LONDON – LONDON (AP) — The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency will likely consider a special inspection of Syria to answer nagging questions over its nuclear activities, the U.S. ambassador to the organization said Tuesday.
Glyn Davies said a number of countries on the IAEA's board of governors support plans to invoke the rarely used sanction.
Like Iran, Syria is suspected of hiding weapons-related nuclear activities and has blocked access to a suspected nuclear site destroyed by Israeli warplanes in September 2007.
"We need to keep the focus very much on Iran — but stay tuned on Syria, because Syria I think would love to just stave off any serious action to get to the bottom of what they were doing," Davies told reporters in London.
A recent IAEA report said that uranium particles found at the Dair Alzour desert facility indicate possible covert nuclear activities. The finding supported Western allegations that the bombed target was a nearly completed nuclear reactor which the U.S. alleges was of North Korean design and intended to produce weapons-grade plutonium.
Agency experts inspected Dair Alzour in June 2008, but have since been barred from revisiting.
"Because Syria has stonewalled for years ... the number of questions have continued to accumulate about what it is Syria was up to," Davies said.
He said there was a growing consensus among nations on the IAEA board that the issue must be addressed.
"A number of countries are beginning to ask questions about whether it might not be time to use that instrument of a special inspection, so that the agency can go in — or at least go to Damascus," Davies said.
Davies acknowledged that a special inspection — a sanction under which the IAEA's requests for access are made legally binding — had not been authorized for many years.
The Carnegie Endowment For International Peace claims records show the provision has been used only twice — in 1992 to inspect Romania's suspected nuclear weapons program and in 1993, when North Korea refused inspectors access to facilities.
Syria denies allegations it has been helped by Iran and North Korea in developing a covert nuclear weapons program. However, a recent IAEA report said Syria had acknowledged it carried out some small-scale nuclear experiments it had previously not owned up to.
Davies said that upcoming meetings are likely to be dominated by work to encourage Iran to return to negotiations over its alleged nuclear weapons program, but added that Syria would probably be discussed before the year's end.
"We are not going to postpone this indefinitely, we can't. The agency needs to do its duty, and needs to get answers to these questions and certainly a special inspection is one of the tools that's available — so that's something that needs to be considered and looked at," he said.
The U.S. diplomat said the six nations negotiating with Iran over its nuclear work are awaiting a response from Tehran to a letter sent last month by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton calling for talks to resume as quickly as possible.
Ashton sent the note to Iran following new rounds of U.N. and European Union sanctions.
"We are hoping the response to Ashton is forthcoming, and that we can get going again on this dialogue," Davies said.
Davies said that despite some recent rhetoric from Iranian officials he was "guardedly positive that we will get to that point."
He said diplomats from the U.S., France and Russia plan to meet in Vienna in the coming months to discuss their offer to swap Iran's low-enriched uranium for higher-enriched uranium in the form of fuel rods, which Tehran needs for a medical research reactor. No date is yet set for the meeting.