Argentina, in Reversal, Will Pursue Nuclear Talks with Syria

In an apparent flip-flop of its nuclear sales policy, the Argentine government has decided to resume talks in August for the sale to Syria of a five-megawatt nuclear reactor.

The move comes after Argentine Foreign Minister Guido di Tella, during a visit to Israel last week, said his country would not proceed with the sale if Israel objected.

Israeli officials have expressed concern about the possible sale of technology that could put Syria “on the road to nuclear development.”

But following the foreign minister’s visit, sources at the Argentine Foreign Ministry said Buenos Aires would pursue negotiations “on its own terms.”

President Carlos Menem’s government believes it is taking “all steps to ensure the peaceful use of any technological equipment sold,” one source said.

The officials, maintaining that the reactor would be used for research purposes only, flatly dismissed the possibility of canceling the negotiations with Syria.

Di Tella, who during last week’s trip to Israel was questioned about the negotiations with Damascus, repeatedly gave the assurance that his government would not do “anything that could endanger Israel’s security.”

But within days of di Tella’s assurances, Argentine officials said they had secured American backing for the discussions with Syria.

Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires would neither confirm nor deny this, adding that the State Department has issued no official comment regarding the Argentine Syrian negotiations.

On at least two prior occasions, the United States effectively vetoed Argentine sales of technologies with potential military uses to Middle Eastern countries.

In 1991, the United States asked Argentina to block the sale of a uranium refinery to Iran. The contract for the facility had been awarded by Teheran to INVAP, the same Argentine state-owned company now negotiating with Syria.

Shortly after, U.S. officials blocked an Argentine project for updating Scud missile technology that was to be financed by Egypt, Syria and Libya.

Ruben Beraja, president of DAIA, the umbrella political organization of Argentine Jewry, maintained that the blocked sale of the uranium refinery may have provided a reason for Iran’s alleged involvement in the July 18, 1994, terrorist bombing of the Jewish headquarters building in Buenos Aires.

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