Syria said on Friday it was cooperating fully with a U.N. inquiry into its nuclear activity but would not go as far as opening up military sites because this would undermine its national security.
Syria also indicated it would press on for a seat on the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), up for discussion later Friday, despite fierce resistance from the United States and other Western countries.
"We would like to underline that my government is cooperating with the agency in full transparency and will follow suit all along the way," Ibrahim Othman, Syria's Atomic Energy Commission director, told the IAEA's assembly on Friday.
"However, this cooperation will not in any way come at the expense of exposing our military sites or causing a threat to our national security," said Othman.
Diplomats close to the IAEA have said Syria has ignored agency requests to check three military installations believed linked to the alleged reactor site.
"We regret statements by some countries calling on us to show more transparency. I would like you here to recall what (IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei) said, namely that Syria has cooperated and complied with implementation of the measures agreed to by the agency."
The U.N. atomic watchdog is probing allegations that Damascus had been building a clandestine nuclear facility at Al-Kibar, a remote desert area, until it was bombed by Israeli planes in September 2007.
Syria has denied the allegations as "ridiculous," saying the building was simply a disused military utility.
Damascus allowed a three-member IAEA team to visit the site in
June but has refused any follow-up trips.
The United States and its Western allies have complained during this week's general conference that Syria is dragging its feet on the IAEA probe.
Syria at the IAEA
At a week-long meeting of the IAEA's 35-member board last week, agency chief ElBaradei said that the cooperation shown by Syria so far was "good".
ElBaradei revealed that the probe had been delayed because the agency's contact man in Syria was murdered.
"The reason that Syria has been late in providing additional information (is) that our interlocutor has been assassinated in Syria," ElBaradei told a closed-door session.
A recording of his remarks was obtained by AFP.
According to ElBaradei, the IAEA was still evaluating samples taken from the site, but that inspectors had found "no indication" so far of any nuclear material.
However, he complained that Syria had not yet responded to IAEA requests for additional access to individuals, sites and information.
Much to the consternation of Washington and its allies, Syria is hoping to gain a seat on the IAEA board for the upcoming term 2008-2010.
"Having Syria on the board would be like having a suspected arsonist oversee the fire brigade," one conference participant told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Othman said Damascus had no intention of abandoning its bid despite U.S. opposition.
"We invite all member states to support our candidacy, recalling how positive a role we played during our previous mandate in the board of governors and also recalling our fruitful cooperation with the agency in technical and technological fields," he said.
Afghanistan -- a U.S. ally -- is also standing as a candidate for the seat, which become free for the so-called Middle East and South Asia (MESA) group with the expiry of Pakistan's one-year term.
If MESA cannot agree on a single candidate, then the matter may have to be put to the vote of the entire general conference on Friday afternoon.