Syrian officials have turned down a renewed request from U.N. nuclear inspectors to visit suspected secret nuclear sites during talks in Damascus described by diplomats Friday as failing to advance a probe of the Arab nation's hidden atomic program.
Meetings between Syrian and International Atomic Energy officials Monday and Tuesday had been highly anticipated after Damascus pledged to end more than three years of stonewalling IAEA inspectors. Since 2008 the agency has been stymied in attempts to seek more information over what the agency says was a clandestine nuclear program centered around a nearly completed reactor.
The offer for cooperation came after the IAEA's 35-nation board reported Damascus to the U.N. Security Council in June on the basis of an agency assessment that a facility destroyed by Israeli war planes in 2007 was a nuclear reactor meant to produce plutonium when completed.
Damascus says the target was a non-nuclear military building but has refused to allow IAEA officials to return to the site after an initial visit that produced samples with traces of uranium and other nuclear footprints.
It has also turned down agency requests to visit three other sites that the IAEA suspects are linked to what it describes as the destroyed reactor.
Officials at the IAEA have refused to comment on the trip, saying details will only be released to the board next month by IAEA chief Yukiya Amano. But diplomats from two IAEA member nations _ who spoke to The Associated press on condition of anonymity because their information was privileged _ said Friday that the trip had essentially been a failure.
Led by deputy IAEA Director General Herman Nackaerts, the U.N. delegation had asked for a return visit to the destroyed desert site at Dair Alzour, as well as access to the three other facilities that the agency suspects are connected to that site, said one of the diplomats.
They were turned down by the Syrians, who told them that they would present new evidence that the Dair Alzour site was non-nuclear, making any further on site inspections anywhere unnecessary, said one of the diplomats.
He said that the Syrian response was considered disappointing by the agency delegation because it was vague on what new information would be produced and contained no time line, indicating that the offer was nothing more but an attempt by Damascus to buy more time.
The U.N. Security Council met in closed session on July 14 to discuss the IAEA assessment that Syria had hidden a nuclear program and some Western ambassadors said afterward that the agency's report has raised concerns the country violated its nonproliferation obligations.
Pressure on Syria over its apparently secret nuclear activities has been compounded by international criticism sparked by President Bashar Assad's brutal repression of pro-democracy protesters. Syrian security forces opened fire Friday on protesters and hunted them down in house-to-house raids, killing about 30 people in the deadliest day in weeks in the country's 7-month-old uprising, activists said.
The IAEA resolution that reported Syria to the Security Council on June 9 expressed "serious concern" over "Syria's lack of cooperation with the IAEA Director General's repeated requests for access to additional information and locations as well as Syria's refusal to engage substantively with the Agency on the nature of the Dair Alzour site."
George Jahn can be contacted at http://twitter.com/georgejahn