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Experts: Syria May Have Unenriched Uranium

Western and Israeli security experts suspect Syria may have tons of unenriched uranium in storage which could be transferred to Iran.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 1/11/2013, 10:51 PM

Bashar Al-Assad
Bashar Al-Assad
Reuters

Western and Israeli security experts suspect Syria may have tons of unenriched uranium in storage and that any such stockpile could potentially be of interest to its ally Iran for use in Tehran's nuclear program.

The experts told the Reuters news agency on Friday that natural uranium could have been acquired by Syria years ago to fuel a suspected nuclear reactor under construction that was allegedly bombed by Israel in 2007.

"Someplace there has got to be an inventory of fuel for the reactor. It doesn't make sense to have a nuclear installation, a nuclear reactor, without any fuel," proliferation expert Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment think tank told Reuters.

But, he added, "to my knowledge there hasn't been any substantiated accounts identifying where that material may be located."

Even if Syria did have such a stockpile, it would not be usable for nuclear weapons in its present form, he said.

The Financial Times newspaper reported this week that Syria may hold up to 50 metric tons of unenriched, or natural, uranium - material which can fuel atomic power plants and also provide the explosive core of nuclear bombs, but only if refined to a high degree.

A recently retired Israeli security official told Reuters he believed Syria was keeping uranium at a site near Damascus, one of the places the UN's atomic watchdog wants to inspect, but he did not say what he based this on.

The former Israeli official said rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may get hold of the stockpile and make its existence public.

"Then it would put pay to the Syrians' claims that they never had a reactor in the first place," he said.

Another possibility was that Syria, "knowing the material is no longer secured, could ship it out to Iran, which is certainly in need of more uranium for its own nuclear plans," the former Israeli official, who declined to be named, added.

A Western diplomat told the news agency there had been speculation about possible uranium - perhaps in the form of natural uranium metal to fuel a reactor - in Syria because of the destroyed Deir al-Zor site but that he knew of no specific details.

"It is plausible. But as far as I know no one has ever had any idea where the material is," he said, adding it would not be easy to ship large quantities to Iran without detection.

Of greater concern to the West is Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons, which dates back to the 1970s and is the biggest in the Middle East.

While it is well-known that Syria has chemical weapons, the precise scope of its stockpile.

The country has hundreds of tons of various chemical agents, including sarin and VX nerve agents, as well as older blistering agents such as mustard gas, dispersed in dozens of manufacturing and storage sites, experts say.

U.S. officials recently said there was evidence that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's troops had not only moved deadly sarin gas that might be used against rebels, but also that its binary components, usually stored separately, had been combined and placed into bombs for use.

Doctors have said that Assad’s forces are probably also using “Agent 15,” which causes paralysis.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Thursday that his country is increasingly focused on how to secure Syria's chemical weapons if Assad falls from power.

President Barack Obama has issued stern warnings to Damascus against resorting to chemical weaponry in its war with rebel forces.

The United States and its allies, including Israel, have repeatedly expressed concern that Syria's stockpile, believed to be one of the biggest in the world, could be stolen and fall into extremist hands or be transferred to the Hizbullah terror group by a crumbling Syrian regime.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)