IAEA identifies uranium enrichment plant design at Hasakah and finds correspondence with Pakistan atomic expert, sources claim.
UN investigators have identified a previously unknown complex in Syria that bolsters suspicions the government in Damascus worked with Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan‘s atomic bomb, to acquire nuclear weapons technology.
The buildings in north-west Syria closely match the design of a uranium enrichment plant provided to Libya when Muammar Gaddafi was trying to build nuclear weapons under Khan’s guidance, officials said.
The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has also obtained correspondence between Khan and a Syrian government official, Muhidin Issa, who proposed scientific co-operation and a visit to Khan’s laboratories after a successful nuclear test by Pakistan in 1998.
The complex, in the city of Hasakah, now appears to be a cotton-spinning plant, and investigators have found no sign it was ever used for nuclear production. Given that Israeli warplanes destroyed a suspected plutonium production reactor in Syria in 2007, the unlikely coincidence in design suggests Syria may have been pursuing two routes to an atomic bomb: uranium as well as plutonium.
Details of the Syria-Khan connection were provided to Associated Press by a senior diplomat with knowledge of IAEA investigations and a former UN investigator. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The Syrian government did not respond to a request for comment. It has repeatedly denied pursuing nuclear weapons but also has stymied an investigation into the site bombed by Israel. It has not responded to an IAEA request to visit the Hasakah complex, the officials said.
The IAEA declined to comment. Its examination of Syria’s programmes has slowed as world powers have focused on the popular uprising in the country and the government’s violent crackdown.
Syria has never been regarded as being close to having developed a nuclear bomb. There also is no indication that Damascus continues to work on a nuclear programme. If the facility in Hasakah was intended for uranium production, those plans appear to have been abandoned with the Israeli bombing.