- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2008

VIENNA, Austria | Syria will allow in U.N. inspectors to probe allegations that the country was building a nuclear reactor at a remote site destroyed in an Israeli air strike, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Monday.

IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei did not say whether his inspectors would be granted access to the site during the planned June 22-24 visit. But a senior diplomat familiar with the details of the planned visit said agency personnel had been told that they could visit the facility. The diplomat said agency experts were also interested in two other locations with possible undeclared nuclear facilities.

The diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said agency experts will also be asking for information on the possible existence of two plutonium-reprocessing facilities separate from the destroyed building.

Syrian officials in Damascus did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Syria would need plutonium reprocessing capabilities if it were - as the U.S. and Israel charge - trying to build produce material for the fissile core of nuclear weapons.

Another diplomat familiar with the IAEA trip plans said there were three other possible nuclear sites about which the IAEA was seeking information.

A third diplomat briefed on the IAEA plans for the trip said the agency had been informed about the possible additional sites by the U.S. That diplomat said the IAEA had not seen the U.S. intelligence itself.

The Syrians have already been informed about the additional suspicions, said the third diplomat.

The Israelis carried out the air strike against the Syrian site in September. Neither the United States nor Israel gave the IAEA information about the site until late April, about a year after they obtained what they considered to be decisive intelligence: dozens of photographs from a hand-held camera that showed both the interior and exterior of the compound in Syria’s eastern desert.

Since that time, Syria had not reacted to repeated agency requests for a visit to check out the allegations, using the interval to erect another structure over the site - a move that heightened suspicions of a possible cover-up.

Mr. ElBaradei repeated his criticism of Israel and the United States in announcing the Syrian visit, taking Washington to task for waiting so long to brief him on its suspicions, and Jerusalem for its air strike.

“It is deeply regrettable that information concerning this installation was not provided to the agency in a timely manner and that force was resorted to unilaterally before the agency was given an opportunity to establish the facts,” Mr. ElBaradei said. His comments to the closed meeting were made available to reporters.

Mr. ElBaradei also reiterated criticism of Iran for withholding full cooperation with the IAEA’s probe of activities that point to a possible clandestine weapons program.



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