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SYRIA: Nuclear inspectors going to Israeli strike site

June 2, 2008 | 10:55 am

Dg_board020608_300x200Nuclear weapons inspectors are heading to Syria this month in an attempt clear up the lingering mystery about a Syrian military site bombed in an Israeli raid in September, officials announced today.

U.S. officials told lawmakers in April that the targeted site was a secret plutonium reactor being built with the help of North Korean scientists. Satellite photos suggest that Syria demolished and dismantled the site shortly after the Sept. 6, 2007, airstrike.

Today International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei told his board of governors that an inspection team was heading to Syria to inspect the site from June 22 to 24.

The embattled ElBaradei has been criticized by neoconservatives in Washington as being too soft on Iran's nuclear program. After various vague explanations, Syria has for months insisted that the site was nothing more than an unused military site. U.S. intelligence agencies presented evidence that purported to show that the site was a carefully hidden nuclear facility.

ElBaradei had stern words for Syria today:

I should emphasize that Syria, like all states with comprehensive safeguards agreements, has an obligation to report the planning and construction of any nuclear facility to the agency. We are therefore treating this information with the seriousness it deserves and have been in discussions with the Syrian authorities since this information was provided to the agency with a view to arranging a visit to Syria at an early date to verify, to the extent possible at this stage, the veracity of the information available to the agency. It has now been agreed that an agency team will visit Syria during the period 22-24 June. I look forward to Syria's full cooperation in this matter.

But he also criticized Israel and the U.S., which gave Israel the go-ahead to strike the site last year. ElBaradei said Washington and Israel should have gone to his agency, an arm of the United Nations, before launching air raids: 

It is deeply regrettable that information concerning this installation was not provided to the agency in a timely manner and that force was resorted to unilaterally before the agency was given an opportunity to establish the facts, in accordance with its responsibilities under the Nonproliferation Treaty and Syria's Safeguards Agreement. I should like to remind everybody that NPT states parties have unanimously reaffirmed that the agency is the competent authority responsible for verifying and assuring ... compliance by states with their safeguards agreements.

Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

Photo: IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, center, addresses the IAEA board of governors. He is flanked by Ernesto Zedillo, left, former president of Mexico and chairman of the Commission of Eminent Persons on the Future of the Agency, and board Chairman Milenko E. Skoknic. Credit: D. Calma / IAEA

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