Syrian president Bashar Assad this week deflected a request from his host, Nicolas Sarkozy, to relay a message from Europe to Tehran regarding its nuclear program and need to prove its peaceful nature.
He said “It is up to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to judge the intents of Iran” – not Syria.
DEBKA-Net-Weeky‘s Vienna sources report that IAEA officials found this statement surprising, in view of Assad’s refusal to come clean about his own intentions in developing nuclear weapons. He left unanswered a whole list of questions the nuclear inspectors left on his desk after their June 3 visit to the northern al Kebir site which was demolished by Israel last September.
The French president did not drop the message for Iran into a casual conversation with his Syrian guest of honor. In a hard-hitting encounter, Sarkozy warned Assad that he had one last chance to provide the nuclear watchdog with satisfactory answers, failing which he would be tossed back into the same pit of Western isolation from which he had only just been rescued.
The point was driven home by UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon, who was also invited to the Medterranean Union founding conference in Paris. It was reinforced by his companion, special adviser Terje Roed-Larsen, who has no love of the Syrian dictator.
Our sources report that Dr. Olli Heinonen, deputy IAEA director, left with the Assad regime a list of 35 Syrian officers and scientists wanted for interviews on their role in Syria’s nuclear program.
North Korean advisers photographed at suspect site
The inspectors received the impression that the Syrians were horrified when they received this demand, sure until that moment that the 35 names, their addresses and functions in Syrian-Iranian nuclear projects were unknown outside Syria’s inner circles.
They never responded to the IAEA team’s demand.
Neither did they explain their refusal to allow UN inspectors to visit the west bank of the Euphrates River opposite the bombed reactor site. The delegation did not specify the visit’s purpose for fear it would leak to Damascus, but commented that if the Syrians had nothing to hide, why object to a brief visit by the UN team?
Most of all, Heinonen’s team sought information about the photo (which accompanies this article) of a senior North Korean scientist from Yongbyon standing with a high-ranking Syrian nuclear official in front of a car bearing a Syrian license plate.
He has been traced as a visitor to Syria before the construction of the suspect facility and as a provider of nuclear-related equipment to Damascus in 2002.
The nuclear watchdog asked about Asian workers photographed at the reactor by US and Israeli intelligence agencies, which tracked its construction for years.
More recenlty, North Korean nuclear officials were located in the region of the destroyed reactor in early and late 2007. North Korean advisers are believed to have helped Syria assess the damage caused by the Israeli bombing.
The UN inspectors demanded from Syria the names and job descriptions of the North Koreans in the photographs and the lengths of their stay in the country.
Damascus produced no answers to any of these questions before the warnings he received in Paris – or since.