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SYRIA

Damascus says nuclear cooperation not at security's expense

3 min

Syria said on Friday it would not undermine its national security to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Damascus also indicated it would not disclose its military sites.

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Syria said Friday it would cooperate with the UN atomic watchdog over its suspected nuclear programme but stressed it would not compromise on national security.

Syria also indicated it would press on for a seat on the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), up for discussion later Friday, despite fierce resistance from the United States and other Western countries.

"We would like to underline that my government is cooperating with the (IAEA) in full transparency and we will follow suit all along the way," the head of Syria's Atomic Energy Commission, Ibrahim Othman told the IAEA's general conference here.

"However, this cooperation will not be in any way at the expense of disclosing our military sites or causing a threat to our national security," Othman said.

The UN atomic watchdog is probing allegations that Damascus had been building a clandestine nuclear facility at Al-Kibar, a remote desert area, until it was bombed by Israeli planes in September 2007.

Syria has denied the allegations as "ridiculous," saying the building was simply a disused military utility.

Damascus allowed a three-member IAEA team to visit the site in June but has refused any follow-up trips.

The United States and its Western allies have complained during this week's general conference that Syria is dragging its feet on the IAEA probe.

"We have listened with regret to statements from some countries calling on us to show more transparency and cooperation with the agency," Othman told the assembly on Friday.

"I would like here to recall what the Director General (Mohamed ElBaradei) and his deputy for safeguards (Olli Heinonen) have said... namely that Syria has cooperated and complied with the implementation of the measures agreed to with the agency."

At a week-long meeting of the IAEA's 35-member board last week, agency chief ElBaradei said that the cooperation shown by Syria so far was "good".

ElBaradei revealed that the probe had been delayed because the agency's contact man in Syria was murdered.

"The reason that Syria has been late in providing additional information (is) that our interlocutor has been assassinated in Syria," ElBaradei told a closed-door session.

A recording of his remarks was obtained by AFP.

According to ElBaradei, the IAEA was still evaluating samples taken from the site, but that inspectors had found "no indication" so far of any nuclear material.

However, he complained that Syria had not yet responded to IAEA requests for additional access to individuals, sites and information.

Much to the consternation of Washington and its allies, Syria is hoping to gain a seat on the IAEA board for the upcoming term 2008-2010.

"Having Syria on the board would be like having a suspected arsonist oversee the fire brigade," one conference participant told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Othman said Damascus had no intention of abandoning its bid despite US opposition.

"We invite all member states to support our candidacy, recalling how positive a role we played during our previous mandate in the board of governors and also recalling our fruitful cooperation with the agency in technical and technological fields," he said.

Afghanistan -- a US ally -- is also standing as a candidate for the seat, which become free for the so-called Middle East and South Asia (MESA) group with the expiry of Pakistan's one-year term.

If MESA cannot agree on a single candidate, then the matter may have to be put to the vote of the entire general conference on Friday afternoon.
 

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