DAMASCUS, Syria - Syria yesterday declared a suspect site bombed by Israeli jets last year off limits to UN investigators looking into allegations that it was a secretly built atomic reactor.
Justifying the move, a Foreign Ministry official told reporters that its agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency - which already inspected the site in June - allowed only one visit. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to news media.
The Syrian statement appeared to be prompted by comments made by diplomats accredited to the Vienna-based IAEA, the UN's nuclear watchdog.
They told the Associated Press that Syria late last month turned down a request from the agency for a follow-up visit to investigate whether the country was hiding a nuclear program built with the help of North Korea.
A return to the bombed site would have been among on the IAEA agenda on any second trip.
The United States alleges that the remote site was a near-finished plutonium-producing reactor built with North Korean help and that Syria is hiding linked facilities.
The Syrian official denied that.
In Vienna, a senior diplomat told the AP "the Syrians said that a visit at this time was inopportune." He and two others agreeing to discuss the issue demanded anonymity because their information was confidential.
That appeared to leave open the possibility of a later visit. But one of the other diplomats said members of the Syrian mission to the IAEA were spreading the word among other missions that further trips beyond the one in June were unlikely.
The diplomats also said Washington was circulating a note among members of the IAEA board opposing a Syrian push for a seat on the 35-nation board.
The board normally works by consensus and a seat held by Syria could complicate any investigation into its alleged nuclear activities.
Syria fears a massive atomic agency investigation similar to the probe Iran has been subjected to more than five years.