Washington, DC – After a new report shows that Syria continues to block a UN nuclear watchdog agency from accessing suspected nuclear sites, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and a bi-partisan coalition of Congressional leaders are urging President Obama to request the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to pursue “special inspections” in Syria. The Senate and House leaders said Syria’s transparency is “alarmingly inadequate” and called for sanctions against Syrian entities and individuals who worked with North Korea to develop a secret nuclear reactor in Dair Alzour, Syria.
Senator Gillibrand said, “Syria’s refusal to allow UN inspectors entry to suspected nuclear sites is alarming for the security of America, Israel, and all of our allies. It is critical for UN inspectors to immediately find out whether or not Syria is concealing a covert nuclear program. We must send a strong message to Syria that there will be consequences if they are engaging in illicit nuclear activities.”
In a letter to President Obama, the Congressional members wrote, “It is crucial to international security that the United States continues its leadership in preventing nuclear proliferation. We therefore urge you to strongly support IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) special inspections in Syria, and to use all available laws and authorities to sanction Syrian entities and persons who received illicit nuclear assistance from North Korea and other proliferators.”
According to an IAEA report released last month, Director General Yukiya Amana said that Syria has repeatedly denied inspectors entry to the Dair Alzour site and three other areas. The IAEA chief even made a direct appeal to the Syrian Foreign Minister to provide prompt access to the locations. Delays in accessing the sites may result in loss of evidence of nuclear activities.
Experts revealed that in the past, Syria worked with North Korea to build a secret nuclear reactor to produce plutonium at the Dair Alzour site. An Israeli air strike destroyed the facility in 2007. Since then, Syria has prevented IAEA from any further investigation.
Countries that agreed to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, including Syria, may be subject to special inspections. Failure to comply with inspections may lead to a UN censure or referral to the United Nations Security Council, which can impose sanctions. The IAEA decides whether or not to conduct special inspections in Syria.
The letter was signed by Senators Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), along with Representatives Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Ed Royce (R-Calif.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.).
Full text of the letter is below.
Dear Mr. President:
We write urging you to call on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to immediately conduct on-site “special inspections” in Syria. The purpose of special inspections, which are authorized by the IAEA safeguards agreement signed by Syria, is to ensure that Syria has not engaged and is not engaging in undeclared nuclear activities, especially those that could contribute to a nuclear weapons program.
As a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Syria is legally obligated by its NPT-required IAEA safeguards agreement to make correct and complete declarations of its nuclear materials and related nuclear facilities and equipment. However, as you know, the U.S. intelligence community publicly revealed an assessment that Syria was building, with North Korean assistance, a secret nuclear reactor to produce plutonium at the Dair Alzour site near the town of Al-Kibar. As has been reported, this facility was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in September 2007. The IAEA later began an investigation to determine the nature of that facility and verify the correctness and completeness of Syria’s nuclear declarations.
Syria’s transparency with the IAEA, however, has been alarmingly inadequate. In a September 2010 report to IAEA Board of Governors, Director General Yukiya Amano said that Syria, since June 2008, has refused to cooperate with the IAEA’s investigation of unresolved issues at the Dair Alzour site and three related locations. The Director General added: “With the passage of time, some of the necessary information concerning the Dair Alzour site is further deteriorating or has been lost entirely. After two years of investigations constrained by Syria’s lack of cooperation, it is critical that Syria positively engage with the Agency on these issues without further delay.”
Article 72 of Syria’s safeguards agreement permits special inspections “[i]f the Agency considers that information made available by the State, including explanations from the State and information obtained from routine inspections, is not adequate for the Agency to fulfil its responsibilities under the Agreement.” In light of Syria’s lack of cooperation, current and former high-ranking IAEA officials have publicly stated that the Agency should use its special inspections powers. In October 2010, the IAEA’s Head of the Department Safeguards, Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts, said that special inspections are “a normal tool that we should be able to use more frequently.” And Mr. Nackaerts’s predecessor, Dr. Olli Heinonen, wrote only a few days ago: “If the world nuclear order is to be maintained and sanctuary for future nuclear proliferators prevented, the international community should expect nothing less than that the IAEA will use all its inspection rights in Syria, including a special inspection, now.”
If Syria refuses an IAEA request to conduct special inspections, then the United States should urge the Agency’s Board of Governors to find Syria in non-compliance with its IAEA safeguards agreement and refer it to the United Nations Security Council. Failure to verify the absence of undeclared nuclear activities in Syria will destabilize further a region already troubled by Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons-making capability in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions. It will also encourage states with ambitions for weapons of mass destruction programs to follow the models for nuclear misbehavior created by Iran and Syria.
In parallel, we wish to inquire about the status of Executive Branch sanctions on Syrian entities and individuals who were involved in the secret construction of the Dair Alzour site’s nuclear reactor. We recall your April 2009 statement in Prague on the necessity of enforcing international nuclear nonproliferation rules: “Some countries will break the rules. That’s why we need a structure in place that ensures when any nation does, they will face consequences.” We are encouraged by the August 2010 decision by the Departments of Treasury and State, pursuant to Executive Order 13382, to sanction North Korean entities and individuals who provided illicit nuclear, ballistic missile and advanced conventional weapons assistance to Syria. We urge your Administration to do the same with respect to any Syrian recipients of illicit North Korean assistance, including Syrian officials.
It is crucial to international security that the United States continues its leadership in preventing nuclear proliferation. We therefore urge you to strongly support IAEA special inspections in Syria, and to use all available laws and authorities to sanction Syrian entities and persons who received illicit nuclear assistance from North Korea and other proliferators.