U.S. Statement – As Prepared for Ambassador Laura S.H. Holgate – Agenda Item 7c – Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Syrian Arab Republic
Vienna, Austria, September 13, 2023
The United States thanks the Director General for his report and commends both the Director General and the Deputy Director General for Safeguards for their tireless efforts to engage in the face of Syria’s continued stonewalling. Amid continued efforts by the Assad regime and its patrons to obfuscate, divert attention, and attack the impartiality and independence of the IAEA’s technical findings in this matter, it is more important than ever for the Director General to provide regular, factual reporting to the Board.
Regrettably, the contents of the Director General’s latest report are all too familiar. For the twelfth consecutive year, 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.
Once again, the Director General’s report confirms that Syria has not engaged substantively with the IAEA about the Dair Alzour reactor or related sites since 2008 and has not even offered a perfunctory response to the Director General’s May 2022 letter to Syria proposing a renewed dialogue on outstanding safeguards issues. Syria’s refusal to even dignify the Director General’s letter with a response illustrates the degree to which Syria does not even feel the need to maintain a pretense of cooperation with the IAEA.
Unfortunately, the Assad regime has shown through its actions and failure to engage with the IAEA for more than a decade that it has little interest in engaging substantively and is instead content biding its time in hopes that the Board or Director General will lose interest in the issue. It has been aided in this regard 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 assistance from the DPRK and without declaring it to the IAEA.
There is no debate about the facts surrounding this case. The IAEA has debunked all 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 such misinformation amounts to an implicit attack on the independence, impartiality, and professionalism of the IAEA Secretariat.
Syria’s safeguards noncompliance is not merely a historical matter that concluded with the destruction of the facility in question. 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 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. 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. Addressing this and other cases of noncompliance is also critical to any credible effort to advance a Middle East WMD-free zone.
We welcome the Director General’s recent letter to Syrian Foreign Minister Mekdad proposing discussions on arrangements to demonstrate progress in resolving outstanding safeguards issues. We call on Syria to seize this opportunity to change course, engage in good faith, and 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. 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 to provide such cooperation without further delay. Until Syria provides the necessary 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. 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 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. We also support the EU’s call for the Director General’s report to be derestricted, so that there can be a clear public understanding of the current state of play as reported by the Director General.
Thank you, Chair.