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Syria okays visit by nuclear agency: diplomats.

Summary: VIENNA: Syria has agreed to allow U.N. nuclear inspectors into a plant with possible uranium material, diplomatic sources said, but Washington said the gesture would not be enough to address allegations of covert atomic activity. The sources, familiar with a long-stalled U.N. nuclear watchdog inquiry into U.S. intelligence suggesting Syria tried to build a reactor suited to producing plutonium for atom bombs

Fredrik Dahl

Reuters

VIENNA: Syria has agreed to allow U.N. nuclear inspectors into a plant with possible uranium material, diplomatic sources said, but Washington said the gesture would not be enough to address allegations of covert atomic activity.

The sources, familiar with a long-stalled U.N. nuclear watchdog inquiry into U.S. intelligence suggesting Syria tried to build a reactor suited to producing plutonium for atom bombs, said Syrian and International Atomic Energy Agency officials agreed at a meeting this week to a visit on April 1.

One IAEA source said the two sides had also worked out a program for the trip to the Homs acid purification plant, where uranium concentrates, or yellow cake, were a by-product.

Syria has stonewalled repeated IAEA requests for further access to a desert site, seen as crucial to resolving the matter. For over two years, Syria has refused IAEA follow-up access to the remains of a complex being built at Dair Alzour when Israel bombed it in 2007.

U.S. intelligence reports said it was a nascent North Korean-designed nuclear reactor intended to produce bomb fuel. Inspectors found traces of uranium there in June 2008 that were not in Syria's declared nuclear inventory, heightening concerns.

Syria denies ever concealing work on nuclear weapons and says the agency should focus on Israel instead because of its undeclared nuclear arsenal.

Glyn Davies, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, said Dair Alzour was the main issue regarding Syria and that allowing the agency to travel to Homs would amount to only "relatively minor" cooperation from Damascus.

"That [IAEA access to Homs] is good as far as it goes, but that is not the central question. The central concern is Dair Alzour," Davies told reporters.

Late last year, after repeated entreaties to Syria's nuclear agency went nowhere, IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano appealed directly to its foreign minister for cooperation with his agency and access to Dair Alzour and other locations.

As part of its Syria probe, the IAEA has sought to examine the yellow cake at Homs, which if further processed could be used as nuclear fuel. Syria says the plant is for making fertilizers.

Inspectors were likely to check for any links with a Damascus research reactor where they earlier found uranium traces that had not been declared to the IAEA as required.

Enriched uranium can be used to run nuclear power plants, but, if refined much further, can also provide material for bombs.

During a 2004 visit to Homs inspectors observed hundreds of kilograms of yellow cake, a confidential IAEA report said.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7SYRI
Date:Mar 3, 2011
Words:510
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