Syrian minister laments Israel's nuclear edge

Syria's foreign minister said on Monday he wished his country could match Israel's atomic arsenal, but denied US allegations that it had been building a secret nuclear reactor at a site bombed by Israel last year.

Walid al-Moualem, making Syria's first official comments on last week's visit to the site by UN nuclear investigators, said it had been handled solely by Syrian security officials. "Syria would not have allowed the inspectors in if it had such a secret (nuclear) program," Moualem told reporters after meeting his Norwegian counterpart, Jonas Gahr Stoere. "As a private citizen, I wish Syria had this program quite simply because Israel has made huge advances in its manufacturing of nuclear bombs," the foreign minister said. Syria has accused the United States of helping Israel conduct the Sept. 6 raid that Washington said destroyed a reactor built with the help of North Korea. Syria said the site was a normal military complex while Israeli officials have kept quiet on the nature of the target. Unlike Syria, Israel has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. It is widely believed to have the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, developed over decades with Western help. Syria and Israel began indirect peace talks months after the raid. Moualem said the Turkish-mediated talks had their "ups and downs" but he expected a third round of negotiations to take place in Turkey soon.