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IAEA urged to impose "special" inspection on Syria
Thu Feb 26, 2009 1:32pm EST
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By Mark Heinrich
VIENNA (Reuters) - Non-proliferation advocates urged the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Thursday to seek a rare, mandatory "special" inspection in Syria after it refused to give voluntary access to resolve allegations of covert atomic activity.
The appeal, joined by a former top U.N. nuclear inspector, came days ahead of an International Atomic Energy Agency meeting where Syria is likely to be a hot topic, given new evidence in an IAEA inquiry into an alleged plutonium-producing reactor.
An IAEA report last week said enough uranium particles had turned up in soil samples taken in one trip to the site granted by Syria last June to constitute a "significant" find. Satellite pictures revealed a building resembling a reactor, it said.
U.N. officials said graphite traces were also retrieved from where Washington says Syria had almost built a graphite-core reactor before a 2007 Israeli air raid wrecked it, although it was too early to tell if the graphite had a nuclear link.
Syria insisted the uranium came from Israeli missiles that hit the target -- which the IAEA has ruled out. Damascus denied any graphite was found and suggested IAEA analysis was faulty.
It again rebuffed IAEA requests for documentation to back up its denials of clandestine activity and for more visits to what it says are conventional military bases beyond the IAEA's writ.
The IAEA lacks legal means to get Syria to open up because the country's basic safeguards treaty covers only its one declared atomic facility, an old research reactor.
"The IAEA has found strong evidence to support this accusation (of an undeclared reactor) but as yet no proof. It has repeatedly asked Syria for greater access on a voluntary basis. Syria has repeatedly refused," three prominent nuclear experts said in a letter to the International Herald Tribune.
"It is time for the IAEA to invoke its most powerful inspection provision, the 'special inspection', to make its requests for access legally binding," the three wrote.
They included Pierre Goldschmidt, former head of the IAEA's non-proliferation inspectorate; Mark Fitzpatrick, senior fellow at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies; and James Acton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
EXTRAORDINARY INSPECTION POWERS
The experts noted that special inspections give IAEA inspectors the authority to look anywhere at short notice in a member state, beyond declared nuclear plants.
The IAEA last resorted to special inspection powers in 1993 in North Korea, which still withheld access and later developed nuclear bomb capacity in secret. U.S. officials say Syria's alleged secret reactor was North Korean-designed.
If the IAEA asked for a special inspection and Syria did not comply, the agency's 35-nation Board of Governors -- which meets next week -- would have sufficient grounds to find Syria "in non-compliance" with its safeguards accord, the experts wrote.
The three said a "non-compliance" finding would oblige the Board to refer Syria to the U.N. Security Council, as it did Iran in 2006 over its failure to declare sensitive nuclear activity, but referral could be delayed. Continued...
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