VIENNA: US-Russian tensions over Syria spilled into a UN nuclear watchdog meeting yesterday when the two clashed over whether inspectors should analyse possible risks involved if a reactor near Damascus were to be hit during US-led strikes.
Russia said last week any military action against Syria’s government could have catastrophic effects if a research reactor near the Syrian capital that contains radioactive uranium was struck “by design or by chance”.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry called on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to urgently assess the issue with the United States preparing for punitive strikes in Syria over an alleged poison gas attack in its civil war.
But in a statement to an IAEA board of governors meeting yesterday, where Moscow reiterated its demand, US Ambassador Joseph Macmanus made Washington’s objections clear.
“It is our view that requests for comprehensive risk analyses of hypothetical scenarios are beyond the IAEA’s statutory authority,” he said, according to a copy of his speech in the closed-door session.
The IAEA “must determine whether there is a scientific basis for conducting a highly speculative investigation of this kind,” Macmanus added.
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said the UN agency was considering the Russian request, describing it as a “complicated issue” with technical, political as well as legal aspects.
Amano said the Syrian reactor holds about a kilo of highly-enriched uranium (HEU), saying this was not a “big amount”.