The U.N. nuclear agency's chief on Monday demanded Syria show "concrete results" on its pledge to cooperate with inspectors seeking information on its nuclear program amid ongoing concerns that it hid attempts to build a nuclear reactor.
International Atomic Energy Agency director Yukiya Amano said he expects Syria to show _ not just tell _ the agency that it is ready to work together, but he set no deadline. He also said any decision to recommend Syria to the U.N. Security Council for failing to comply with his agency rests in the hands of the 35 member states who make up the IAEA's board of governors.
"We have received a letter from Syria showing their willingness to cooperate with us," Amano told reporters. "But expressing intention is not good enough and we would like to see concrete results."
The IAEA's governors convened Monday for a weeklong meeting during which the lack of cooperation from Syria, as well as from Iran, are expected to dominate discussions. Improving nuclear safety issues following the devastating accident in the wake of the natural disaster at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant and the agency's budget are also on the meeting's agenda.
The United States and its allies are seeking to have Syria referred to the U.N. Security Council for stonewalling on repeated requests from the agency for information on what appears to have been secret attempts to build a nuclear reactor that would have produced plutonium, which is used to arm nuclear weapons.
Amano told representatives in his opening remarks that the agency was able to gather enough information to conclude that the site at Dair Alzour, Syria, "was a nuclear reactor which should have been declared."
Since 2008, the IAEA has tried to follow up on strong evidence that a target bombed in 2007 by Israeli warplanes was a nearly finished reactor, built with North Korea's help.
The agency recently issued a report on Syria that Amano called "an assessment based on the information in our position." He went on to insist that while the assessment does not offer "absolute proof," it was solid enough to trigger action.
"In case of (nuclear) safeguards, absolute proof is not needed," Amano said.
Amano also chastised Iran for "not providing the necessary cooperation to enable the agency to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities" in the nation.
Iran has long refused to cooperate with IAEA experts trying to follow up intelligence received from board members that it conducted covert nuclear weapons-related experiments. The Islamic Republic was reported by the agency to the U.N. Security Council in 2005 and is now under four sets of sanctions for refusing to stop uranium enrichment _ an activity that can make both nuclear fuel and fissile warhead material.
Amano also told board members that his agency had received new information relating to Iran's nuclear program that indicates a "possible military dimension."
Although Amano refused to say how the IAEA had acquired the information.
A senior official who was familiar with the information has indicated to The Associated Press that it suggests Iran worked on components of a nuclear weapons program as late as 2010. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because his information was privileged.
Iran's Ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, dismissed the information as "absolutely boring" and called its veracity into question, insisting it "cold have come from anyone."
With the Iran dispute still unresolved, Western diplomats insist that the agency's credibility is at stake and that reporting Syria to the Security Council for violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty will send an important message.
While Iran's nuclear program has long been the IAEA's No. 1 priority, the agency appears determined to show in the case of Syria that it can't be defied with impunity, even by a government dealing with a violent pro-democracy movement, as Damascus now is.
That ongoing political turmoil in Syria, combined with the letter from a top Syrian nuclear agency official pledging to "fully cooperate with the agency," has caused some members to urge caution before moving against Damascus.
Heading into the meeting, it was not clear whether Russia or China would support the move. The U.S. and its Western allies are unlikely to push for referral without such support.
Should the push for a full-blown recommendation fail, diplomats involved in the negotiations said another option could be a two-step approach: the board would approve a recommendation but wait for the next meeting before voting on sending it to the Security Council.