Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Nothing to Hide” From Nuclear Inspectors

Analysts in Syria insist the reason Damascus is allowing the United Nation’s atomic watchdog in for an inspection is that it has nothing to hide.

After several months’ delay, a delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, is to inspect a site at al-Kibar in northeastern Syria on June 22-24.

The Israeli air force bombed the al-Kibar site last September. In April, the United States said it believed al-Kibar was the site of a reactor plant that North Korea was helping to build for Syria.

Damascus insisted that the facility was an abandoned military building.

Most Syrians appear to believe their government’s assertion that it has no ambition to develop nuclear weapons, with analysts noting that Damascus is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has worked with the IAEA in the past.

The Syrian government argues that the US lacks credibility on nuclear issues since the claim that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction proved untrue.

Many Syrians agree, and support their government’s argument that the international community should view Israel rather than Syria with suspicion.

“Syrians are not afraid of the IAEA’s inspections,” said an assistant professor at Damascus University.

“Israel hasn’t signed any non-proliferation international agreement or protocol for nuclear weapons. It has never allowed inspection of its nuclear institutions. Where is the logic in that? Syria is inspected on the basis of suspicions, whereas Israel has nuclear weapons but isn’t subject to inspection.”

Radwan Ziyadeh, an opposition member and a scholar at the US Institute of Peace, said while America may views Syria’s nuclear intentions with suspicion, this is not a matter of concern for the opposition.

“I don’t think any Syrian believe that Syria has a nuclear programme,” he said. “And secondly, I don’t believe that Syria has the capacity to build a nuclear programme.”

Some interviewees expressed fears that the United States was raising a red flag about Syria’s nuclear activities as a pretext for launching an attack.

A local activist who works on anti-globalisation issues claimed the US was “creating problems” in an effort to gain greater leverage over Damascus – perhaps to make it more cooperative on Iraq, or to compromise in the ongoing negotiations with Israel.

“If Syria was secretly hiding something from the IAEA, it wouldn’t have agreed to allow its sites to be inspected,” said the activist.

“I am afraid that the Iraqi scenario will be repeated and this [nuclear issue] will be used as a pretext to launch a war against the country. Yesterday, it was Iraq. Now it’s Syria and Iran. The US is trying to fabricate pretexts for controlling Middle Eastern countries. It won’t stop at inspecting suspected nuclear facilities; it goes much farther than that.”

Syria initially ignored IAEA requests to visit the site, raising suspicions that it was concealing illegal nuclear activities.

According to Ziyadeh, “It’s better for the Syrian government to deal with this issue with more transparency, because it builds its credibility domestically and externally.”

A western diplomat in Damascus, who did not want to be named, said, “Syria has to fully cooperate with the IAEA in order to refute international accusations that it has non-peaceful nuclear programmes, otherwise it will face problems with the international community.”

“Syria has the right to have peaceful nuclear programmes,” added the diplomat. “But they must be observed by the IAEA permanently and continually.”

IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei told the German magazine Der Spiegel that he expected "absolute transparency" from Syria, and that the IAEA delegation would demand visits to several other sites that might have supplied to al-Kibar. However, the Associated Press last week cited Arab diplomats as saying Damascus planned to give the inspectors access only to the destroyed facility.

In the interview, ElBaradei was critical of the Israeli attack on al-Kibar, saying,

"With unilateral military actions, countries are undermining international agreements, and we are at a historic turning point."

(Syria News Briefing, a weekly news analysis service, draws on information and opinion from a network of IWPR-trained Syrian journalists based in the country.)

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