Syria Faces Sanctions For Alleged Nuclear Facility
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
In addition to the proposed U.N. Security Council resolution on human rights in Syria, the country may also face trouble in the U.N. over nuclear issues. The director of the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that Syria was very likely building a secret nuclear reactor. Back in 2007, Israel bombed the facility and destroyed it.
Now, as NPR's Mike Shuster reports, the governing board of the IAEA has voted to refer Syria to the U.N. Security Council for possible economic sanctions.
MIKE SHUSTER: It's been nearly four years since Israel bombed a construction site in the Syrian Desert near the town of Dair Alzour. Almost a year later, Syria allowed a team of inspectors from the IAEA to visit the site, but by that time the Syrians have removed the rubble, scrubbed the site clean and built a warehouse where a suspected nuclear reactor had been under construction.
For another three years, the agency tried to persuade Syria to let it mount a full investigation, involving visits to three more locations in Syria, access to documents for the original site and to the engineers who were building the facility. To all those requests, Syria said no. Finally, earlier this week, Yukiya Amano, the IAEA's director, went public with his conclusions in a speech to the 35 nations that comprise the agency's board of governors.
Mr. YUKIYA AMANO (Director, IAEA): The agency has come to the conclusion that it is very likely that the building destroyed at the Dair Alzour site was a nuclear reactor which should have been declared to the agency. This is the best assessment of the agency based on all the information in its possession.
SHUSTER: With that conclusion in hand, the U.S. along with 12 other nations put forward a resolution declaring Syria in noncompliance with its legal obligations to the IAEA. Today, that resolution received 17 votes in favor, six nations voted against, eleven abstained, and one nation was absent.
After the vote, the U.S. ambassador at IAEA, Glyn Davies, said the reactor under construction had no credible peaceful purpose and was being built solely in order to produce plutonium for possible use in nuclear weapons.
Ambassador GLYN DAVIES (IAEA): They really should come clean about what they were doing in the desert, what they started to do a half a decade ago by building this nuclear reactor.
SHUSTER: Syria's ambassador called the vote today regrettable but pledged full cooperation with the agency.
Frequently in the past, the IAEA's board of governors has preferred to seek consensus on its resolutions, but clearly, the board is deeply divided on this issue. China said there was no reason to refer Syria to the Security Council. Russia called the action untimely and not objective.
But Olli Heinonen, a former senior official of the IAEA, said the action was necessary to protect the agency's credibility.
Mr. OLLI HEINONEN (Former Official, International Atomic Energy Agency): I see it as an erosion in the verification scheme because here we have a partner who doesn't cooperate with the IAEA, and IAEA doesn't use all the tools and means at its disposal.
SHUSTER: With China and Russia now on record opposing the action against Syria, though, it will be very difficult to convince them to support punitive action in the Security Council such as economic sanctions.
Mike Shuster, NPR News.
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