adequate pumping capacity of cooling water are similar to what may be found in connection with a reactor site."

Furthermore, traces of uranium had been found by IAEA investigators in environmental samples taken from the site, known alternatively as either Al-Kibar or Dair Alzour, which was razed to the ground by Israeli planes on September 6, 2007.

"No such nuclear material had so far been declared in Syria's inventory... In principle, that sort of nuclear material should not exist there. It's not usual to find man-made uranium in sand," a senior UN official said.

Syria claims the traces of uranium found at the site were residue from Israeli missiles used to bomb the area.

But the IAEA says it needs to undertake follow-up visits to Dair Alzour and three other locations where the debris from the building and any equipment removed from the Dair Alzour site were now being held.

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei urged Syria "to provide the necessary transparency."

But he also complained that the IAEA's work had been "severely hampered... by the unilateral use of force and by the late provision of information concerning the building at the Dair Alzour site."

"In light of the destruction of the building and the subsequent removal of the remains, the agency's verification of the situation has been made more difficult and complex, as well as more time and resource consuming," the report said.

In a separate report on Iran, the IAEA said it was no closer to determining whether Iran's disputed nuclear drive is entirely peaceful as Tehran claims.

Furthermore, the Islamic republic was continuing to defy UN demands to suspend uranium enrichment -- a process used to make both nuclear fuel and the fissile material for an atom bomb -- the IAEA said.

"Regrettably, as a result of the lack of cooperation by Iran in connection with the alleged studies and other associated key remaining isuses of serious concern, the agency has not been able to make substantive progress on these issues," it said.

The so-called "alleged studies" refer to documents collected from a wide range of intelligence sources that appear to suggest Iran may have been trying to develop a nuclear warhead, convert uranium and test high explosives and a missile re-entry vehicle.

Iran has repeatedly dismissed the allegations as "baseless" and the evidence used to back up the charges as "fabricated," but has done little so far to disprove them.

"It's gridlock," said a senior UN official. "There's been no progress or no communication whatsoever on possible military dimension."

The IAEA complained that Iran was refusing to suspend uranium enrichment as repeatedly demanded by the UN Security Council in New York.

Officials close to the agency said that, as of November 7, around 3,800 uranium gas enriching centrifuges were and up running at Iran's plant in Natanz and a further 2,200 were close to becoming operational.

"Based on daily accounting records, Iran has produced approximately 630 kilogrammes" (1,389 pounds) of low-enriched uranium or LEU, the IAEA said.

It would need 1,700 kilogrammes to convert into high-enriched uranium (HEU) for use in an atom bomb.

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IAEA unable to say if bombed Syrian site was nuclear reactor
Vienna (AFP) Nov 19, 2008
The UN atomic watchdog said Wednesday it could not yet determine if a building in a remote site in the Syrian desert bombed by Israeli planes last year was a nuclear reactor, as the United States claims.

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