Washington DC -- On May 5, 2004 RPS reported that there is growing concern in the Bush administration that Syria has been pursuing a clandestine nuclear weapons development program, and may already have centrifuges that can purify uranium for use in bombs. Centrifuges are a vital component in any nuclear weapons development program, as they can be used to purify uranium for use as nuclear fuel or in weapons. Experts say getting weapons-grade material is the biggest hurdle for any country that desires the bomb.
On Septmeber 16 of this year, John Bolton, Undersecretary for Arms Control & International Security - U.S. Department of State, testified before the Middle East and Central Asia Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee on Syria's bio/chem and atomic programs. In his testimony, Mr. Bolton said: "..on the nuclear side we are concerned about Syria's nuclear R&D program and continue to watch for any sign of nuclear weapons activity or foreign assistance that could facilitate a Syrian nuclear weapons capability. We are aware of Syrian efforts to acquire dual-use technologies that could be applied to a nuclear weapons program."
Since Washington began its post-September 11 policy of aggressively pursuing countries it believed had weapons of mass destruction that could be used against the United States and its allies, it has repeatedly issued warnings about Syria. Recent reports issued by the CIA have highlighted growing concern over Syria.
As an important player in the U.N. Oil for Food program, Syria also diverted important resources to its nuclear program by purchasing equipment, expertise, and delivery systems from other rogue nations or individuals.
Early on, various countries such as Belgium, China, Germany, and the former Soviet Union assisted Syria in their nuclear research. Additionally, over the years, Syria has solicited proposals from other countries including Argentina, India, and Italy. Further, the IAEA helped Syria on numerous projects including uranium exploration, uranium extraction from phosphoric acid, isotope production, construction of a cyclotron facility, development of nuclear research laboratories, and preparation for a nuclear power program.
A report by Middle East Newsline (MENL) in July of 2004 disclosed that the Bush administration has expressed concern that Syria might exploit dual-use components and technology approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency for a nuclear weapons program.
MENL further went on to say that officials said the United States has been tracking Syrian orders for dual-use components and technologies for its civilian nuclear research program. They said Russia has also been offering Damascus expertise and cooperation in the development of a Syrian nuclear reactor.
Sources close to RPS have disclosed that Syria is involved in military nuclear research not too far from Deir el-Hajjar, a tourist area in Syria. Deir el-Hajjar is also known for agricultural research, which is intended to hide the real purpose of nuclear research. Experts believe that some of the satellite early detection technology will be dismissed because of the agricultural component of the location.
"The CIA is aware of the site and is monitoring the situation closely" Sources told RPS. The site is built underground and has two facilities: civil and military. The civil facility is a cover for the military one, the real purpose of the site.
Furthermore, the Central Intelligence Agency has unclassified recently a report that was sent to Congress on the "Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions". In it, the CIA accuses Syria of promoting a nuclear, chemical and biological programs.
The report states: "Syria...has a nuclear research center at Dayr Al Hajar. Russia and Syria have continued their long-standing agreements on cooperation regarding nuclear energy, although specific assistance has not yet materialized. Broader access to foreign expertise provides opportunities to expand its indigenous capabilities, and we are monitoring Syrian nuclear intentions with concern.
RPS is aware of three Syrian nuclear scientists who work closely with the regime of Assad. The most prominent is Dr. Ibrahim Othman who heads the Atomic Energy Commission (AECS), an organization established in 1979 by Hafez al-Assad for, in disclosures to the IAEA, peaceful use of nuclear technology for power plants. Dr. Othman is a habitual visitor to all IAEA annual meetings in Vienna. It is believed that he was the contact man with the Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan known to have delivered important secrets to rogue nations.
The other two scientists are Dr. Mustapha Hamolella, a Kurdish nuclear physicist and Dr. Faris Al-Asfari. Both work closely on the Syrian nuclear program and are closely associated with the regime.
It is also believed that Iraqi nuclear scientists may have escaped to Syria and are working closely with the Syrian regime to build a nuclear bomb. A group of about 12 middle-ranking Iraqi nuclear technicians and their families were transported to Syria before the collapse of Saddam's regime. The transfer was arranged under a combined operation by Saddam's now defunct Special Security Organization and Syrian Military Security, which was headed until recently by Assef Shawqat, Assad's brother-in-law.
The Iraqis, who brought with them CDs crammed with research data on Saddam's nuclear program, were given new identities, including Syrian citizenship papers and falsified birth, education and health certificates. Since then they have been hidden away at a secret Syrian military installation where they have been conducting research on behalf of their hosts.
Expertise and Equipment
According to an IAEA official, Abdul Qadeer Khan, who has sold nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea, is also behind the proliferation of sensitive nuclear technologies to Syria.
"The leadership of Pakistan was well aware of the export of Pakistani nuclear technologies," the unnamed source in the International Atomic Energy Agency was quoted as saying by a Russian news agency, RIA Novosti.
"It is not ruled out that besides Iran, Libya and North Korea, such supplies could have been made to Syria" the official said.
Several Western diplomats who follow the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), have been saying for months that Syria was a customer of Khan's.
"Syria certainly had contact with Khan," said a non-U.S. Western diplomat, adding that suspicions of Syrian research in atomic weapons have existed for decades.
MENL reported on August 25, 2004 that the U.S. intelligence community obtained evidence that the Khan network sold and delivered components for an unspecified number of Pakistani-designed P1 centrifuges to Syria.
On April 29, 2004 U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton said that Adbul Qadeer Khan had "several other" customers who may want the bomb. Western diplomats in Vienna said Bolton was clearly referring to Syria.
And on June 9, 2004, a North Korean expert disclosed to Future Korea that Syrians visited North Korea to acquire equipment. He said that:
- Syria ordered a large number of Scud missiles tipped with bio/chem warheads.
- Syria ordered Rocket engines that were made at "January 8th Factory" in Kaechon.
- Syria ordered Missile bodies that were made at "No. 26 Factory" in Namchon-dong, Kanggye City.
- The missiles were assembled at "Shin-eum-ri Factory" in Pyongyang City.
- And Bio/chemical warheads, the most sensitive parts, were finished at "Namheung Chemical Factory" and transported via train.