Syria Faces Criticism Over 'Secret Nuclear Reactor'

Jun 6, 2011
Originally published on June 13, 2011 1:27 pm
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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

NPR's Mike Shuster has the story.

MIKE SHUSTER: Olli Heinonen led the IAEA inspection team in Syria, which faced strict limitations on what it could do there.

P: There were some pieces of buildings left there scattered all over; small pieces of rubble and concrete. Those were not allowed to be sampled.

SHUSTER: Normally inspectors take what are called environmental samples to determine if uranium or other dangerous nuclear materials are present. There were also other sources of information about the site that were withheld from the IAEA, says Heinonen, who is now at the Belfer Center at Harvard.

P: There were no drawings available. No people to talk about what was the purpose of the building which was there. Certainly they were happy to show what is there currently, but that's a different thing. The IAEA was interested in what was there before.

SHUSTER: That's the view of Peter Crail of the Arms Control Association in Washington.

MONTAGNE: The conclusion that the IAEA has come to, and where the evidence has pointed, is that this was a reactor whose intention was to produce plutonium, full stop.

SHUSTER: So now the agency and its 35-nation board of governors has to decide what to do. The likelihood is that later this week, the U.S., Britain and other states will put forward a resolution that says Syria is not in compliance with its obligations to the agency, says Leonard Spector, of the Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Washington.

MONTAGNE: I have a feeling the non-compliance vote may very well be successful. And that will start a process of some kind of very explicit international condemnation of Syria and further demands for, you know, investigations.

SHUSTER: This is happening just as Syria is coming under intense pressure to stop the violence it has used to suppress widespread domestic protests. Tactically, says Spector, any IAEA action against Syria will inevitably increase the political pressure on the Assad government in Damascus.

MONTAGNE: Part of what may be happening here is that there is an orchestrated effort to bring added pressure on Syria, from whatever means may be available.

SHUSTER: Mike Shuster, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: And there was more news from Syria's border. Protesters massed Sunday at the border along the Golan Heights. They were marking the anniversary of the 1967 war when Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria. Israeli forces opened fire on the protesters when they tried to cross the border. Syrian state television said 23 people were killed. Israeli officials accused Syria of exaggerating the number to distract from its own crackdown on Syrian protesters.

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