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Nuclear Help

DW staff (jam)June 22, 2008

Damascus and Pyongyang helped Iran with its atomic program at a suspected nuclear site in Syria that Israel destroyed last September, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel reported.

Iran flag and atomic symbol
Iran got nuclear help from Syria and North Korean, "Der Spiegel" reportedImage: AP

According to the report, which was published Saturday, June 21, and quoted unspecified intelligence reports, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is now having second thoughts about helping Iran with its controversial nuclear program.

Solana and Lavrov
Iran's nuclear negotiator met with EU foreign policy chief Solana in Tehran this month about uranium enrichmentImage: AP

The weekly said North Korea had also provided assistance to Iran at a Syrian facility bombed by Israeli warplanes in September 2007. Experts believe the site at al-Kibar was used to produce nuclear material the Iranian regime needed to make a bomb, the magazine reported.

North Korean scientists worked alongside Syrians and Iranians at the site, where a reactor was being built to produce weapons-grade plutonium, Der Spiegel quoted the intelligence reports as saying.

The report said Iranian scientists had made progress in enriching uranium but had no experience with plutonium and sought the help of the North Koreans.

Watchdog group to go to Syria

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, are due to travel to Syria on Sunday to investigate whether the country was building an undeclared reactor.

Documents and photographs that were sent by Washington in April to the IAEA backed up the suspicions, but Syria has described the allegations as "ridiculous." Damascus maintains that the site, which satellite images show has since been razed, was a military installation and not a nuclear facility.

Satellite imagery showing a suspected nuclear facility before and after being destroyed by an Israeli airstrike
Satellite imagery showing a suspected nuclear facility before and after being destroyed by an Israeli airstrikeImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

Iran says its nuclear program is not geared towards making weapons but for electricity generation to meet the needs of its growing population. Tehran's decision to begin enriching uranium in 2006 triggered Western sanctions.

Iran on Saturday stressed it will not negotiate with world powers over its nuclear program if it is required to suspend its uranium enrichment activities.

Der Spiegel, which did not elaborate on al-Assad's reported change of heart, also said Iran, Syria and North Korea had apparently been cooperating in the production of chemical weapons.

It cited an explosion near the Syrian city of Aleppo in July 2007, during which many were reported to have died when quantities of mustard gas and the nerve agent Sarin escaped.

In addition to 15 Syrian military officials, dozens of Iranian "rocket scientists" and three North Koreans were among those killed, the magazine said.

'Ball of Fire'

The IAEA chief warned on Saturday that an attack on Iran over its nuclear program would turn the region into a fireball.

Mohamed ElBaradei
Mohamed ElBaradeiImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Mohamed ElBaradei also warned that he would not be able to continue in his role as IAEA director general if the Islamic republic were attacked.

His stark comments came as Iran stressed yet again that it will not negotiate with world powers over its nuclear program if it is required to suspend uranium enrichment.

"A military strike [against Iran] would in my opinion be worse than anything else ... It would transform the Middle East region into a ball of fire," ElBaradei said in an interview with Al-Arabiya television.

A report by the New York Times on Friday cited US officials as saying a major Israeli military exercise earlier this month seemed to be a practice for any potential strike against Iran's nuclear