Damascus 'to allow UN nuclear inquiry'

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Syria has pledged full co-operation with UN-led efforts to investigate evidence that it secretly built a reactor that could have been used to make nuclear arms, in a major U-turn as Damascus faces pressure over its crackdown on protests.

If Syria fulfils its promise, the move would end three years of stonewalling of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Since 2008, the agency has tried in vain to follow up on evidence that a target bombed in 2007 by Israeli warplanes was a nearly built nuclear reactor that would have produced plutonium.

In a confidential note sent to board members, the IAEA chief, Yukiya Amano, cites top Syrian nuclear agency officials as saying "we are ready fully to co-operate with the agency" on its inquiry into the suspect site. Mr Amano said the pledge was contained in a letter dated last Thursday.

Syria's sudden readiness to co-operate seems to be an attempt at derailing US-led attempts to have Damascus referred to the UN Security Council amid already strong international pressure on the Syrian leadership to end its crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators.

The violence continued yesterday, with Syrian troops shelling a town in the centre of the country. And for the first time in the revolt, residents armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades put up fierce resistance, activists said. State media said four soldiers were killed.