Can Syria avoid sanctions with a U.N. nuclear inspection?
An IAEA team visits the site of an alleged nuclear weapons facility bombed by Israel in September.
International nuclear detectives are at work in the Syrian sands following American allegations of covert nuclear activity, in a trip that could well determine Syria's international fate.Skip to next paragraph
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In Damascus, the inquiry has been met with both a sense of foreboding and cautious optimism. While the country fears Iran-like isolation, it hopes that by opening its doors to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) it can prevent any global sanctions.
"What's driving Syria right now is an anxiety about becoming a pariah," says Joshua Landis, a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma.
According to the US government, the remote desert site in northeastern Syria, which was bombed by Israeli planes last September, was a nuclear facility being built with North Korean assistance. The IAEA placed Syria on its proliferation watch list in April following US photographic evidence showing the construction of an alleged reactor. Syria has granted inspectors access to the area, but it razed the site after it was bombed.
The allegations have been fervently denied by Syria – a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – which says the site was a military location with no nuclear activity. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the evidence was "fabricated 100 percent."
Nonetheless, the IAEA visit comes at a precarious time for Syria and risks undermining recent diplomatic gains after a long period of international condemnation.
Following the Doha agreement in May that temporarily settled Lebanon's internal political disputes, the resumption of Turkish-mediated peace talks with Israel, and most recently the Hamas-Israeli cease-fire, which Syria says it helped broker using influence over Damascus-based Hamas leaders, Syria is slowly breaking out of isolation.