U.N. to discuss Syria's secret nuclear program

This Oct. 24, 2007 satellite image provided Friday, Oct. 26, 2007, by DigitalGlobe shows a site in Syria that analysts say may have been where a nuclear facility was located. A satellite image from Aug. 5, 2007 shows the site with a structure; the Oct. 24 image shows that the site has been wiped clean since it was bombed Sept. 6 by Israeli aircraft. AP Photo/DigitalGlobe

VIENNA - The U.N. Security Council plans to meet next week to discuss what to do about Syria's refusal to cooperate with an investigation of its alleged secret nuclear activities, diplomats told The Associated Press on Monday.

The move comes just weeks after the International Atomic Energy Agency referred it the council. The closed session could result in anything from debate to sanctions of the kind imposed on Iran for defying international demands to cease activities that could be used to make nuclear arms.

Sanctions are unlikely: Iran continues to expand its nuclear activities in defiance of the council, whereas Syria's alleged violations appeared to have occurred in the past and thus do not seem to represent a present proliferation threat.

Still, one of the three diplomats who agreed to discuss confidential information on condition of anonymity said the planned July 14 discussions are significant. He pointed to the fact that the council found the issue important enough to take it up less then a month after the June 9 IAEA referral.

The IAEA has tried in vain since 2008 to follow up on strong evidence that a site in the Syrian desert, bombed in 2007 by Israeli warplanes, was a nearly finished reactor built with North Korea's help.

The resolution that reported Syria to the Security Council 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."

Syria is already on the Security Council's docket. The council on Thursday expressed united support for the U.N. peacekeeping force on the tense Syrian-Israeli border - even while remaining divided over any direct condemnation of Syria's crackdown on peaceful demonstrators and human rights abuses.

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All three diplomats said that the council had asked high-ranking IAEA officials to testify at the hearing - another sign of the importance attached to it. They said that IAEA chief Yukiya Amano and Herman Nackaerts, the agency's nonproliferation point man, would either both attend or one of them would go.

IAEA officials contacted after office hours Monday said they could not comment.

Two of the diplomats said that influential Western member nations of the IAEA and the agency itself were concerned that the council might simply decide to throw the case back to the agency.

That could burden the IAEA with additional work on Syria, they said, and thereby deflect from IAEA efforts to concentrate on Iran - considered by most of the agency's 35-nation board to be greatest potential nonproliferation threat.

Western powers pushing referral at the June 9 IAEA board meeting had two goals: to show that Syria could not defy the agency and to clear the decks for potential referral of Iran to the council later this year.

But if the Security Council asks the IAEA to prepare a new report on Syria, it would need to split its work between Syria and Iran, potentially diluting its efforts on pressuring Tehran to heed international demands for nuclear openness and cooperation, they said.

Iran already was reported by the IAEA to the Security Council in 2005, setting into motion four sets of sanctions - which the Islamic Republic has ignored. Western nations hope that a new referral would ramp up the pressure.

The council has demanded that Iran stop enriching uranium, which can create both reactor fuel and fissile warhead material. It also wants Tehran to stop stonewalling IAEA attempts to investigate growing allegations that the Islamic Republic worked on secret experiments that could be used in a nuclear arms program.

Iran denies such experiments and says it is enriching only to create fuel for future nuclear power plants.

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