- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 1, 2011

U.N. investigators have identified a previously unknown complex in Syria that bolsters suspicions that the Syrian government worked with A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb, to acquire technology that could make nuclear arms.

The buildings in northwestern Syria closely match the design of a uranium-enrichment plant provided to Libya when Moammar Gadhafi was trying to build nuclear weapons under Mr. Khan’s guidance, officials told the Associated Press.

The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also has obtained correspondence between Mr. Khan and a Syrian government official, Muhidin Issa, who proposed scientific cooperation and a visit to Mr. Khan’s laboratories following Pakistan’s successful nuclear test in 1998.

The complex, in the city of Al-Hasakah, now appears to be a cotton-spinning plant, and investigators have found no sign that it was ever used for nuclear production.

But given that Israeli warplanes destroyed a suspected plutonium production reactor in Syria in 2007, the unlikely coincidence in design suggests Syria may have been pursuing two routes to an atomic bomb: uranium and plutonium.

Details of the Syria-Khan connection were provided to the AP by a senior diplomat with knowledge of IAEA investigations and a former U.N. investigator.

Both spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The Syrian government did not respond to a request for comment. It repeatedly has denied pursuing nuclear weapons but also has stymied an investigation into the site bombed by Israel.

It has not responded to an IAEA request to visit the Al-Hasakah complex, the officials said.

IAEA officials contacted Tuesday also declined to comment.

The IAEA’s examination of Syria’s programs has slowed as world powers focus on a popular uprising in the country and the government’s violent crackdown.

Syria never has been seen as being close to development of a nuclear bomb. There also is no indication that Damascus continues to work on a secret nuclear program.

If the facility in Al-Hasakah was indeed intended for uranium production, those plans appear to have been abandoned, and the path to plutonium ended with the Israeli bombing.