The International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, looking into allegations that Syria is hiding secret atomic activities, will make a fact-gathering trip to Damascus. The IAEA inspectors face a daunting task, as Syrian officials are expected to place strict limits on where they go and what they see during their three-day visit.
Despite the low-key nature of the visit, the stakes are immense. Damascus denies working on a secret nuclear program. But Washington hopes the UN agency team will find evidence backing US intelligence that a structure destroyed by Israeli war planes in September was a nearly completed plutonium-producing reactor.
The trip could mark the start of massive atomic agency investigation similar to the five-year inquiry into Iran’s activities. The investigation could also draw in countries such as North Korea, which Washington says helped Damascus and Iran.
Reports also have linked Iran with Syria’s nuclear efforts. Syria agreed to allow the nuclear inspectors visit the bombed Al Kibar, but not three other locations suspected of harbouring secret nuclear activities.
The IAEA chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, and the US urged Syria to show transparency. The agency has little formal inspection rights in Syria, which has declared only a basic nuclear programme using a small 27-kilowatt reactor for research and the production of isotopes for medical and agricultural uses.