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Monday, September 27, 2004

Syria, Iran Plot Deal On Nuke Scientists

Syria, Iran plot deal on nuke scientists

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is attempting to broker a deal with Iran to secure safe haven for a group of Iraqi nuclear scientists who were sent by Saddam Hussein to Damascus before the U.S. invasion.

According to a report in the London Telegraph, western intelligence officials believe Assad is desperate to get the Iraqi scientists out of his country before their presence prompts America to target Syria in the next phase of the war on terrorism.

The issue came up, according to the report, when Assad made a visit to Tehran in July. Intelligence officials say the Iranians have not yet responded.

However, intelligence analysts believe Iran is working overtime to develop its nuclear weapons program. It is not known how much the Iranians can learn from the Iraqi weapons program.

A group of about 12 middle-ranking Iraqi nuclear technicians and their families were transported to Syria before the collapse of Saddam's regime, says the report. The transfer was arranged under a combined operation by Hussein's Special Security Organization and Syrian Military Security, which is headed by Arif Shawqat, the Syrian president's brother-in-law.

The Iraqis reportedly brought with them CDs crammed with research data on Iraq'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, according to the report.

The report also says Assad has his own nuclear weapons program and is reconsidering the offer of sending the Iraqis to Iran.

There is evidence Syria has acquired a number of gas centrifuges -- probably from North Korea -- that can be used to enrich uranium for a nuclear bomb.
UPDATE: Telegraph article.

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