Syria, itself suspected of illicit nuclear activity, accused the West at a major U.N. meeting on Wednesday of double standards in implicitly condoning an Israeli atomic arsenal and warned of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
The United States said last week Damascus was using the “brutal repression” of its people waging an uprising as an excuse not to address international concerns about its past nuclear work.
U.N. inspectors have long sought access to a site in Syria’s desert Deir al-Zor region that U.S. intelligence reports say was a nascent, North Korean-designed reactor designed to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons before Israel bombed it in 2007.
The U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has also been requesting information about three other sites that may have been linked to Deir al-Zor, which Syria says was a conventional military site.
Syrian Ambassador Bassam al-Sabbagh, in a rare public comment on the issue, insisted that his country was ready to cooperate with the U.N. agency and he sought to turn the tables on Damascus’s accusers by hitting out at Israel.
Israel is believed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, although it refuses to disclose any capability. Like its ally the United States, the Jewish state sees Iran’s nuclear program as the most urgent nuclear proliferation threat.
Clearly referring to Washington and its allies, al-Sabbagh told the IAEA’s 155-nation annual assembly in Vienna:
“The fact that some influential states ... condone Israel's possession of nuclear capabilities and its failure to subject them to any international control exposes clearly the extent of double standards used by those states.”
He added that this “poses a threat to the region’s security and stability and may even spark a nuclear arms race there.”
Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful, denying Western suspicions that it wants to develop an atom bomb capability. Syria also denies any such ambitions.
Al-Sabbagh said all Arab states had acceded to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) while Israel was still outside the 1970 pact set up to prevent the spread of atomic weaponry.
“This is the main and only obstacle to the creation of a nuclear weapons free zone in Middle East,” he told the IAEA’s General Conference, where many speakers had previously accused Syria of stonewalling the stalled IAEA inquiry into its work.
IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said this year that Syria had asked for understanding of its “delicate situation” in response to requests for Syrian cooperation with his inspectors.
President Bashar al-Assad is fighting a 18-month-old revolt in which more than 27,000 people have been killed.
Israel has said it would sign the NPT and renounce nuclear weapons only as part of a broader Middle East peace deal with Arab states and Iran that guaranteed its security.