UN nuclear agency to discuss Iran, Syria

VIENNA -- The International Atomic Energy Agency meets Monday for talks that will likely center on the U.N. watchdog's deadlocked nuclear probes of Iran and Syria.

The basis for the closed session of the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors, scheduled to last several days, are two recent agency assessments. One accuses Iran of continuing to enrich uranium and refusing to clear up lingering questions about possible military dimensions to its nuclear program.

Another chides Syria for not fully cooperating on efforts to settle inquiries about whether it was trying to build a nuclear complex at a desert site bombed by Israel in 2007.

Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. But the U.S. and others contend the country is trying to build an atomic weapon. Syria denies hiding a nuclear program.

Iran has defied three sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions and has bristled at the agency's latest report. On Friday, Iranian envoy Ali Ashgar Soltanieh accused Washington of using "forged documents" to make its case that Tehran is trying to build a bomb. In a letter to IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, Soltanieh also criticized Britain and France.

The agency's latest assessment did acknowledge that Iran has been producing nuclear fuel at a slower rate and has allowed U.N. inspectors broader access to its main nuclear complex in the southern city of Natanz and to a reactor in Arak.

But it cautioned that there are "a number of outstanding issues which give rise to concerns and which need to be clarified to exclude the existence of possible military dimensions."

The IAEA launched a Syria-specific probe after Israeli jets destroyed what the U.S. says was a nearly finished nuclear reactor built with North Korean help that was configured to produce plutonium - one of the substances used in nuclear warheads.

Syria denies hiding nuclear activities, but has blocked the probe, refusing to allow U.N. nuclear inspectors follow-up visits beyond one last year and declining to provide satisfactory explanations for unusual finds of traces of uranium.

Damascus alleges that Israel used bombs or missiles containing depleted uranium - which hardens metal and allows it to penetrate deeper - in attacking the site. Israel has repeatedly told the IAEA it did not use such ordnance.

Over the next five days, board members are also expected to discuss nuclear security, measures to protect against nuclear terrorism and pay tribute to ElBaradei, whose term ends Nov. 30.


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