Syria OKs April 1 visit by UN nuclear agency

The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 2, 2011; 10:58 AM

VIENNA -- Syria has agreed to an April 1 visit by International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to a site being probed for clues about the country's secretive atomic activities, an IAEA official said Wednesday.

Damascus already agreed last month to let IAEA inspectors see the site - an acid purification plant in the city of Homs. Purified uranium ore is a byproduct of the plant, and the IAEA is trying to establish whether traces of uranium elsewhere come from the plant, as Syria asserts.

Diplomats inside a closed IAEA meeting Wednesday said senior agency official Herman Nackaerts announced the April 1 date as part of a briefing on the IAEA probes of both Syria and Iran ahead of a meeting of the 35-nation IAEA board next week.

Syria is suspected of hiding a clandestine nuclear program, while Iran is defying U.N. Security Council demands that it stop uranium enrichment - dual use technology that can make both reactor fuel and the core of nuclear warheads - and stonewalling an IAEA investigation of allegations that it secretly worked on components of a nuclear weapons program.

A confidential report on Syria prepared for the board and made available to The Associated Press last week said that Syria's decision to let inspectors visit Homs after years of delay "could represent a step forward."

But Syria continues to deny IAEA inspectors the right to revisit their main focus of interest - a site bombed in 2007 by Israeli warplanes that Washington described as a nearly finished secretly built nuclear reactor that could produce plutonium.

Plutonium, like enriched uranium, can also be used to arm a nuclear missile. Syria also has turned down repeated IAEA requests to visit three other sites suspected of being linked to a clandestine Syrian nuclear program.

The diplomats asked for anonymity in exchange for reporting from the closed meeting.

© 2011 The Associated Press