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Syria 'facing UN nuke site action'

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is setting the stage for potential United Nations Security Council action against Syria, diplomats say, with a report saying that a site bombed by Israeli warplanes was probably a secretly-built nuclear reactor meant to produce plutonium.

Such a conclusion would back intelligence produced by Israel and the US.

Syria says the nearly-finished building bombed in 2007 had no nuclear uses and has repeatedly turned down IAEA requests to revisit the site after allowing an initial 2008 inspection that found evidence of possible nuclear activities.

In interviews over the past week, three diplomats and a senior UN official said such an assessment - drawn up by IAEA chief Yukiya Amano - would be the basis of a Western-sponsored resolution at a meeting of the 35-nation IAEA board that condemns Syria's refusal to co-operate with the agency and sends the issue to the security council.

They said reporting Syria to the council would probably come as early as a June board meeting and no later than November.

In an apparent slip of the tongue that may have disclosed his plans, Mr Amano said for the first time on Thursday that the bombed site was a nearly-finished nuclear reactor.

Suggesting that Mr Amano had erred in making such comments publicly, the IAEA later put out a statement that "he did not say that the IAEA had reached the conclusion that the site was definitely a nuclear reactor".

The rollback reflected previous, more circumspect, IAEA language. In a February report, Mr Amano said only that features of the bombed structure were "similar to what may be found at nuclear reactor sites".

Once formally involved, the council has options ranging from doing nothing to passing its own resolutions demanding compliance with the IAEA, followed by sanctions to enforce such demands. This has been the scenario for Iran, under four sets of UN sanctions for ignoring council demands to stop activities that could be used to build nuclear arms and to co-operate with an IAEA probe of experiments that could be used to develop such weapons.

The greatest uncertainty, said one of the diplomats, was Syria's current unrest, which could delay or change Western plans to force a resolution and referral to the security council. Since the public uprising in Syria began in mid-March, inspired by revolts across the Arab world, hundreds of people have been killed nationwide, activists say.

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