- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 26, 2008

VIENNA, Austria (AP) — The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog chastised the United States yesterday for withholding information on what Washington says was a nuclear reactor being built secretly in Syria with help from North Korea.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei also criticized Israel for bombing the purported nuclear facility site seven months ago.

Mr. ElBaradei issued a strongly worded statement that reflected his anger about being kept out of the loop about Washington’s investigation of the site and the suspected North Korean assistance.

The IAEA said Mr. ElBaradei was not told about the information until Thursday, the day U.S. officials briefed Congress about the evidence, which they say includes dozens of photographs taken from ground level and footage of the interior of the building gathered by spy satellites after the Israeli strike in September.

“The director general deplores the fact that this information was not provided to the agency in a timely manner, in accordance with the agency’s responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to enable it to verify its veracity and establish the facts,” the IAEA said.

In Washington, the State Department brushed aside Mr. ElBaradei’s complaint.

“The fact of the matter now is this is an issue that is worthy of investigation putting aside these questions of timing,” spokesman Sean McCormack said.

The IAEA’s mission includes trying to keep nuclear proliferation in check, and it depends on member states for information to carry out that task.

Mr. ElBaradei and the Bush administration have clashed before. In the runup to the Iraq war, he challenged U.S. claims that Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed weapons of mass destruction. In 2005, Washington made a failed attempt to prevent Mr. ElBaradei’s re-election.

The IAEA promised yesterday to follow up on the U.S. intelligence, saying it would “treat this information with the seriousness it deserves and will investigate the veracity of the information.”

Mr. ElBaradei also criticized Israel’s air strike of the site. Israel has maintained total silence on the issue since the Sept. 6 bombing.

“The director general views the unilateral use of force by Israel as undermining the due process of verification that is at the heart of the nonproliferation regime,” the statement said.

The IAEA did not directly criticize North Korea or Syria, but said “Syria has an obligation … to report the planning and construction of any nuclear facility to the agency.”

Syria denies that it was building a nuclear reactor and insists the site bombed by Israel was an unused military facility.

Syria’s ambassador to the United States said yesterday that the CIA fabricated pictures purportedly taken inside the facility and predicted that in the coming weeks the U.S. story about the site would “implode from within.”

“The photos presented to me yesterday were ludicrous, laughable,” Ambassador Imad Moustapha told reporters at his Washington residence.

However, he refused to say what the building was used for before Israeli jets bombed it.

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