On Monday, Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, complained about American attempts to deny technical assistance to Syria for a proposed nuclear power plant. “Even people who are not a lawyer would know that people and countries are innocent until proven guilty,” he said.
Syria may be considered innocent, but it sure is acting as if it is guilty. Last week, it essentially ended cooperation with the IAEA, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, over inspection of suspected nuclear weapons sites. Washington has accused Damascus of covertly building a nuclear reactor at one of those locations, which Israel bombed last September. In June, IAEA inspectors conducted an investigation there. Since then, Syrian officials have turned down agency requests for further visits.
And it is not hard to see why the Syrians have ended cooperation with the international nuclear organization. Preliminary sampling discovered “significant” traces of chemically altered uranium even though the Syrians leveled the site after the Israeli strike. Moreover, IAEA technicians say the location resembled a reactor and Syria may be covertly maintaining three other nuclear installations. The always cautious ElBaradei says the damning evidence is not conclusive proof of undeclared and prohibited activity, and the Syrians deny everything.
The United States believes the IAEA should not provide to Syria technical information about how to build a nuclear power station. As State Department spokesman Sean McCormack noted, “For the IAEA to be involved in providing technical information concerning nuclear activities would seem to be contradictory, if not ironic.”
Yes, but not surprising. The IAEA chief almost never exercises common sense when it comes to the planet’s nuclear rogues. He apparently thinks a country should be entitled to the benefit of the doubt even if it is clearly trying to hide substantial evidence. If ElBaradei’s technicians have not yet gathered every last shred of evidence against Syria, it is only because the Syrians have not permitted them to do so.
ElBaradei, insisting he is right on Syria, is trying to change the subject by attacking Washington by stating this: “There were claims against Iraq, which were proven bonkers, and after, the result was a terrible war.” True, there were no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq, but he needs to remember that Saddam Hussein nonetheless gave the international community cause for war by violating his obligations to submit to inspections. The Security Council earlier this decade refused to enforce its own mandates in connection with Iraq, and the United States had every right to defend the world’s nonproliferation regime. If this time ElBaradei fails to protect the global community from Syria’s nuclear weapons ambitions, he should not complain about happens next.