x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

UN security council to discuss Syria's nuclear activities

Security council unlikely to agree on punitive measures against Syria for refusing to cooperate with investigations into its suspected nuclear activities.

NEW YORK // Today's meeting of the UN Security Council on Syria's refusal to cooperate with investigations into its suspected nuclear activities was an "important step" in tackling the spread of atomic technology, a United States envoy said.

But Susan Rice, Washington's UN ambassador, said the 15-nation body was not likely to agree to use sanctions or other punitive measures against Damascus for alleged violations because of veto-wielding members, such as Russia and China.

"We take it seriously and we think that any and all issues of non-proliferation need to be dealt with seriously by this council," Ms Rice told journalists yesterday.

But she said that "several members of the council ... are unlikely to be prepared to support a council product at this time".

Diplomats will meet behind closed doors in New York this afternoon to hear a briefing from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Syrian efforts to stonewall an investigation into its alleged nuclear complex at Dair Alzour, which Israel bombed to rubble in 2007.

US intelligence reports have said the facility was a nascent, North Korean-designed reactor for producing weapons-grade plutonium. An IAEA report said it was "very likely" to have been a reactor, although Syria says it was a non-nuclear military facility.

Western states on the IAEA's governing board in Vienna pushed through a resolution rebuking Syria and referring the case to the Security Council last month despite objections from Russia and China, which voted against the proposal.

The resolution was adopted with 17 votes in favour and six against in the IAEA's 35-nation board. Several non-western members argued that the resolution should not be sent to New York because the levelled Dair Alzour site was no longer a threat.

It was the first time the IAEA board had referred a country to the Security Council since it sent Iran's file to New York five years ago - leading to four rounds of UN sanctions against Tehran over its refusal to halt a controversial nuclear project.

European states have failed to gain support for a draft Security Council resolution condemning what they describe as a brutal crackdown by Syrian security forces on civilians protesting against the rule of President Bashar Al Assad.

Ms Rice, the US envoy, said Mr Assad was "increasingly losing his legitimacy" to govern but said the western UN diplomats "have not been able to forge a sufficient agreement on this council on a strong statement or resolution".