Syria strongly dismissed as "a fantasy" U.S. accusations that North Korea had helped it build a secret nuclear reactor, likening the allegations to the situation before the Iraq invasion, as the U.N. nuclear watchdog chief said the claims were serious and would be thoroughly investigated.
"The Agency will treat this information with the seriousness it deserves and will investigate the veracity of the information," said Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
He confirmed Washington had handed over information which said that a Syrian installation destroyed by an Israeli air strike last September was not yet a completed atomic reactor.
"According to this information, the reactor was not yet operational and no nuclear material had been introduced into it," he said in a statement.
But he said Syria would have been obliged under its non-proliferation safeguards agreement with the Vienna-based U.N. watchdog to inform it in advance of any planning and construction of a nuclear facility.
Still, he said he "deplores the fact" that the United States had not turned the information over to the IAEA on the reactor, said to have been launched in 2001, in a "timely manner to enable us to verify its veracity and establish the facts".
"In light of the above, (I) view the unilateral use of force by Israel as undermining the due process of verification that is at the heart of the non-proliferation regime," ElBaradei added.
Syria has vehemently denied involvement in such nuclear activities and has accused Washington of trying to discredit Damascus.
"This is a fantasy and this administration has a proven record about fabricating stories about other countries' WMDs," Syria’s ambassador to Washington Imad Moustapha said in an interview on CNN, referring to weapons of mass destruction.
"I hope the truth will be revealed to everybody," Moustapha said. "This will be a major embarrassment to the U.S. administration for a second time -- they lied about Iraqi WMDs and they think they can do it again."
The United States laid out intelligence on Thursday it says shows North Korea helped Syria build a suspected nuclear reactor that was destroyed by Israel last year.
Moustapha said the building that the Washington alleges was a secret nuclear reactor was just an "ordinary military building" that was empty.
He said the "secret building" was easily seen on commercial satellite pictures and it did not have any barbed wire or heightened security around it.
"I hope the American citizens and the representatives of the American people would not be as gullible this time as they were prior to the war on Iraq and they will stop believing the silly accusations of the U.S. administration," he said.
Moustapha said he had been called in by the U.S. State Department and told "a ridiculous story about an alleged Syrian nuclear project and they told me they had compelling evidence that Syria was planning to acquire nuclear technology."