Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), and an impressively bipartisan group of Capitol Hill signatories, just sent a letter to President Obama asking him to urge the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) to “immediately conduct on-site ‘special inspections’ in Syria.” They point out that since an Israeli air strike took out the Dair Alzour nuclear reactor in 2007, the Syrians’ cooperation with the IAEA has been “alarmingly inadequate.” The organization’s director general, Yukia Amano claims that “with the passage of time, some of the necessary information concerning the Dair Alzour site is further deteriorating or has been lost entirely.” There are also unanswered question concerning three other related locations.
This should be a no-brainer for the administration. First, it has bipartisan support—something that’s become so rare it’s almost touchingly quaint. The signatories include Independent Democrat Joe Lieberman, Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand and Edward Markey, and Republicans Jon Kyl and John Ensign. Obama should move ahead on this and then talk it up as evidence of critical cooperation. Second, urging IAEA special inspections fits in perfectly with Obama’s dream of a nuke-free world via international cooperation. Syria is, after all, a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Either international agreements mean something or they do not. In October, the Departments of State and Treasury decided to sanction North Korean parties that provided nuclear-weapons assistance to Syria. (It is believed that North Korea assisted the Syrians with the Dair Alzour project.) The letter is merely asking for enforcement on the other end of that equation. Most important, with a non-deterrable nuclear North Korea antagonizing American allies and an Iran poised to do the same, the administration cannot afford to have another bad actor go nuclear on its watch.