Wall Street Journal: United Nations investigators found "significant" traces of uranium used in reactors at the wreckage of a Syrian facility that Israel bombed last year, and Iran is ramping up production of nuclear fuel while denying investigators access, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported Wednesday.
The Wall Street Journal
By JAY SOLOMON
WASHINGTON — United Nations investigators found "significant" traces of uranium used in reactors at the wreckage of a Syrian facility that Israel bombed last year, and Iran is ramping up production of nuclear fuel while denying investigators access, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported Wednesday.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog's findings about nuclear development in Iran and Syria underscore the proliferation threats President-elect Barack Obama will face upon taking office in January.
Tehran is running nearly 4,000 centrifuges and plans 3,000 more, despite U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for a suspension, the IAEA said, and inspectors aren't being given access to sites or documents connected to possible military components of Tehran's nuclear program.
The Syria discovery, which had leaked out last week, bolsters Bush administration claims that Damascus was covertly developing a nuclear reactor. European officials said their governments have begun briefing Mr. Obama's advisers on how to jointly address the Iranian nuclear challenge. They expressed hope that the arrival of Mr. Obama, who has pledged to engage Tehran and Damascus more directly than his predecessor, could jump-start stalled diplomacy.
"America now has a card that hasn't been played," said a European official. "The message we're passing on is: Don't spoil it from the start. Don't give the goodies all at the beginning."
The IAEA provided its first detailed report Wednesday on the facility inside Syria, known as Al Kibar, that Israel's air force destroyed in September 2007. The Syrian government says Israel attacked a military facility that had no nuclear role, and contends that any uranium particles detected at the Al Kibar site should be traced to depleted uranium found in Israeli bombs.
The IAEA, however, said the chemical makeup of the uranium detected at Al Kibar wasn't consistent with uranium from a bomb, but from a reactor.
The U.N. agency also backed U.S. claims that the Al Kibar facility appeared to share technical features with North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear reactor. Washington claims Pyongyang was helping Syria develop the Al Kibar facility.
"While it cannot be excluded that the building in question was intended for non-nuclear use, the features of the building…are similar to what may be found in connection with a reactor site," the IAEA said in its report.
A spokesman at the Syrian Embassy in Washington declined to comment. The IAEA said it's seeking more documents from the Syrian government about the history of the Al Kibar facility, as well as additional soil samples from the site. It's also seeking information from Israel on weapons it used in the Syrian strike.
The agency reported a near-breakdown in cooperation with Iran over some nuclear matters. The U.S. has provided the IAEA with intelligence suggesting Iran examined ways to develop a nuclear warhead as well as long-range ballistic missiles. The IAEA said Tehran hasn't answered requests for information that could support or refute the U.S. charge.
A number of issues "give rise to concerns" and need to be clarified about "possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program," the IAEA wrote.
Western intelligence agencies estimate Iran could produce enough nuclear fuel for a nuclear bomb in the next few years.
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. Tehran said Wednesday that it had fulfilled all its commitments to the IAEA and considered the nuclear issue closed.
"This report shows that Iran has fulfilled its legal obligation completely. Therefore having further expectation is illogical and cannot be carried out," Iran's ambassador to the U.N., Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said on Iran's state news agency.