Vienna, Asharq Al-Awsat- Syria avoided a diplomatic defeat at the last minute yesterday afternoon by withdrawing its nomination for membership in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s [IAEA] board of governors on behalf of the Middle East and Southeast Asia [MESA] group.
This enabled its rival Afghanistan, which was backed by the United States and Western countries, to win the seat by unanimous vote. These countries opposed Syria’s nomination on the basis that the IAEA is still investigating accusations of military nuclear activities, which Damascus denied. On the other hand, Egypt and Burkina Faso were elected to represent Africa.
The Syrian withdrawal, which was announced by the Indian envoy, came after a dramatic day of diplomatic conflict. The voting began in the morning and the conference chairman announced that all the groups had agreed on their representatives unanimously except MESA and said the conference had in this case to hold a secret ballot to select the MESA member from the proposed candidates (for their insistence on not withdrawing), Syria and Afghanistan. But the Syrian envoy surprised the conference by asking for the meeting to be adjourned but Afghanistan rejected this and demanded that it should continue. Following intervention by Iran, which had withdrawn its nomination in Syria’s favor, France whose envoy asked his Syrian counterpart how much time he needed, and also Qatar, the voting was adjourned until the evening session at which Syria’s withdrawal was announced.
A Western diplomatic source described to Asharq Al-Awsat the Syrian withdrawal as a big victory for the IAEA’s credibility and pointed out that its general conference would welcome a member complying with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the board of governors’ charters of trust, noting the impossibility and difficulty of having a member state like Syria whose nuclear dossier is under investigation on charge of noncompliance join the board.
Ibrahim Uthman, director general of the Syrian Atomic Energy Authority and head of the Syrian delegation to the IAEA’s 52ndgeneral conference, stressed in his speech at the morning session yesterday that “Syria will continue its cooperation with the IAEA in total transparency but this will not be at the expense of its national security.”