A U.N. nuclear watchdog probe into an alleged secret nuclear reactor in Syria is off to "a good start" and inspectors were able to take extensive test samples at the desert site, their team chief said on Wednesday.
Olli Heinonen, speaking to reporters on his return to Vienna after four days in Syria, said his team test-sampled "quite a lot of things" at the remote desert site bombed in an Israeli air strike last September.
"To a great extent, we achieved what we wanted ... and agreed to do ... on this first trip," he said. It was too early to draw conclusions about what Israel bombed, Heinonen said. Syria says it was only an ordinary military building.
"It's been a good start, a good start," said Heinonen, the International Atomic Energy Agency's deputy director-general in charge of non-proliferation inspections worldwide.
Pressed on whether his three-sleuth team was able to see what it wanted to check and speak to relevant Syrian officials despite diplomatic reports his room for inquiry would be severely restricted, he said: "Yes, quite a lot, but there is still work that remains to be done. It will take awhile.
"We took samples that we needed to take and now it's time to analyze them and look over the information we got from Syria. We will continue our discussions with Syrian counterparts. Nothing more, nothing less than that."
Heinonen said he did not know how long it would take to get results from the environmental samples.
He said no return visit was yet slated. But diplomats close to the IAEA had said the U.N. watchdog would have to send in more missions to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Syrian officials and state-dominated media kept silent about the IAEA mission throughout.
IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei said last week there was no evidence that Syria, whose only declared nuclear facility is an ageing research reactor under IAEA monitoring, had the skills or fuel to run a major nuclear complex. Washington disputes this.
Last Mod: 26 Haziran 2008, 14:33