Iran Nuclear NewsIran, Syria got indirect U.S. nuclear aid

Iran, Syria got indirect U.S. nuclear aid

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ImageWall Street Journal: Four countries designated by the U.S. as terrorism sponsors, including Iran and Syria, received $55 million from a U.S.-supported program promoting the peaceful use of nuclear energy, according to a report by Congress's investigative arm.

The Wall Street Journal

By SIOBHAN GORMAN

ImageWASHINGTON — Four countries designated by the U.S. as terrorism sponsors, including Iran and Syria, received $55 million from a U.S.-supported program promoting the peaceful use of nuclear energy, according to a report by Congress's investigative arm.

Iran received more than $15 million from 1997 to 2007 under the International Atomic Energy Agency's Technical Cooperation program, according to the Government Accountability Office report set to be released Tuesday. An additional $14 million went to Syria, while Sudan and Cuba received more than $11 million each, it said.

The U.S. is the largest funder of the United Nations body's program and provided $20 million in 2007, or about a quarter of the budget, the report said.

The Technical Cooperation program funds some projects with a direct connection to nuclear energy, but many other projects it funds have no such link. Recent examples include projects to improve livestock productivity and eradicate the tsetse fly in Africa.

The GAO said it was concerned that some of the projects could provide expertise useful both for peaceful purposes and for the development of nuclear-weapon capabilities. The U.S. Energy Department, which reviews these proposed projects for the State Department, examined 1,565 such proposals between 1998 and 2006 and found that 43 of them had some degree of proliferation risk. The IAEA approved 34 of them, the report found.

Iran says it is developing nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes, but the U.S. fears it is seeking a nuclear weapon. Syria is under investigation for alleged covert nuclear activities, and U.S. officials have said a Syrian site bombed by Israel in 2007 was a nuclear facility.

U.S. oversight of the IAEA program is weak, the report said. Officials at the State and Energy departments often know only the titles of proposed projects, it said. The State Department division dedicated to monitoring the program shrank in 2005 by two-thirds to five employees.

A top IAEA official at the Technical Cooperation program told the GAO that the program aims to engage as many countries as possible and "there are no good countries and there are no bad countries," the report said. The IAEA also said confidentiality agreements often prevent it from providing details about the projects for which countries are seeking aid.

IAEA spokesman Peter Rickwood said he wasn't able to reach an official to comment before press time. A State Department spokeswoman said she couldn't comment because she hadn't had time to review the report. Sen. Daniel Akaka, a Democrat from Hawaii who requested the report, said he is troubled by the findings. "Just knowing the title of a project alone is insufficient," he said.

The report recommends Congress prohibit the State Department from funding projects in countries that sponsor terrorism, but the State Department opposes this. In a written response to the report, State officials said withholding U.S. money wouldn't stop the programs from being funded and would discourage other countries from fulfilling obligations.

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