Diplomats said Syria has declared itself open to total compliance with an International Atomic Energy Agency probe into a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor destroyed in a 2007 Israeli airstrike, Reuters reported on Monday (see GSN, May 26).
Damascus issued the proposal in a written message to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano, who in a new safeguards report last week said Syria's Dair Alzour facility had "very likely" housed an undisclosed nuclear reactor nearing completion.
Intelligence assessments from the U.S. reportedly indicate the site housed a reactor being built with North Korean aid and intended to produce weapon-usable plutonium. Damascus has rejected accusations it engaged in illicit nuclear activities, but it has denied multiple IAEA requests for return visits to Dair Alzour since inspectors found traces of anthropogenic natural uranium during a June 2008 inspection of the site (Fredrik Dahl, Reuters I, May 30).
The U.S. has floated an initial proposal for the 35-nation IAEA governing board to refer Syria's "noncompliance" to the U.N. Security Council, a move that could result in punitive action against Damascus, the Associated Press reported.
The proposed U.S. text expresses with "serious concern" Syria's denial of additional agency access to Dair Alzour, and details a potential board decision "to report... Syria's noncompliance" with its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (Associated Press/Daily Star, May 30).
The Middle Eastern nation's latest offer, though, could sap the willingness of China, Russia and additional nations to support the initiative backed in Europe and the U.S., according to a number of observers.
"Those countries which maybe were not so convinced about the idea to send it to the Security Council will now of course be even more hesitant," a European diplomat said.
Syria's offer "will make it more difficult, there is no question about that," added a high-level envoy from a developing nation. "It is a very smart move" (Dahl, Reuters I, May 30).
"Is it really something which you need to send to the Security Council, something that has happened in the past?" the official added (Fredrik Dahl, Reuters II, May 30).
The Obama administration said it still intended to lobby for Security Council involvement in the dispute.
"We are aware that the Syrian government has sent a letter to the IAEA regarding the agency's longstanding requests for full Syrian cooperation," Robert Wood, deputy U.S. permanent representative to international organizations in Vienna, Austria, said in a statement to governing board member countries. "Such cooperation indeed would be welcome, but would not have any bearing on the finding of noncompliance or the board's responsibilities with regard to that finding" (Dahl, Reuters I).
A diplomat from a Western nation suggested the Syrian move was an 11th-hour attempt at dividing nations that would have "close to zero impact" on the IAEA board. "The letter will be seen, except by very close friends of Syria, as just going through the motions," the official said (Dahl, Reuters II).
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