U.S. Statement to the IAEA Board of Governors: Syria

IAEA Board of Governors Meeting

March 5-9, 2018


Agenda Item 5(c)


Implementation of the NPT safeguards agreement in the

Syrian Arab Republic


U.S. Statement as delivered by U.S. Chargé d’Affaires a.i. Nicole Shampaine


Mr. Chair,

The United States thanks the Director General for his update, and for his commitment to addressing Syria’s continued safeguards noncompliance. Following many years of Syrian inaction and refusal to cooperate with the Agency, we are grateful for the Secretariat’s sustained professionalism in fulfilling verification responsibilities in Syria and its persistent focus on the need for Syria to remedy its noncompliance.


Mr. Chair,

Syria’s safeguards noncompliance is no trivial matter. Compliance by all states with their obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and IAEA safeguards agreements is instrumental to the shared security benefits enjoyed by all Parties under the NPT. All cases of noncompliance should be treated with the utmost seriousness and urgency, as they represent a direct challenge to the international nuclear nonproliferation regime, which is critical to maintain international peace and security.


Syria’s safeguards noncompliance remains as important a concern today as when the Board first took up the issue nearly a decade ago. It is essential today as it was nearly seven years ago when this Board found Syria to be in noncompliance with its safeguard obligations and called upon Syria to urgently cooperate with the IAEA. Since then, unfortunately, there has been no sense of urgency by Syria in providing any cooperation. Amidst the extensive misinformation and erroneous claims put forward by Syria and its patrons over the past ten years, we must not grow complacent or lose sight of the extremely troubling set of facts that prompted the Board’s June 2011 noncompliance finding. The historical record regarding Syria’s safeguards noncompliance remains clear and unambiguous, as documented in numerous reports from the Director General. The time is long overdue for Syria to address this issue constructively and return to compliance.


Mr. Chair,

As stated, nearly a decade has passed since this issue initially came to the Board’s attention, and most of us here in this room today were not serving in Vienna at the time. As such, I would like to briefly remind Board members of the extensive efforts that the Agency and Board have made to address and resolve this issue over the past decade, and of Syria’s repeated pattern of obstruction and obfuscation in dealing with the Agency. I believe it is important to take the time to accurately recall the factual course of events that has led us to where we are today. All the information I will relate has been well documented in the Director General’s reporting.


This issue, of course, first came to the international community’s attention in early September 2007, when press reports confirmed that a Syrian government facility had been destroyed by an airstrike in the Dair Alzour province in eastern Syria. Curiously, Syria was slow to acknowledge the strike, or even to condemn it. More tellingly, North Korea was the first to protest. In the following weeks, commercial satellite imagery revealed intense activity at the site, rapidly concealing all remains of the destroyed building. By October 24, 2007 – less than seven weeks after the attack – the Syrian government had completely leveled and cleared the site to remove or bury any remains of the destroyed structure. In addition to destroying the physical evidence, high-level Syrian officials, including President Bashar al-Assad himself, publicly insisted that the facility was for military, but not nuclear, purposes.


On June 2, 2008, the Director General first informed the Board that information had been provided to the Agency indicating that the Syrian facility at Dair Alzour was, in fact, an undeclared nuclear reactor that had not yet been brought online. In order to investigate these serious allegations, the IAEA notified Syria in writing of its intention to send inspectors to the Dair Alzour site and three other locations alleged to have a functional relationship to the facility. Syria gave the Agency the requested access to the Dair Alzour site and allowed inspectors to take environmental samples, but refused access to the other three sites requested by the Agency.


Agency inspectors conducted their sole visit to the Dair Alzour site on June 23, 2008. During the visit, the IAEA requested information and documentation from the Syrian authorities that would corroborate Syria’s claims regarding the past and present use of buildings at the Dair Alzour site and the three other locations. The IAEA also requested clarification regarding procurements by the Syrian Atomic Energy Agency and other Syrian entities of pumping equipment and large quantities of barite and graphite – procurements consistent with the construction of a graphite moderated reactor. Syrian officials did not provide any documentation responsive to these questions, and nearly a decade later, they still have not. They asserted, however, that the facility was intended for missile applications and denied any nuclear function, citing inadequate access to electricity and treated water in the area, as well as the limited availability of technical expertise in Syria to operate such a facility.


During the visit, Agency inspectors took environmental samples at the Dair Alzour site. And despite Syria’s large-scale efforts to bury and clean up any evidence, laboratory analyses of the samples confirmed the presence of anthropogenic (or man-modified) uranium, graphite, and stainless steel. The results were provided to Syria in October 2008. Syria responded a month later with a letter criticizing the Agency’s assessment and claiming that, “the only explanation for the presence of these modified uranium particles is that they were contained in the missiles that were dropped from the Israeli planes onto the building to increase the destructive power.” In subsequent reporting, the IAEA has repeatedly rejected this explanation based on its technical analysis of the particles, indicating that the probability that the particles were introduced either by aerial dispersion or by munitions used to destroy the facility is “low.”


The IAEA repeatedly sought further access, information, and documentation from Syria following the June 2008 visit, only to be rebuffed by Syria. In particular, the IAEA requested additional information regarding the Dair Alzour site, clarification regarding suspect procurement activities by Syrian entities, documentation regarding the construction of the destroyed building, access to locations containing any debris from the site, and further access to the Dair Alzour site and the three functionally-related sites that Syria has refused to allow the Agency to visit. Aside from offering generic explanations and cynical misinterpretations of its own legal obligations, Syria has utterly and consistently refused to comply with these requests over the course of the past decade. As confirmed in the DG’s latest report, Syria has not had any substantive engagement with the IAEA regarding the Dair Alzour site since the June 2008 visit to Syria.


As justification for its intransigence, Syria has falsely claimed that it is under no obligation under its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement to provide information or access to non-nuclear, military facilities. Syria has repeatedly used this rationale to justify its perennial refusal to allow access to the three sites identified as potentially functionally related to the Dair Alzour facility. The IAEA has repeatedly explained that no such limitation on access is applicable and has offered to employ modalities to protect any sensitive information, but Syria has still refused to comply with the Agency’s requests. Quite simply, the Agency cannot fulfill its responsibilities under Syria’s safeguards agreement without further cooperation from Syria, including by providing the additional access and information requested.


In May 2011, following a prolonged, non-substantive back and forth with the Syrian authorities, the IAEA released a comprehensive technical assessment, based on all information available regarding the Dair Alzour facility. For those on the Board who have not read the May 2011 report on Syria contained in document GOV/2011/30, I encourage you to do so. It is only eight pages long. It lays out in extensive technical detail the inadequacies of the Syrian government’s explanations regarding the Dair Alzour site. It also builds an impressive case based on a diverse array of factual evidence that the facility destroyed in September 2007 at Dair Alzour was “very likely a nuclear reactor and should have been declared by Syria pursuant to Articles 41 and 42 of its Safeguards Agreement and Code 3.1 of the General Part of the Subsidiary Arrangement thereto.” While I will not repeat the contents of the report in great detail, I would like to highlight the report’s four key conclusions:


First, based on its review of commercial satellite imagery and radar data, as well as supporting information provided by Member States, the Agency confirmed that the destroyed building at Dair Alzour had features comparable to the gas-cooled, graphite moderated plutonium production reactor at Yongbyon in the DPRK. Satellite and radar imagery of the remains of the structure taken in the days following the attack confirmed inter alia the presence of “a large central hall, a cylindrical biological shield, a containment structure, heat exchanger shielding structures, and a spent fuel pond; all of which would be required for a reactor.”


Second, contrary to Syrian claims that the site could not support a nuclear facility, the Agency determined that the infrastructure at the site was consistent with the cooling and electricity requirements for operating a 25 megawatt-thermal nuclear reactor.   The Agency also determined that the high-capacity pumping station identified at the facility for carrying water to and from the river would not have been necessary had the site been intended for missile applications as Syria has alleged. The Agency further observed that other natural features of the site were suited to the operation of a reactor. Those features included “a relatively stable geological platform on which to construct a heavy building, low population density in the area, close proximity to a river for the supply of cooling water, and the availability of services, including treated water and electricity.”


Third, the Agency assessed that the presence of particles of anthropogenic uranium in environmental samples taken at the Dair Alzour site indicates “a connection to nuclear related activities” and that the presence of graphite and stainless steel were consistent with materials that would have been used in constructing a graphite moderated reactor. The Agency rejected Syria’s explanation that the materials originated from munitions used in attacking the site, emphasizing that “based on their morphology and distribution, there is a low probability that [the particles] could have originated from the munitions used to destroy the building or by aerial dispersion as suggested by Syria.”


Finally, the Agency concluded that it was “unlikely that the purpose of the site was missile assembly, storage, or launching” – as Syria has consistently claimed. It reached these determinations based on “the building’s configuration, the construction materials, suitability of openings and hatches for missile handling or launching” and assessments of infrastructure at the site.


In response to the Director General’s detailed technical assessment, the Board passed a resolution in June 2011 finding Syria in noncompliance with its NPT safeguards agreement under Article XII.C of the IAEA Statute for the construction of an undeclared nuclear reactor at Dair Alzour. The Board called upon Syria to urgently remedy its non-compliance and to provide the IAEA with access to all information, sites, material, and persons necessary to resolve all outstanding questions regarding the exclusively peaceful nature of the Syrian nuclear program. The Board also reported its findings to the UN Security Council, and called upon Syria to bring into force an Additional Protocol to its safeguards agreement.


Over the nearly seven years that have followed, Syria has completely disregarded the Director General’s and Board’s calls for it to cooperate with the Agency, and has instead continued to obstruct and mischaracterize the Agency’s investigation, often relying on the same false explanations that the Agency has repeatedly debunked. While publicly professing a willingness to cooperate and to address all remaining issues, the Assad regime has refused to engage with the IAEA on any concerns related to the key sites in question, including the Dair Alzour facility and three other sites related to the reactor. Instead, Syria continues to deny and delay – portraying itself as the victim of a political smear campaign and fabricating conspiratorial allegations, while failing to provide any plausible arguments that would call into question the Agency’s well-documented technical assessments.


Rather than responding to the Agency’s requests for information and access, Syria and its patrons have often pointed to separate and routine safeguards activities at Syria’s declared facilities as evidence of Syrian cooperation, as if that routine safeguards implementation at declared facilities somehow absolved the Assad regime of responsibility for its past undeclared nuclear activities. Syria and its defenders have also continued to cite the security situation in the country, using the regime’s own brutal campaign of violence against the Syrian people as an excuse for its continued refusal to meet its obligations. At the same time, the regime has demonstrated an ability to engage with other international organizations amidst the conflict, including by providing access, when it finds such cooperation to be in its interests. On the issue of resolving its past noncompliance, however, Syria has made clear by its actions that it has no intention of working constructively with the Agency, and is instead prepared to continue to obstruct the agency’s work indefinitely in the hopes that the Board will eventually lose interest.


Mr. Chair,

That will not happen. We cannot allow noncompliance to merely fade into our collective memory or be swept under the rug for political expedience. All outstanding questions regarding Syria’s undeclared nuclear activities must be answered to the satisfaction of the Agency before Syria’s noncompliance can be resolved. The lack of progress on this issue and Syria’s transparent effort to delay should be cause for more scrutiny by the Board, not less. This requires regular reporting from the Secretariat and discussion of the issue at every Board meeting.


There is only one path to resolving these concerns – Syria must cooperate with the Agency without further delay and provide it with access to all information, sites, materials, and persons necessary to verify the exclusively 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. 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 steps as necessary, including potential action under Article XII.C of the Statute.


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, Mr. Chair.