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UN agency approves nuclear aid to Syria

By George Jahn
Associated Press / November 27, 2008
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VIENNA - The UN nuclear agency overrode US concerns and approved sensitive technical aid for Syria yesterday, despite allegations the country has a secret atomic program that could be used to make weapons.

In the end, Washington and its allies agreed to the deal, which provides IAEA expertise and equipment to help Syria build a power-producing reactor.

But they did so only after three days of deadlock at a closed meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The dispute pitted Western nations against backers of Syria, which included Iran, Russia and China.

The agreement appeared to have been a painful concession for the United States, Canada, Australia, France and Britain - the nations that at the start of the meeting spearheaded the effort to deny Syria the aid.

Beyond helping the Syrians develop expertise, critics argued, the $350,000 aid project would send the wrong signal about a country under investigation by the IAEA.

A Western diplomat sought to depict approval of the project in a positive light.

"We've made our point," she said, demanding anonymity because she was not authorized to discuss the closed meeting. "The one Syrian project is now under the spotlight and will remain under the spotlight."

But Syria portrayed the decision as vindication. Approval by the IAEA showed an "understanding of the position of Syria," said Ibrahim Othman, head of Syria's nuclear agency.

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