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Iran's Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant was opened in May.
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IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano has criticized Syria and Iran for their illicit
nuclear activities.

U.N. Atomic Watchdog Turns Up Heat on Syria
and Iran

Syria and Iran's illicit nuclear activities—and the two countries' failure to cooperate with U.N. investigations—took center stage at the recent meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors. The meeting, which was held in Vienna earlier this month, focused on two new IAEA reports that confirmed Syria's nuclear program and pointed to the military dimensions of the Iranian program.

No Peaceful Purpose

With respect to Syria, the IAEA said in its report that a facility built in the northeastern region of Dair Alzour—which was destroyed in September 2007, reportedly by the Israel Air Force—was "very likely" an undeclared nuclear reactor. The report criticized the Syrian government for preventing U.N. inspectors from accessing locations, data and individuals relevant to its secret nuclear program.

"The Syrian government was given ample time by the agency to cooperate fully concerning the Dair Alzour site, but did not do so," IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said.

In light of these findings, the IAEA board of governors voted to refer Syria to the U.N. Security Council for further action.

The United States has been outspoken about Syria's nuclear defiance. "Syria's apparent attempt at constructing a covert, undeclared plutonium production reactor, a reactor with no credible peaceful purpose, represents one of the most serious safeguards violations possible," said Glyn Davies, the U.S. ambassador to the IAEA.

Despite the evidence of Syrian noncompliance in the IAEA report, Russia and China opposed the IAEA measure. Since these countries hold veto power in the Security Council, Syria could escape punitive action.

Hiding Its Intentions

The nuclear activities of Syria's main ally, Iran, have been a cause of concern in the international community for a number of years. Iran was the last country to be referred to the Security Council by the IAEA, in February 2006, for failing to suspend its uranium enrichment and heavy water activities and clarify its nuclear intentions.

A new IAEA report released in late May laid out in stark detail the agency's concerns over Iranian work on a nuclear weapon. The report detailed seven nuclear activities, believed to have been carried out by Iranian military organizations, which can only be explained in the context of a weapons program. These activities include work on the development of a nuclear payload for a missile, experiments to build atomic triggers and research on missile warhead designs. For three years, Iran has refused IAEA requests to explain any of the activities other than to dismiss the information as fabricated.

The IAEA report came on the heels of an announcement by Iran that it will shift production of higher grade uranium to an underground facility and more than triple its production capacity. That facility, located on a Revolutionary Guard Corps base near Qom, was exposed by the West in September 2009 as evidence that Tehran had been lying about its nuclear activities. The upgraded enrichment capability could allow Iran to quickly produce enough weapons grade uranium for a bomb within a year.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pledged, in response to the IAEA report, that Iran will continue its enrichment activities, saying Iran's nuclear project has "no brake and no reverse gear."


The Syrian and Iranian regimes have employed a strategy of concealment and deception regarding their nuclear activities. Both have interfered with the IAEA's investigations into these activities, and thus have failed to meet their international obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran has further ignored repeated U.N. Security Council demands that it suspend its nuclear activities.

Given Iran and Syria's behavior, the United States has previously imposed sanctions on both nations and called for additional action against them. President Obama made clear on June 7 that if the IAEA determines that Iran is continuing to ignore its international obligations then "we will have no choice but to consider additional steps, including potentially additional sanctions, to intensify the pressure on the Iranian regime."

Regarding Syria, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, "We will work with partners and allies around the world to stand together to insist that every country meet its responsibilities or be held accountable for its actions." BACK TO TOP