- The Washington Times - Friday, March 4, 2011

A bipartisan group of senators and House members this week urged the head of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency to demand intrusive inspections of Syria’s suspected nuclear program.

The letter — signed by 25 lawmakers — follows new disclosures that Syria blocked inspections for three years by the International Atomic Energy Agency to three sites believed to be linked to the al Kibar nuclear reactor that was destroyed by Israeli jets in 2007. The al Kibar reactor is called the Dair Alzour site by the IAEA.

If IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano heeds the advice of the members of Congress, Syria would be the third country ever to be asked to allow a “special inspection.” Normal IAEA inspections are cooperative. The host country and the agency agree to the schedule of the visits and the content of the inspections. Special inspections are imposed from the U.N. agency on a country without normal consultations.

A Syrian refusal of the special investigation likely would prompt a vote among the IAEA’s board of governors to refer the Syrian nuclear file to the U.N. Security Council, placing the Arab state in the same diplomatic jeopardy as Iran and North Korea today.

In the past, such referrals have led to international sanctions.

“In light of the Syrian Foreign Minister’s refusal to address the agency’s concerns and the latest in Syria’s apparent efforts to hinder the IAEA’s efforts to carry out its verification activities,” the 19 senators and six House members stated in the letter, dated March 3. “We are concerned that Syria’s recalcitrance, if it continues unabated, will cause lasting harm to the credibility of the IAEA safeguards regime.”

Fifteen Republicans, nine Democrats and one independent Democrat signed the letter, including Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican and the senate minority whip, as well as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Democrat who replaced Hillary Clinton in the Senate.

The letter to the IAEA chief followed reports last month that Syria continued to deny access to a suspected uranium conversion plant located near Damascus outside the town of Marj as-Sultan.

The site has been the focus of U.S. intelligence monitoring since 2007 amid concerns that the Marj as-Sultan facility was designed to supply fuel to the al Kibar reactor. Unlike al Kibar however, the Israelis did not destroy the plant at Marj as-Sultan.

The 25 members of Congress stated that “without direct and unfettered inspections, the IAEA cannot dismiss the evidence you have cited in your report that the Dair Azour site is a nuclear facility, including: the features of the building and its connectivity to adequate pumping capacity of cooling water, the involvement of the Syrian Atomic Energy Commission (AECS), the inconsistency between end use information provided by the AECS and other information available to IAEA, and the type of uranium particles found in samples taken during the IAEA’s June 2008 visit to the site.”

In 2008, IAEA inspectors found traces of man-made uranium at the al Kibar site. According to the latest IAEA report on the Syrian nuclear program, Syria said the particles found at the al-Kibar site were a result of the Israeli missiles that destroyed the facility. The IAEA report concluded there was a low probability this explanation was true.

In recent months, Mr. Amano, the IAEA director, spoke publicly about Syria’s refusal to allow fuller inspections.

The 20 lawmakers urged Mr. Amano to consider the portion of the safeguard agreement signed by the Syrian government that calls for the “special inspections.” That clause said a special inspection should be invoked “if the Agency considers that information made available by the state, including explanations from the State and information obtained from routine inspections, is not adequate for the agency to fulfill its responsibilities under the agreement.”

• Eli Lake can be reached at elake@washingtontimes.com.

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