AFP: UN atomic watchdog chief Yukiya Amano turned up the heat on Syria and Iran -- both accused of illicit nuclear activity -- as the body's policy-making board of governors began a meeting in Vienna on Monday.
By Simon Morgan
VIENNA (AFP) — UN atomic watchdog chief Yukiya Amano turned up the heat on Syria and Iran -- both accused of illicit nuclear activity -- as the body's policy-making board of governors began a meeting in Vienna on Monday.
Tehran and Damascus are both accused of actively blocking the International Atomic Energy Agency's long-running investigations into illegal nuclear activity.
At the end of May, Amano released two new reports in which he said Iran was continuing to stockpile low-enriched uranium, in defiance of multiple UN sanctions, and refusing to answer allegations of possible military dimensions to its contested nuclear programme.
Syria, for its part, is accused of building an undeclared atomic reactor at a remote desert site and has not allowed UN inspectors access to locations, data or individuals who could help clear up the allegations.
Addressing the IAEA's governors on the first day of their traditional week-long June meeting, Amano defended his decision to go public with his assessment that a suspect site in Syria was "very likely" to have been an undeclared nuclear reactor, as alleged by the United States.
"The Syrian government was given ample time by the agency to cooperate fully concerning the Dair Alzour site, but did not do so," Amano said, according to a copy of his speech circulated to journalists.
"Nevertheless, we had obtained enough information to draw a conclusion. I judged it appropriate to inform member states of our conclusion at this stage as it was in no one's interest to let this situation drag on indefinitely," Amano said.
Damascus has always insisted that Dair Alzour was a non-nuclear military installation, but has provided no evidence to back that up. Furthermore, it has repeatedly denied the IAEA access to the site to clear up the allegations for itself.
"I am confident about our conclusion and I look forward to engaging further with Syria to resolve related outstanding issues," Amano said.
The US and its Western allies are expected to propose a resolution at the board meeting to find Damascus in "non-compliance with its international obligations and report it to the UN Security Council in New York.
Western diplomats believe there is sufficient support on the 35-member board for the resolution to be passed, although it would be "naive" to expect it to be carried unanimously, a number of them said.
Turning to the IAEA's long-running investigation on Iran, Amano said the watchdog "has received further information related to possible past or current undisclosed nuclear-related activities that seem to point to the existence of possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme."
The IAEA has long been pressing Tehran to answer the allegations, so far to no avail. Iran has merely dismissed the evidence backing up the allegations as "fabricated" and "baseless", and refused to discuss the matter further.
"There are indications that certain of these activities may have continued until recently," Amano said.
The West has long suspected the Islamic republic of seeking to build a bomb under the guise of its civilian nuclear energy programme, a charge persistently denied by Tehran.
But after eight years of intensive investigation, the IAEA says it is still not in a position to determine whether Iran's nuclear activities are entirely peaceful as Tehran claims.