Syria keeps quiet over UN nuclear probe

Syria had no official comment Monday, a day after a UN nuclear watchdog arrived in the country to inspect US allegations that Damascus was building a nuclear reactor in the northeastern desert. There was little local media coverage as well.


The Syrian authorities kept silent on Monday about a visit by UN nuclear experts to inspect a mysterious site bombed by Israel last year, with no official announcement a day after the team's arrival.

There was no acknowledgement in the state-owned media that the inspectors were even in Syria to investigate US allegations that the Al-Kibar site in the northeastern desert was a nuclear reactor nearing completion.

But the privately-owned Al-Watan newspaper -- which is close to the government like all Syrian media -- published an editorial on the mission and also carried a commentary by the Russian news agency RIA Novosti.

Both commentaries highlighted Syria's strong denial of the US allegations and statements by International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei that the watchdog had no evidence of Syrian nuclear foul-play.

"The United States is exerting strong pressure so that the reports by the IAEA are written in a way that it can exploit them for political, military and diplomatic reasons," Al-Watan wrote.

The paper said the visit by the nuclear watchdog delegation was the direct result of a "US campaign" against Syria.

It accused the United States of using the nuclear issue "like a sword hanging over Syria because of the positions adopted by Damascus on Middle East issues, namely Lebanon and Iraq, and because of its ties with Iran."

"Syria did well by accepting the visit of the IAEA delegation, confirming its will for transparency, peace and the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. But in any case the inspection should not drag out as inspections have in Iraq and Iran," Al-Watan added.

The RIA Novosti commentary carried by the paper had a similar tune.

"We believe therefore that the IAEA team's mission is a routine visit aimed at putting an end to the rumours over a Syrian nuclear programme," it said.

It added that it remained unclear, however, whether "the United States will be satisifed with such an outcome or will press on with its accusations to create a Syrian nuclear issue similar to the Iranian or North Korean ones."

Washington has circulated photographs it says show that the Al-Kibar facility was a nuclear plant similar to the Yongbyon reactor in North Korea and being built with Pyongyang's assistance.

Syria says Al-Kibar was a disused military facility.

On Monday the United States called on Syria to fully cooperate with the UN inspectors.

"What we would hope is that Syria cooperates fully with the inspectors. And then we'll just wait to see what their report shows; we won't prejudge it," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in Washington.

The IAEA team is scheduled to leave Syria on Tuesday evening after completing its inspection of the site.

But the mission's leader, IAEA deputy chief Olli Heinonen, said he would not be returning to the watchdog's headquarters in Vienna until Wednesday evening. It was not immediately clear how the inspectors would be spending the additional time.

The team is to submit its findings to the UN watchdog's next regular board meeting in September.


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