The agency found traces of uranium at the Dair Alzour nuclear site that are not included in Syria's declared inventory, according to a just released report. The Syrians said the uranium came from the Israeli missiles used to destroy the nearby al-Kibar reactor in September 2007.
The presence of uranium particles was detected at a second site near Damascus -- the Miniature Neutron Source Reactor. Syria said it came from the accumulation of samples and reference materials used in neutron activation analysis.
The IAEA is not buying either of the two explanations and is pressing Damascus for more answers and wants to know from where the uranium came. The agency has run its own tests and is certain the Syrian government is not telling the truth.
That's where the tightrope act comes in. The IAEA won't comment on what clearly appears to be evasive behavior by the Syrian government because of concern about its tenuous relationship with Syria.
The Syrian government, also aware of the slippery state of affairs, tells WTOP:
"We are taking up the matter with IAEA, and are in constant consultation with them. We are going through appropriate channels and Syria stands by its legal obligations to the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty)."
A U.S. counter-proliferation official is not convinced.
"Syria has a record of concealing nuclear activities. The whole world saw that with the al-Kibar reactor, an undeclared facility, destroyed in 2007."
Considering Syria's close relationship with Iran, which has refused to bend to international will to stop its nuclear weapons production activities, there is concern Syria is following the same path.
"I think it should be a significant worry," says David Kay, senior research fellow at the Potomac Institute. "This is what the Syria case points to. States can, on their own, clandestinely make arrangements to acquire at least portions of a nuclear weapons production cycle."
The precarious, global nuclear state of affairs involving Iran, North Korea and Pakistan is troubling to Kay.
"[Countries in] the Middle East procuring nuclear weapons would be at the top of my list of concerns. That's why dealing with the Iranian program is so important, and that's why paying continued attention to what's happening in Pakistan is important."
Kay, a former United Nations weapons inspector, says the existence of an underground nuclear weapons network could initiate a irreversible and harmful course of nuclear proliferation.
"Myanmar is a good example," Kay says. "On their own with their indigenous technical capacity to produce either plutonium or highly enriched uranium, it's not something that would keep me awake at night. They simply don't have it. But this illicit network, government sanctioned and black market certainly means that if they desire it, there may be a real possibility of their gaining it."
The IAEA concluded in a Nov. 16 report that there has been "essentially no progress made" since the last report several months ago.
The report goes on to say Syria's evasive behavior, "gives rise to questions about the correctness and completeness of Syria's declaration, which the agency is obliged to pursue."
The Israeli government has said repeatedly it will not allow Syria's ally, Iran, to develop a nuclear weapons program and "all options are on the table to stop it."
Israeli intelligence suggests Iran could possibly have some type of weapon in 12 months. And because of that, Israeli Ambassador Alon Pinkus says Israel won't wait until a weapon is fully developed to attack.
"There are other stages before that are almost as dangerous," Pinkus says.
His comments lead to speculation that an attack could take place any day between now and a year.
"Not necessarily, because that depends on what happens in the political or diplomatic arena within that 12-month period," says Pinkus.
Syria was attacked quietly by the Israelis in the early morning hours of Sept. 6, 2007 -- but the April 24, 2008 announcement of the attack and the lack of tolerance for rogue nuclear weapons' operations by U.S. government officials was heard loud and clear.
Still the IAEA reports no cooperation from the Syrians on resolving the current issues.
The U.S. counter proliferation official says, "they [the Syrian Government] have a credibility problem, which this latest news will in no way resolve."