Pussyfooting in Deir ez-Zor

The big news this week in nuclear non-proliferation is that the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Administration (aka Atoms for Peace) has issued its report on the Syrian Dair Alzour site that was taken out by Israel in July of last year during Operation Orchard.

At the site, the IAEA found significant amounts of chemically manipulated – but not enriched – uranium. This, despite the Syrian’s efforts to reclaim the site with tons of imported soil. The IAEA won’t say with 100% certainty that the site was a nuclear reactor, so they are looking at other possibilities to explain their findings. Syria is happy to provide a plausible explanation: the uranium found is left over from the Israeli bombs. The IAEA, though, has claimed that the uranium found was not “depleted”. I am left to believe that there is no word in the Arabic language that translates, roughly to ‘parsimonious’.

The IAEA report indicates that satellite imagery shows that the construction of the “installation” was begun between April and August of 2001. Per the imagery, the IAEA is able to conclude that the building had multiple underground levels and that it included structures that were consistent with those used for  “biological containment”. After visiting the site in June 2008, the IAEA noted an unusual “water pumping infrastructure” with a pumping capacity able to support a 25 MW reactor. The IAEA also noted a robust electrical capacity able to support the pumping system.

The report also indicates that satellite imagery of other Syrian sites “may be of relevance to the activities at the Dair Alzour site”. The IAEA has asked for access to these other sites in May 2008 and Syria has refused access. In the mean time, says the report, satellite imagery of these three locations shows “landscaping activities and the removal of large containers” shortly after the request for access.

Despite their own report, the IAEA is not 100% convinced.

While it cannot be excluded that the building in question was intended for non-nuclear use, the features of the building, as described above, along with the connectivity of the site to adequate pumping capacity of cooling water, are similar to what may be found in connection with a reactor site.

Why is it that the diplomatic community can never actually call anyone out? Oh, yeah, I forgot…they’re diplomats (even the scientists), and diplomats never call out anyone except the United States. Why not just come clean and say something like this:

The features of the building, as described above, along with the connectivity of the site to adequate pumping capacity of cooling water, are completely consistent with, and indicators of, a reactor site.

Enough already with the pussyfooting around. Do the IAEA inspectors show up wearing these?



The Syrians are doing their part by upholding the Middle East tradition of pathological lying. Our new Secretary of State and National Security Advisor would do well by following this simple rule:

If you want to know what the score is, just listen to any Middle East diplomatic statement, and reverse it on all accounts. Such would be closer to the truth.

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