Elias Harfoush Al-Hayat - 13/11/08//
Regardless of the identity of the IAEA diplomats who leaked the information about uranium traces found at the Syrian al-Kibar site, it is evident that those leaks were intended to cast doubts on the Syrian story which has from the very beginning denied the construction of a nuclear reactor in that location bombed by Israeli planes last September.
The leaks are also likely to prevent any possible future cooperation between Syria and the Vienna-based IAEA. Such cooperation is necessary for two reasons: first because it helps the IAEA reach conclusive results with its experts active on the ground - instead of reaching conclusions from a distance - and secondly because it would assert the impression the Syrians are trying to create about the site as an incomplete facility that was still under construction. If the facility was indeed under construction as Minister Walid Moallem reiterated in his press conference with the Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, then where did the traces of uranium in question come from?
The Syrian foreign minister answered that the Israeli planes might have dropped some of those nuclear materials at the site, which is what American and Israeli planes do when they drop uranium-bearing bombs on Iraq, Afghanistan and South Lebanon. Moallem confirmed that the objective of the leaks to the media was political with the aim of pressuring Syria rather than technical with the aim of obtaining information on an alleged nuclear program.
It is well-known that the site hit by the Israeli planes was eventually leveled to the ground. The IAEA experts who visited the site were only able to get soil samples for testing with their request to visit other sites denied. All this fueled the suspicions that were further reinforced by IAEA director Mohamed El-Baradei when he said two days ago that the agency was taking the allegations about the Syrian nuclear program seriously and was asking Damascus to fully cooperate with the investigation. El-Baradei had complained about the Israeli raid on al-Kibar site, arguing that the raid prevented his agency from conducting a full technical investigation at this site to verify the purpose of its construction. He also urged states that possess information about assumed nuclear programs in the Middle East and other areas to present that information to the agency rather than taking unilateral initiatives as Israel did through its raid in September last year.
Until the IAEA holds its meeting in the last week of this month (27 and 28 November), the story of the Syrian uranium will remain hanging between political exploitation and technical leaks. Damascus says it will not respond to the accusations until a complete report is issued by the meeting; the IAEA spokeswoman prefers waiting for the results to come out instead of jumping to conclusions. Jumping to conclusions and leaking information, however, had come from the agency itself this time although the watchdog's performance is supposed to be objective and free of any political exploitation. Perhaps this may be an opportunity to control the agency's modus operandi to avoid contradicting remarks on the objectives of the Syrian nuclear program, ones similar to those surrounding the Iranian nuclear program. This would result in a new diplomatic crisis at the beginning of the new American term at a time when big efforts are made to defuse the Iranian problem.