VIENNA: Syria accused the West at a major U.N. meeting on Wednesday of double standards in implicitly condoning an Israeli atomic arsenal and warned of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
Israel hit back at the annual assembly of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by saying Syria and its ally Iran were "known for their clandestine pursuit of nuclear weapons and
other weapons of mass destruction."
The Jewish state also made clear its view that the volatile region was not yet ready for creating a zone free of such weaponry, which Arab states have been pushing for.
"Such a process can only be launched when peaceful relations exist for a reasonable period of time in the region," Israeli atomic energy commission head Shaul Chorev said. "Regrettably,
the realities in the Middle East are far from being conducive."
The United States said last week Syria was using the "brutal repression" of its people waging an uprising as an excuse not to address international concerns about its past nuclear work.
U.N. inspectors have long sought access to a site in Syria's desert Deir al-Zor region that U.S. intelligence reports say was a nascent, North Korean-designed reactor designed to produce
plutonium for nuclear weapons before Israel bombed it in 2007.
The IAEA has also been requesting information about three other sites that may have been linked to Deir al-Zor, which Syria says was a conventional military site.
Syrian Ambassador Bassam Al-Sabbagh, in a rare public comment on the issue, insisted that his country was ready to cooperate with the U.N. agency and he sought to turn the tables
on Damascus's accusers by hitting out at Israel.
Israel is believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, although it refuses to disclose any capability. Like its ally the United States, the Jewish state sees Iran's nuclear
programme as the most urgent nuclear proliferation threat. AGENCIES