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IAEA to investigate Syrian nukes

The U.N. atomic agency announced it would investigate whether Syria has a secret nuclear program.

The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency’s announcement came Friday, a day after the Bush administration released photographic evidence it said demonstrated that the site Israel bombed in Syria last Sept. 6 was a nascent nuclear reactor.

After the photographs were released, Syria accused the United States of possible involvement in the Israeli strike on the facility.

In a statement issued Thursday by the Syrian embassy in Washington rejecting the Bush administration’s claims, “The government of the Syrian Arab Republic regrets and denounces the campaign of false allegations that the current United States administration continually launches against Syria claiming the presence of nuclear activity,” the statement said. “And while Syria utterly denies these allegations, it also stresses that this campaign aims primarily to misguide the U.S. Congress and international public opinion in order to justify the Israeli raid in September of 2007, which the current U.S. administration may have helped execute. It has become obvious that this maneuver on the part of this administration comes within the framework of the North Korean nuclear negotiations.”

In its statement, the Bush administration accused the Syrians of building “a covert nuclear reactor in its eastern desert capable of producing plutonium. We are convinced, based on a variety of information, that North Korea assisted Syria’s covert nuclear activities. We have good reason to believe that reactor, which was damaged beyond repair on Sept. 6 of last year, was not intended for peaceful purposes.”

Senior intelligence officials later told reporters the United States did not have advance knowledge of the strike.

The revelations came after months of behind-the-scenes wrangling between hawks in Congress and the Bush administration, who want to further isolate Syria and North Korea, and Israeli officials, who want to keep peace-talks avenues open to Syria and who bridle at revelations of Israeli military operations.

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