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The IAEA and Syria's Stonewalling

Syria's limited cooperation and transparency regarding nonproliferation is a cause for concern to the IAEA.

The Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, met in Vienna last week to try to strengthen international efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. Iran's continued defiance of its international obligations concerning its nuclear program was 1 item on the agenda. Another was the suspicious and uncooperative behavior of Iran's closest regional ally, Syria.

Earlier this month, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano released a report to the Board of Governors detailing concerns about Damascus's lack of cooperation with the IAEA.

The report notes that Syria has given the Agency only limited access to a suspected nuclear site which was destroyed in an Israeli bombing attack in September 2007. By the end of October 2007, the Syrian government had cleared the site and removed or obscured the remains of the destroyed building.

Although Syria permitted IAEA inspectors to visit the site in May 2008 and take environmental samples, it refused to grant access to documentation relevant to the building itself or to debris and equipment from it. Syria has also barred further inspections of the site. The environmental samples taken in 2007 indicated the presence of a type of uranium not included in Syria's declared inventory of nuclear material. The presence of the particles indicates the possibility of nuclear-related activities.

In a statement to the IAEA's Board of Governors in Vienna, Mr. Amano said, "Syria has declined to engage substantively with the agency in connection with the unresolved issues related to the Dair Alzour site and other locations. As a consequence, the agency has not been able to make progress toward resolving the outstanding issues related to those sites."

President Barack Obama has said that international efforts to contain the terrible threat to world security posed by nuclear weapons "are centered on the global nonproliferation regime, but as more people and nations break the rules, we could reach the point where the center cannot hold."

Syria's international obligations include those under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty not to pursue nuclear weapons and to give the IAEA the transparency necessary to confirm Syrian compliance. Syria's failure to provide that transparency diminishes global confidence and raises questions about Syria's nuclear intent. The IAEA must act if Syria continues to hinder its efforts to determine that all nuclear activities and material in Syria are safeguarded and intended exclusively for peaceful purposes.