U.N. nuclear experts start Syria visit
U.N. nuclear experts looking into claims that Syria is hiding secret atomic activities voiced hope Sunday that a fact-gathering trip to Damascus will be the start of a thorough investigation.
IAEA Deputy Director General Olli Heinonen spoke optimistically of the mission's chances before boarding the flight to Damascus on Sunday. "I am sure I will be able to return" again to Syria, he told reporters, saying he and his two-man trip hoped to start to "establish the facts this evening."
Damascus denies working on a secret nuclear program. After months delay, Syria agreed to allow the nuclear inspectors visit a bombed sited suspected of being used for nuclear purposes at Al Kibar, but not three other locations suspected of harboring secret nuclear activities.
According to the AP, Syrian President Bashar Assad said earlier this month that visits to sites other than Al Kibar were "not within the purview of the agreement" with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Before the trip, both IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei and the United States urged Syria to show transparency. "Syria was caught withholding information from the IAEA," Gregory L. Schulte, the chief U.S. delegate to the IAEA, told The Associated Press. "Now Syria must disclose the truth about Al Kibar and allow IAEA's inspectors to verify that there are no other undisclosed activities."
Specifically, the inspectors want to examine the remnants of water pipes leading to the site as well as a nearby pumping plant, in order to establish whether they match the specifics of the North Korean reactor prototype U.S. intelligence asserts was being established, diplomats said. They also want to tour sites where the debris from the bombing was stored, the diplomats added.
The inspectors will be looking for minute quantities of graphite, which is used as a cooling element in the North Korean prototype allegedly being built with the help of Pyongyang. Such a reactor contains hundreds of tons of graphite, and any major explosion would have sent dust over the immediate area.