Syria: No more UN visits to alleged nuclear site
Syria's nuclear energy chief on Friday said a UN watchdog report on the alleged secret Syrian nuclear site bombed by Israel proved nothing and the investigation should be closed.
The Syrian official said Damascus would stick by a deal with UN inspectors that permitted only one visit to the Al-Kibar site - which took place last June - and "we will not allow another visit."
An International Atomic Energy Agency report issued on Wednesday said a Syrian complex destroyed in a 2007 Israeli air strike bore a number of characteristics resembling those of a nuclear reactor and UN inspectors had found a significant number of uranium traces in desert sands there.
The findings, based on satellite pictures and soil and water samples taken by UN investigators, were not enough to conclude a reactor was there but the findings were serious and warranted more investigation and Syrian transparency, the IAEA said.
Othman, speaking after a closed IAEA briefing to members of its 35-nation board of governors, repeated Syria's position that Israel's target was only a conventional military building.
"What they are now saying about uranium particles - collecting three particles from the desert is not enough to say there was a reactor there at all," Othman told reporters, speaking English in Syria's first public reaction to the report.
"Now, I think to follow up there should be a good reason to say there is something there. In our opinion this file should be closed," said Othman, head of Syria's atomic energy commission.
Syria has one declared atomic facility, an old research reactor.
The IAEA report said Syria had not heeded requests for documentation to back up denials of secret nuclear activity or repeated IAEA requests to visit three other military sites seen as harboring possible evidence linked to Al-Kibar.
"The report reinforces the assessment of my government that Syria was secretly building a nuclear reactor in its eastern desert and thereby violating its IAEA (non-proliferation) safeguards obligations," said Gregory Schulte, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA.
Pressed on whether Syria was slamming the door to further contact with the IAEA over the probe, Othman said, "No, no. If the information required belongs to the accusation, then we will supply it," suggesting there could be more discussions.
But he poured cold water on the prospect of intrusive inspections of more sites he said were military installations Syria could not afford to expose given its official state of war with Israel, which has an undeclared nuclear arsenal.
"If our authorities find it is possible to visit, it's not myself who will decide. But I'm pointing out these are military positions, buildings, activities, and remind you all we are still in a war in the Middle East," Othman said.
He said Syria would continue cooperation with the IAEA but according to its agreement with the agency, which provides for inspections only at declared atomic sites.
The United States said earlier on Friday the first independent monitoring report on the alleged Syrian nuclear site had hardened suspicions that Syria was building a covert reactor and would raise pressure on it to come clean.
"The report sharply contradicts a number of Syria's claims and catalogues Syria's repeated refusal to answer IAEA questions," Schulte said.
Syria, an ally of Iran whose disputed uranium enrichment program has been under IAEA investigation for years, says the site destroyed was a conventional military building and the uranium traces must have come from munitions used to bomb it.
Senior UN officials familiar with the report said the traces were not from depleted uranium, a hardening agent in some ordnance, putting the onus on Syria for an explanation.
"The IAEA needs to understand what Syria was building in secret then buried under meters of earth and a new building," Schulte said. "Syria is not Iran and we do not seek to make Syria into Iran. But this requires Syria to cooperate with the IAEA."
"We hope that it will not adopt the tactics of hindrance and unhelpfulness that Tehran has so finely honed and that remain so evident in the (IAEA's) latest report," he said.
A separate agency report on Wednesday said Iran was still stonewalling an IAEA probe into alleged atomic bomb research by Tehran. UN officials said a standoff had reigned since September with no communication between the sides.
Iran says it is enriching uranium solely to generate electricity. The West suspects a clandestine effort to develop the ability to fuel atomic bombs.
Schulte said members of the IAEA's 35-nation Board of Governors would press Iran and Syria to cooperate at the body's end-of-year meeting on Nov. 27-28.