Syria is showing “contempt” towards the UN atomic watchdog by refusing to cooperate over a suspected undeclared reactor destroyed by Israel in 2007, the US envoy to the agency said Friday.
President Bashar al-Assad’s government “is using its brutal repression of the Syrian people as an excuse for not cooperating with the agency’s investigation,” Robert Wood told a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board.
Syria’s “rejection of the international community’s calls to remedy its non-compliance shows its continuing contempt for this board and for the system of international safeguards,” he said, according to a text of his remarks.
The IAEA board reported Syria to the UN Security Council in June 2011 after watchdog head Yukiya Amano concluded that the Deir az-Zour desert site was “very likely” a nuclear reactor which should have been declared to the IAEA under Damascus’s safeguards agreement with the agency.
The IAEA says information provided to the agency suggested that the alleged reactor, which was still under construction when it was bombed by Israeli aircraft in September 2007, was being built with North Korean assistance.
Syria’s ambassador to the IAEA, Bassam Sabbagh, reiterated at Friday’s meeting in Vienna that the site in question was a “non-nuclear military installation” and denied not wanting to cooperate with the agency, diplomats said.
The IAEA visited the site in June 2008 and requested documentation related to buildings there as well to three other allegedly related sites but since then Syria “has not engaged substantively,” the agency said in a report last month.
In talks in Damascus in October 2011, Syria offered the IAEA the chance to go back to Deir az-Zour but under conditions rejected by the agency. Syria said the other three sites were “not relevant,” the IAEA said.
In February 2012, Syria sent a letter to the IAEA indicating it would provide a detailed response at a later date in view of the “difficult prevailing security situation in the country,” the watchdog said, referring to the bloody 18-month-old uprising against Assad’s rule.
Iran, meanwhile, speaking in its role as head of the Non-Aligned Movement at Friday’s closed-door meeting, encouraged Syria and the IAEA to “continue cooperating” and said that access to information, activities and locations must be provided in accordance with Syria’s safeguards agreement with the agency.
But it also said it was “essential not to lose sight of the manner in which [the site] was initially brought to the attention of the agency,” saying Israel’s attack “constituted a flagrant of the UN charter.”