U.S. on the Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Syrian Arab Republic at the IAEA BoG, Agenda Item 5(d)

Statement under Agenda Item 5(d): Implementation of the NPT safeguards agreement in the Syrian Arab Republic

As delivered by Ambassador Jackie Wolcott at the IAEA Board of Governors Meeting
Vienna, March 6, 2019
Madam Chair,

The United States thanks Director General Amano for his update and for his continued commitment to ultimately resolving Syria’s longstanding safeguards noncompliance. We are grateful to the DG and the Department of Safeguards for their steadfast professionalism in implementing the Agency’s important responsibilities in Syria despite more than a decade of obstruction by the Assad regime and its supporters.

Madam Chair,

Syria’s continued refusal to cooperate with the Agency to remedy its safeguards noncompliance remains deeply concerning. For far too long, the Assad regime has ignored the calls of the Director General and this Board, despite clear and unambiguous reporting from the Agency regarding Syria’s undeclared nuclear activities. For the eighth straight year, the Agency has reaffirmed its technical assessment that the Syrian facility at Dair Alzour was very likely a clandestine nuclear reactor that should have been declared to the IAEA. Syria’s failure to declare the facility was, of course, not simply an oversight on the part of the Assad regime. As reported by the Agency, the reactor Syria was building in the desert outside Dair Alzour had features comparable to the gas-cooled, graphite-moderated, plutonium-production reactor at Yongbyon in the DPRK. The Agency’s findings in this regard were based on a broad spectrum of information, including on-site verification and environmental sampling, commercial satellite imagery, procurement information, and information provided by member states. These findings point to a clear and unsettling reality: that Syria was working covertly with North Korea to build an undeclared nuclear reactor ideally suited for the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Rather than cooperating with the Agency and providing credible information to corroborate its own claims, Syria has sought to discredit and politicize the IAEA’s factual reporting, while portraying itself as the innocent victim of a malign Western conspiracy and spreading false allegations against other Member States.  One of the oldest of these baseless assertions is that the chemically processed uranium particles discovered by the IAEA at the Dair Alzour site were introduced by the munitions used to destroy the facility. The IAEA has repeatedly explained that this was unlikely based on the “morphology and distribution” of the uranium particles found at the site. It is deeply regrettable that some member states have continued to accept these unfounded claims solely for reasons of political convenience.

Of course, Syria has provided no evidence to support any of its self-exonerating claims. Instead, Syria has spread misinformation and accusations calling into question the independence and reliability of the secretariat in drawing its safeguards conclusions. The DG’s latest report and his opening statement reaffirm that Syria has provided no new evidence to the IAEA that would call into question the Agency’s assessments regarding Dair Alzour. In fact, Syria has not provided any substantive information to the Agency regarding the Dair Alzour facility or related sites since May 2008 – nearly 11 years ago. If Syria is indeed, as it so often portrays itself, merely a victim of false accusations, it has shown over the past decade a shocking lack of interest in vindicating its claims or disproving the Secretariat’s fact-based assessments.

Madam Chair,

Despite the continued stonewalling by the Assad regime, this Board cannot allow safeguards noncompliance by any country to go unresolved. Compliance by all states with their obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and IAEA safeguards agreements is essential to the shared security benefits enjoyed by all NPT Parties. As such, all cases of noncompliance must be treated with the utmost seriousness. The lack of progress on this issue should be cause for increased scrutiny – not less. It is vital that the secretariat continue reporting on the issue at every Board meeting. Reducing the frequency of Agency reporting or removing Syria from the agenda for Board meetings absent any effort on the part of Syria to remedy its noncompliance would send a dangerous signal that states which violate their safeguards obligations need only wait for the Board to lose interest.

Madam Chair,

These concerns can and must be resolved, and the path remains clear – Syria must cooperate with the Agency without further delay and provide it with full access to all information, sites, materials, and persons necessary to resolve questions about the peaceful nature of its nuclear program. This includes access to the three sites identified by the Agency as having a functional relationship to the reactor at Dair Alzour. The ongoing conflict and instability in Syria caused by the Assad regime is less and less credible as an excuse for the regime’s failure to cooperate. Until Syria cooperates fully with the Agency to address these concerns, the Board must remain seized of this matter and be prepared to consider further action as necessary, including potential action under Article 12.C of the Statute. We encourage all Board members, and particularly those with influence on the Assad regime, to urge Syria to cooperate fully with the IAEA to address these longstanding concerns without delay.

We request that this issue remain on the Board’s agenda for its next regularly scheduled meeting, and for all future meetings until the Agency is able to confirm that Syria’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful and the Board has determined that Syria’s noncompliance has been resolved. In the meantime, we look forward to continued updates from the Director General.

Thank you, Madam Chair.