VIENNA — The United States took renewed aim at Syria during an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting on Monday, expressing "strong reservations" about a technical cooperation project between the U.N. body and Damascus.
Even though the move was not related to the crackdown on dissent in the Arab state, it was another sign that Damascus is facing growing international pressure and scrutiny. On Saturday, the Arab League suspended Syria from the group.
The project singled out by the United States concerned preparatory work for a planned nuclear power plant in Syria.
It is part of IAEA activities to help countries benefit from the peaceful uses of the atom, in areas ranging from energy to agriculture and health, but such assistance is at times sensitive as nuclear technology can also have military uses.
The IAEA's 35-nation governing board voted in June to report Syria to the U.N. Security Council for covert atomic work, rebuking it for stonewalling an agency investigation into the Deir al Zor complex bombed by Israel in 2007.
U.S. intelligence reports have said it was a nascent, North Korean-designed reactor intended to produce plutonium for atomic weaponry before warplanes reduced it to rubble.
The IAEA gave independent backing to the U.S. allegation in a report in May which said it was "very likely" to have been a reactor. Syria insists it was a non-nuclear military site.
At Monday's annual meeting of the IAEA's Technical Assistance and Cooperation Committee (TACC), a senior U.S. diplomat expressed concern about a technical cooperation project in Syria, approved by the board in 2009.
"The United States has strong reservations over the continuation of Syrian . . . project SYR/0/020 conducting a technical feasibility study and site selection for a nuclear power plant given Syria's failure to cooperate with the IAEA," U.S. diplomat Robert Wood told the meeting.
"In principle, it is our view that a state found in non-compliance with their (IAEA) safeguards agreement should have certain TC projects curtailed or suspended," Wood, deputy head of the U.S. mission to the IAEA, said.
He was addressing a closer-door meeting but his remarks were made available to media.
"We strongly urge the [IAEA] Secretariat to monitor the project closely and report to the board as appropriate," Wood said.
Earlier this year, Syria's Atomic Energy Commission said in a document posted on the IAEA's website that it may build its first nuclear plant by 2020 to meet growing energy demand.
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