U.N. atom inspectors to visit Syria acid plant: source

U.N. atom inspectors to visit Syria acid plant: source
# 02 March 2011 23:11 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. Syria has agreed to allow U.N. nuclear inspectors into a plant where uranium material has been made, a diplomatic source said, but Washington said the gesture would do little to address allegations of covert nuclear work, APA reports quoting “Reuters”.
The source, familiar with a long-stalled U.N. nuclear watchdog inquiry into U.S. intelligence suggesting Syria tried to build a reactor suited to producing plutonium for atom bombs, said Syrian and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials agreed to the visit at a meeting this week.
The IAEA source said on Wednesday the two sides had set a date and worked out a program for the trip to the Homs acid purification plant, where uranium concentrates, or yellowcake, were a by-product. The source did not give details.
But letting inspectors only go to Homs would not be enough to satisfy Western concerns about Syria, which has stonewalled repeated IAEA requests for further access to a desert site seen as crucial to resolving the matter.
For over two years, Syria has refused IAEA follow-up access to the remains of a complex that was being built at Dair Alzour in the Syrian desert when Israel bombed it to rubble in 2007.
U.S. intelligence reports said it was a nascent North Korean-designed nuclear reactor intended to produce bomb fuel. Inspectors found traces of uranium there in June 2008 that were not in Syria’s declared nuclear inventory, heightening concerns.
Syria, an ally of Iran, whose nuclear program is also under IAEA investigation, denies ever concealing work on nuclear weapons and says the Vienna-based agency should focus on Israel instead because of its undeclared nuclear arsenal.
Glyn Davies, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, said Dair Alzour was the main issue regarding Syria and that allowing the agency to travel to Homs would amount to only "relatively minor" cooperation by Damascus.
"That (IAEA access to Homs) is good as far as it goes, but that is not the central question. The central concern is Dair Alzour," Davies told reporters after a briefing with inspectors.
Late last year, after repeated entreaties to Syria’s nuclear agency went nowhere, IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano appealed directly to its foreign minister for cooperation with his agency and access to Dair Alzour and other locations.
As part of its Syria probe, the IAEA has sought to examine the yellowcake at Homs, which if further processed could be used as nuclear fuel. Syria says the plant is for making fertilizers.
Inspectors were likely to check for any links with a Damascus research reactor where they earlier found uranium traces that had not been declared to the IAEA as required.
Enriched uranium can be used to run nuclear power plants, but also provide material for bombs, if refined much further.
During a 2004 visit to Homs inspectors observed hundreds of kilograms of yellowcake, a confidential IAEA report said.
Last week a German newspaper said Western intelligence agencies suspected that Syria may have been building a secret uranium processing facility near Damascus possibly linked to the former Dair Alzour complex.
Diplomats said this was believed to be one of several sites the agency has sought access to since 2008 and which Syria has said are military in nature and therefore beyond the scope of IAEA authority. The IAEA has not commented on the German report.
The United States has suggested the IAEA may need to consider invoking its "special inspection" mechanism to give it authority to look anywhere necessary in Syria at short notice, if Syria does not let inspectors back to Dair Alzour.
The agency last resorted to such inspection powers in 1993 in North Korea, which still withheld access and later developed a nuclear bomb capacity in secret.
The IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors will discuss the Syria and Iran probes at a March 7-11 meeting in Vienna.
"What we are asking is that Syria uphold its obligations and cooperate with the necessary access to sites and to equipment," Davies said.
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