Middle East

UN nuclear watchdog refers Syria to Security Council

Undated photo released by CIA of alleged nuclear reactor under construction in eastern Syria Image copyright AP
Image caption Israel bombed the remote desert site of the alleged reactor in September 2007

The UN nuclear watchdog is to report Syria to the Security Council over its alleged covert nuclear programme.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) voted to rebuke Syria on claims of an undeclared nuclear reactor.

The structure, which Syria has maintained was a non-nuclear military site, was destroyed by Israel in 2007.

The IAEA's move comes as international pressure mounts on the UN Security Council to censure Syria over its lethal crackdown on protests.

European nations on Wednesday presented a separate draft resolution to the Council condemning Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.

Desert site

At the IAEA meeting at its headquarters in Vienna, 17 countries voted for and six against, including Russia and China.

Diplomats said that overall 11 countries of the 35-member board of governors abstained and one country was absent from the vote.

Israel bombed the desert site of the alleged reactor - near Deir Alzour in the country's remote north-east - in September 2007.

The IAEA began investigating the allegations in June 2008, but Syria has refused to co-operate and, with the exception of a one-off visit, has not allowed UN inspectors to Deir Alzour or related sites to verify the US claims.

Thursday's motion was proposed by the US and its Western allies who had asked the IAEA's governing body to find Syria in "non-compliance" with its international obligations.

"Syria's apparent attempt at constructing a covert, undeclared plutonium production reactor, a reactor with no credible peaceful purpose, represents one of the most serious safeguards violations possible," said US Ambassador Glyn Davies.

He said the intentions of the structure at Deir Alzour were clear and that a resolution was the only responsible course of action.

"The reactor there was built for the express purpose of producing plutonium for possible use in nuclear weapons."


Syria's ambassador to the IAEA called the agency's move "regrettable" but pledged that the country would honour its obligations.

"I think Syria has always been committed to its obligations and to its duties and I think we will continue to do so," Bassam Al-Sabbagh said after the meeting.

Syria is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which gives it the right to enrich its own fuel for civil nuclear power, under inspection from the IAEA.

But it has also signed a safeguards agreement with the IAEA under which it is obliged to notify the UN's nuclear watchdog of any plans to construct a new nuclear facility.

The last country the IAEA referred to the Security Council was Iran, in February 2006.

The Security Council has the power to impose sanctions, a move it has taken in the case of Iran no less than four times.

However, diplomats are not convinced that this will happen in Syria's case due to opposition from both Russia and China.

The diplomatic move at the IAEA came a day after Britain, France, Germany and Portugal proposed a draft resolution condemning Syria's crackdown on protesters to the Security Council, despite the risk of a Russian veto.

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