IAEA Board of Governors Meeting – Agenda Item 6c -Nuclear Verification – Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Syrian Arab Republic
U.S. Statement as Delivered by Ambassador Laura S.H. Holgate
Vienna, Austria, March 8, 2023
Before I begin my statement on this agenda item, I would like to again note the suffering of the people of Syria following the recent earthquakes. The United States will continue to support humanitarian relief efforts in responding to these events, including through the IAEA. We have important issues to address under this agenda item, which directly result from the actions of the Syrian regime, but the United States has and will continue to stand with the people of Syria.
The United States thanks the Director General for his update and for his tireless efforts to engage with Syria to address all outstanding questions and concerns arising from Syria’s safeguards noncompliance and undeclared nuclear activities at Dair Alzour.
We deeply regret the Syrian regime’s refusal to respond to the Director General’s good faith outreach efforts, including his written proposal from last May for a renewed dialogue on outstanding issues. Syria’s continued obstructionism only serves to underscore a stark reality that has been clear for more than a decade: the Assad regime has no intention of fulfilling its obligation to cooperate with the IAEA to remedy its safeguards noncompliance. Indeed, as the Director General’s recent updates make clear, Syria currently does not even feel the need to answer the Director General’s mail. The Syrian regime has shown time and time again through its actions and failure to engage substantively with the IAEA over the past decade that it is comfortable instead biding its time in hopes that the Board or Director General will lose interest – aided by the cynical cover of its patrons and the unfortunate apathy of some Member States for whom the circumstances surrounding the destruction of an undeclared plutonium production reactor seem to matter more than the fact that Syria was building such a reactor in the first place with cooperation from North Korea.
Despite the arguments put forward in some statements here today, there is no debate about the facts surrounding this case, which are clearly documented in the IAEA’s extensive reporting on this issue. Multiple Director Generals dating back more than a decade have reaffirmed the Agency’s underlying technical assessment that the Syrian facility destroyed in September 2007 at Dair Alzour was very likely a nuclear reactor that should have been declared to the IAEA and which the IAEA assessed to have features comparable to the gas- cooled, graphite-moderated reactor at Yongbyon in the DPRK. The IAEA has debunked many of the self-serving claims and conspiracy theories put forward by Syria and its defenders to muddy the water and distract attention from its noncompliance, including the false claim that chemically-processed uranium particles found at the site were introduced by aerial dispersion or by the munitions used to destroy the facility. Lending any credence to such misinformation amounts to an implicit attack on the independence, impartiality, and professionalism of the IAEA Secretariat.
Make no mistake, Syria’s safeguards noncompliance is not merely a historical matter that concluded with the destruction of the facility in question. There can be no automatic expiration date with regard to questions of undeclared nuclear material and activities. As long as safeguards-relevant questions remain, including regarding the possibility of undeclared nuclear material or fuel cycle activities in Syria associated with the clandestine reactor project at Dair Alzour, the IAEA will not be in a position to provide necessary assurances to the international community that the Syrian nuclear program is exclusively peaceful today and into the future. Resolving Syria’s safeguards noncompliance is crucial to re-establishing the necessary international verification assurance in Syria, preserving the credibility of the IAEA safeguards system, and upholding the integrity of the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty. Addressing this and other cases of noncompliance is also critical to any credible effort to advance the long-term goal of a Middle East WMD-free zone.
While only the Syrian regime can take the steps needed to remedy its noncompliance, the Board must remain engaged and poised to act on this issue. We encourage all Member States – and particularly those with influence with the Assad regime – to urge Syria to provide the IAEA with access to all sites, information, materials, and persons necessary to resolve outstanding questions regarding the Dair Alzour site and three other locations identified by the Agency as having a functional relationship to the Dair Alzour site without further delay. Until Syria provides this cooperation, it is essential that the IAEA keep the Board apprised of developments and that the Board remain seized of this issue. Should the Assad regime continue on its present course and refuse to take fully corrective action, the Board will need to seriously consider further action in the future under Article XII.C of the Statute and Articles 18 and 19 of Syria’s safeguards agreement.
We look forward to continued updates from the Director General and request that this issue remain on the agenda for the Board’s next regularly scheduled meeting, and for all future meetings until the IAEA is able to confirm that Syria’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful and the Board has determined that Syria’s noncompliance has been resolved.
Thank you, Chair.