The International Atomic Energy Agency is setting the stage for potential UN Security Council action on Syria as it prepares a report assessing that a Syrian target bombed by Israeli warplanes was likely a secretly built nuclear reactor meant to produce plutonium, diplomats say.
Such a conclusion would back intelligence produced by Israel and the United States. Syria says the nearly finished building had no nuclear uses. It has repeatedly turned down IAEA requests to revisit the site after allowing an initial 2008 inspection that found evidence of possible nuclear activities.
interviews over the past week, three diplomats and a senior UN official said such an assessment - drawn up by IAEA chief Yukiya Amano - would be the basis of a Western-sponsored resolution at a meeting of the 35-nation IAEA board that condemns Syria's refusal to cooperate with the agency and kicks the issue to the UN Security Council. They said reporting Syria to the council would likely come as early as a June board meeting and no later than in November.
All asked for anonymity in exchange for discussing confidential information.
In an apparent slip of the tongue that could have been a window on his plans, Amano on Thursday said for the first time that the bombed site was in fact a nearly finished nuclear reactor in taped comments at a news conference and later to The AP.
Suggesting that Amano had erred in making such comments publicly, the IAEA later put out a statement that "he did not say that the IAEA had reached the conclusion that the site was definitely a nuclear reactor."
The rollback reflected previous, more circumspect, IAEA language. In a February report, Amano had said only that features of the bombed structure were "similar to what may be found at nuclear reactor sites."
Once formally involved, the council has options ranging from doing nothing to passing its own resolutions demanding compliance with the IAEA, followed by sanctions to enforce such demands. This has been the scenario for Iran, under four sets of UN sanctions for ignoring council demands to stop activities that could be used to build nuclear arms and to cooperate with an IAEA probe of experiments that could be used to develop such weapons.
Syria sanctions are unlikely. While Tehran continues with its nuclear program, intelligence services believe that the Israeli bombing of the Al-Kibar site effectively ended Syria's covert activities. As well, said the diplomats, forcing the issue with Syria would detract council attention from Iran, the main focus of nuclear concern, and could muddy efforts to focus on an end of the bloody crackdown by the Damascus government on the grass-roots pro-democracy movement.
Still Security Council involvement carries both symbolic weight and opens the path for concrete action later should new evidence be found.
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