U.S. Statement – As Delivered by Ambassador Laura S.H. Holgate – Agenda Item 5d – Nuclear Verification – Application of Safeguards in the Syria
Vienna, Austria, November 23, 2023
We thank the Director General for his update and for his persistent efforts to engage with Syria in good faith, including through his letters proposing renewed dialogue with Syria on the outstanding safeguards matters. We urge the Assad regime to take the Director General’s outreach seriously, cease its longstanding obstructionist approach, and respond to his repeated calls for renewed dialogue without further delay.
For twelve consecutive years, the Director General has reaffirmed the Agency’s May 2011 technical assessment that the 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 Agency assessed to have features comparable to the gas-cooled, graphite-moderated reactor at Yongbyon in the DPRK. The IAEA has systematically debunked all of the self-serving claims 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 these claims amounts to an implicit attack on the independence, impartiality, and professionalism of the IAEA Secretariat.
Regrettably, Syria has demonstrated over the past decade that it is content to bide its time in hopes that the Board or Director General will lose interest, refusing since 2008 to maintain even a credible pretense of cooperation with the IAEA, including ignoring two letters from the Secretariat within the last two years as well as a 2011 Resolution of this Board. It has been aided in this regard by the cynical cover of its patrons and the unfortunate apathy of some 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 assistance from the DPRK and without declaring it to the IAEA.
Safeguards noncompliance is not merely a historical matter that concludes with the destruction of the facility in question. Resolving outstanding questions surrounding 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 NPT itself. As long as safeguards-relevant questions remain, particularly 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. Addressing cases of noncompliance is also critical to any credible effort to advance a Middle East WMD-free zone.
The path to resolving this issue is clear. Syria must respond to the Director General’s letters, engage in good faith, and provide the IAEA with access to all sites, information, materials, and persons necessary to resolve outstanding questions regarding its undeclared nuclear activities at Dair Alzour and all related sites. Until Syria provides such cooperation, it is essential that the Director General keep the Board apprised of developments and that the Board remain seized of this issue and poised to act. We encourage all Member States – and particularly those with influence over the Assad regime – to urge Syria to take the Director General’s outreach seriously and we earnestly hope that Syria provides a favorable and constructive response to the Director General’s most recent letter to Syrian Foreign Minister Mekdad. Should the Assad regime 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 regular 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.