Syria's foreign minister suggested Wednesday that Israeli bombs may be the source of uranium traces that diplomats at the UN nuclear agency said were found at a suspected nuclear site.
Walid Moallem said the leaks by the diplomats about the traces found at the site that was targeted by Israeli warplanes in September 2007 were politically motivated and aimed at pressuring Syria.
"No one has ever asked himself what kind of Israeli bombs had hit the site, and what did they contain?" he went on, adding that the United States and Israel had "similar acts" of using bombs containing depleted uranium in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"These media leaks are a clear-cut signal that the purpose was to pressure Syria. This means that the subject is not technical but rather political," al-Moallem said at a news conference with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.
Washington is a harsh critic of Syria, accusing it of not doing enough to prevent cross-border infiltration by militants into Iraq and of destabilizing Lebanon, another neighbor.
An October 27 US commando raid into Syria near Iraq's border further added to the tensions. US officials have said a prominent Iraqi militant was targeted. Syria said the raid killed eight Syrian civilians. Syria is still technically at war with Israel although both have in recently months held indirect peace talks through Turkey.
The latest nuclear accusations against Syria were disclosed by unnamed diplomats at the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency. They have said samples taken from a suspected nuclear site bombed by Israeli planes last year contained uranium combined with other elements that merit further investigation.
The Syrian facility before being bombed by Israel in 2007 (Photo: AP)
Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Tuesday his agency is taking allegations of a secret Syrian atomic program seriously and urged Damascus to cooperate fully with his investigation. He also urged other nations with information that could help the investigation to share what they know.
Elbaradei declined to comment on what the diplomats had said, telling reporters during a visit to the Czech capital of Prague only that his agency still has "a number of questions" linked to the allegations.
The US has said the facility was a nearly completed reactor that - when on line - could have produced plutonium, a pathway to nuclear arms.
Al-Moallem said the original US contention was that the alleged Syrian reactor was under construction, and not operational. "So the question is: From where the traces of enriched uranium came?"
Syria has previously denied any covert nuclear program, and al-Moallem said Wednesday Damascus was waiting for ElBaradei's report to respond.
IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said Tuesday the latest findings on Syria were "still being drafted and our assessment and evaluation is still under way." Once the process is finished, the report will be submitted to the IAEA Board of Governors ahead of its next meeting, which is scheduled to take place November 27-28.