Syria nuclear probe reactivated after UN watchdog meets al-Assad

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A stalled investigation into an alleged clandestine military-nuclear facility in Syria was renewed this week, signaling President Bashar al-Assad may be ready to resolve questions about a site bombed by Israel almost two decades ago.

The International Atomic Energy Agency began investigating the Deir al-Zour site in eastern Syria in 2007, weeks after Israeli forces destroyed it in a midnight raid. Subsequent years of war and official stonewalling delayed the probe until Tuesday, when the IAEA’s Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi met al-Assad in Damascus.

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“We are re-engaging,” Grossi said Thursday on the sidelines of a nuclear-power meeting in Brussels. “It was very important I had the opportunity to speak directly with President al-Assad.”

While Syria has always maintained the destroyed facility was non-nuclear, IAEA inspectors detected uranium particles on site.

The case was referred to the UN Security Council in 2011.

“For too long, Syria has sought to put forward a public facade of cooperation without engaging on matters of substance,” Laura Holgate, the US ambassador to the IAEA, said earlier this month. “The only path to a meaningful process is for the Assad regime to finally provide the IAEA with access to all sites, information, materials, and persons.”

The IAEA’s visit yielded tangible steps that could move the investigation forward, according to Grossi.

“We are going to try,” he said.

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