Syria to Meet With Weapons Inspectors About Site Bombed by Israel

Director General of the IAEA Mohamed ElBaradei waits for the start of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, 35-nation board meeting at Vienna's International Center, Monday, June 2, 2008. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
Director General of the IAEA Mohamed ElBaradei waits for the start of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, 35-nation board meeting at Vienna's International Center, Monday, June 2, 2008. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak) (Ronald Zak - AP)
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Nine months after Israel bombed an alleged Syrian nuclear site, the government of President Bashar al-Assad has agreed to hold talks in Damascus with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency about the remote desert compound, the International Atomic Energy Agency announced yesterday, ending a long deadlock over access to the location.

Syria will allow international access to the al-Kibar site on the Euphrates River, but has turned down the IAEA's request to go to at least three other facilities that U.S. intelligence says may be connected to a reactor and a clandestine nuclear weapons program, said Western diplomats familiar with the talks, which are scheduled for June 22-24. The other sites include possible reprocessing facilities, which are essential for production of fissile material.

"They will only go to the bombed site," said a diplomat close to the IAEA. "They did request to go to other places. It's the first visit. There will be other visits, to be sure, and you take one step at a time."

Syria's envoy to Washington criticized the Bush administration for allegations about additional sites.

"Why should they be going anywhere else? It's an endless story," said Ambassador Imad Moustapha. "Whenever Israel wants inspectors to go visit Syria, it only has to claim it's a nuclear site. Every analyst knows it's not a nuclear site. We're not going to become slaves to the whimsical desires of this administration and Israel. When the truth is known, this administration will be ashamed."

Diplomats in Vienna said the breakthrough appears in large part tied to the first photographic evidence of the alleged nuclear site, revealed in April during Bush administration briefings to the IAEA, Congress and the news media. "It was difficult for the IAEA to request access before it had been given any information, and only recently this information came out from the U.S.," said a diplomat in Vienna close to the IAEA. "The IAEA had earlier told Syria it would be in its interest to show this site, but it had no real grounds until recently."

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei criticized the United States and Israel yesterday for a "deeply regrettable" delay in providing intelligence, and for Israel's use of force before the IAEA had an opportunity to "establish the facts."

Weapons proliferation experts question whether the brief visit will be sufficient to address the volume of issues surrounding the alleged site, which Israel attacked in a late- night airstrike on Sept. 6 but still refuses to discuss publicly. Subsequent satellite images indicate that Syria leveled what was left on the site and rebuilt a new facility that it says is for military use.

The IAEA inspectors "probably won't get much done," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security and a former U.N. weapons inspector.

"They'll want to use ground-penetrating radar to look for evidence of certain particles associated with this kind of reactor," he said. "They'll look at water pipes from the river. But it's not something you do in a couple hours. They will have to work it out with Syria, because it's not like Iraq, where [U.N. inspectors] showed up and could demand to see things. Syria has to agree to it. It could be that they just look around and have talks about what happens next."

The Bush administration called on Damascus to allow the IAEA inspection team to have access to all sites and any people who may have worked on the reactor, which Washington says was not configured to provide electricity.


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