Tehran and Damascus censured in Atomic Energy Agency report
The Iranians continue to enrich uranium, and have hidden 209 kilos of it. They now have a ton, enough to make a bomb. It seems increasingly probable that the Syrians were building a secret nuclear reactor.

Vienna (AsiaNews/Agencies) - In all likelihood, there was in fact a nuclear reactor on the Syrian site bombed by the Israelis in September of 2007, and Iran, in addition to having 209 kilos of uranium that it never declared, is continuing the process of enrichment. The concerns of those who are afraid of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East are being heightened by the report that the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will present early next month, but previews of which are already being released.

In spite of its traditional caution, the agency is highlighting the results of the investigations carried out over the course of the year. Starting with Iran, which "contrary to the decisions of the Security Council . . . has not suspended its enrichment related activities." The IAEA also says it has been unable to achieve any "substantive" progress in the investigation intended to reveal whether Tehran's nuclear program has military aspects. "Regrettably," the report says, "as a result of the continued lack of cooperation by Iran in connection with the remaining isuses which give rise to concerns about the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear programme, the agency has not been able to make substantive progress on these issues."

Experts interviewed by the New York Times say that with the 209 kilos of uranium mentioned in the report, Tehran now has more than a ton of low-enriched material. With further refinement - which, however, Iran does not seem capable of doing at the moment - this would be enough to make an atomic bomb.

As for Syria, the IAEA has rejected the country's claims that the uranium found on the site of Dair Alzour (or al-Kibar) came from the Israeli missiles used to bomb it. "There is a low probability that the uranium was introduced by the use of missiles," the report states. The most delicate points concern the discovery of particles of enriched uranium and graphite. The former is a material that is not found in nature, but was processed, and the particles "are of a type not included in Syria's declared inventory of nuclear material." The latter is a fundamental material for the construction of nuclear reactors. "Syria," the report concludes, "therefore needs to provide additional information and supporting documentation about the past use and nature of the building and information about the procurement activities. Syria needs to be transparent by providing additional access to other locations alleged to be related to Dair Alzour."

For Syria, and even more so for Iran, one possible solution seems to be related to the Obama presidency. Several days ago, Syrian president Assad called the presence of the United States in the Middle East "essential," and yesterday Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that his country is considering "the offer" of dialogue made by the United States. But he added, "We need to wait to see differences in Barack Obama's policy compared to that of George Bush. If the United States makes steps towards Iran, counter-steps will be made by Iran as well."