"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
Syria Probe Still Stalled, IAEA Says

Peter Crail

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has made “no progress” in recent discussions with Syria on resolving concerns about that country’s suspected attempt to pursue nuclear weapons, Director-General Yukiya Amano told the agency’s governing board Nov. 17.

Last month, the IAEA Board of Governors held its second consecutive quarterly meeting without an updated report on the agency’s efforts to investigate allegations of undeclared nuclear activities by Syria. Amano urged Syria “to cooperate fully with unresolved issues” related to a facility the agency said in June “was very likely” intended to be an undeclared nuclear reactor. (See ACT, July/August 2011.)

The United States has accused Syria of building a reactor with North Korean assistance in order to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. The facility, located at a site called Dair al Zour, was destroyed by Israel in a September 2007 airstrike. (See ACT, October 2007.)

The agency met with Syrian officials in October to seek additional cooperation on Syria’s suspected undeclared nuclear work. Prior to the IAEA board’s finding in June that Syria was in “non-compliance” with its safeguards obligations, Damascus had pledged full cooperation with the agency.

Glyn Davies, U.S. permanent representative to the IAEA, told the board Nov. 17 that “Syrian cooperation would indeed be welcome after three years of empty offers, including most recently the agency’s October meeting with Syria in which no progress was made in obtaining full access to requested locations.”

The United States also said Syria needs to address its violations before developing a nuclear power program.

During a Nov. 14 annual meeting of the IAEA Technical Assistance and Cooperation Committee, Washington raised objections to a proposed feasibility study for a nuclear power reactor in Syria. “In principle, it is our view that a state found in noncompliance with [its] safeguards agreement should also have certain [technical cooperation] projects curtailed or suspended,” U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the IAEA Robert Wood told the meeting.

The stalemated investigation continues despite media reports that the IAEA has identified another Syrian site that was potentially intended to be a uranium-enrichment facility, suggesting Syria considered a second path to producing nuclear weapons using highly enriched uranium. The Associated Press reported Nov. 1 that the agency determined that a facility in the city of Hasakah matches the design of a uranium-enrichment plant Libya sought to construct as part of its then-active nuclear weapons program.

The design came from an illicit nuclear trafficking network led by Pakistani nuclear official Abdul Qadeer Khan. The Khan network is known to have contributed to the nuclear programs of Iran, Libya, and North Korea and had been suspected of aiding at least one additional country. Syria has admitted to being approached by Khan, but claimed that it did not follow up with his network.

However, the Associated Press report says the IAEA obtained correspondence between Khan and a Syrian official proposing scientific cooperation.