Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Wire: UN Nuclear Watchdog Finds More Uranium in Syria

Off the Wire

Off the Wire:

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2009 -- Newswire services this morning reported that the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Friday it had found traces of processed uranium at a second spot in Syria and was checking for a link to particles retrieved from a site the United States says was a covert atomic reactor.

The development, coupled with new information about Syrian procurement of large amounts of graphite and a compound used as a radiation shield, heightens concern about possible undeclared nuclear activity in Syria assisted by North Korea, according to a Reuters report in the Kongo Times.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been examining U.S. intelligence reports that Syria had almost built a North Korean-designed, graphite reactor meant to yield plutonium for atom bomb fuel before Israel bombed it to rubble in 2007.

Syria denies hiding anything from non-proliferation monitors but a restricted IAEA report, obtained by Reuters, said Damascus was still withholding documentation and preventing access for inspectors needed to clarify the case.

The IAEA said in February inspectors had found enough traces of uranium in soil samples collected a year ago at the site, known as Dair Alzour, to constitute a "significant" find.

Major news services today appeared to downplay the story, however.

The Associated Press reported that Syria's nuclear chief suggested that the U.N. agency's discovery of new uranium traces in the country do not harden allegations that Damascus has a hidden nuclear program.

Ibrahim Othman's comments are the first from Syria about the International Atomic Energy Agency's recent announcement that it found unexplained traces of uranium at a Syrian site for the second time, AP said.

Othman played down the discovery Tuesday and described it as only "one particle or two particles."

(Report from newswire sources.)

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