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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.

A reactor?: The US says this was where Iran, North Korea, and Syria were doing nuclear weapons research.


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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.

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.

On Sunday, Der Spiegel, a German news weekly, reported that Syria, North Korea, and Iran were jointly developing a nuclear reactor to build weapons-grade plutonium at the location.

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."


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