UN watchdog chides bombing of reactor
Vienna - The head of the UN nuclear watchdog took a swipe at Israel on Monday for "allegedly" bombing and destroying a suspected Syrian reactor site in 2007, saying the case should have been reported to his agency instead.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been investigating Syria for three years over possible undeclared nuclear activity at the Dair Alzour site in the desert.
US intelligence reports said it was a nascent North Korean-designed reactor intended to make bomb-grade plutonium.
The IAEA board is expected to rebuke Syria later this week for carrying out covert atomic work, but a Western push to refer it to the UN Security Council appears to have failed to win backing from several states such as Russia.
Syria denies harbouring a nuclear weapons programme but has blocked access to Dair Alzour since a one-off visit of IAEA inspectors in 2008.
"It is deeply regrettable that the facility was destroyed - allegedly by Israel - without the agency having been given an opportunity to perform its verification role," Yukiya Amano told the IAEA's 35-nation governing board in a statement.
"Rather than force being used, the case should have been reported to the IAEA," he said, according to a copy of his remarks at a closed-door session.
Israel has neither confirmed nor denied bombing the site and has not commented on what might have been there.
It is widely accepted among diplomats and IAEA officials that Israel carried out the attack.
In a memoir published last year, former US President George W Bush said Israel bombed the site after failing to persuade his administration to carry out the strike.
Amano also reiterated that the site was "very likely" to have been a nuclear reactor which Damascus should have reported to the IAEA, an assessment which has opened up the possibility of a referral to the United Nations Security Council.
Amano said Syria had been given ample time to co-operate with the UN agency but had declined to do so.
"Nevertheless, we had obtained enough information to draw a conclusion. I judged it appropriate to inform member states of our conclusion at this stage as it was in no one's interest to let this situation drag on indefinitely."
In an apparent effort to derail a Security Council referral by the IAEA board, Syria wrote to Amano last month pledging to co-operate fully. It did not give details of how it would do this.
"I am confident about our conclusion and I look forward to engaging further with Syria to resolve related outstanding issues," Amano said, suggesting Syria may have a window of opportunity to work with the agency.