Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Syria wants civilian nuclear energy: minister

PARIS — Syria, which has been investigated by the UN nuclear watchdog over its alleged attempt to build a secret nuclear reactor, would like to develop atomic energy, its government said Tuesday.

Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told an international conference on civilian nuclear power in Paris that Damascus needs "to consider alternative sources of energy, including nuclear energy."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy opened the conference on Monday with a call for many more countries to adopt nuclear power to produce electricity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ease pressure on energy prices.

But Syria's candidacy for the nuclear club will cause particular concern, given the regime's close ties with Iran and the still unanswered questions over an earlier alleged attempt to build a reactor in secret.

The International Atomic Energy Agency complained last year that Damascus had refused to cooperate with its investigation of a remote desert site called Dair Alzour, which was bombed by Israel in September 2007.

Inspectors have found unexplained traces of uranium at the site, as well as at a nuclear research reactor in Damascus, amid reports that Syria has been working with Tehran and North Korea on covert nuclear programmes.

France is now spearheading moves to bring Syria out of diplomatic isolation and persuade it to distance itself from Tehran's Islamic regime, which western powers believe is trying to develop and build a nuclear weapon.

"Syria benefited from the peaceful application of nuclear energy in many fields such as health and medicine, scientific research, etc. However more is needed, including international cooperation in these areas," Mekdad said.

"We appreciate the position of President Sarkozy that the peaceful application of nuclear energy should not be monopolised by the few who own this technology but that it should be available equally to all countries."

Earlier at the same Paris conference, Syria's arch-foe Israel said it was ready to work with France and at least some of its Arab neighbours to develop a joint nuclear power plant in its Negev desert.

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