Iran Threatened With More Sanctions After Revealing Second Enrichment Plant
By Ron Synovitz
The leaders of the United States, France, and Britain have condemned Tehran for building a second uranium enrichment facility in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed earlier in the day that Tehran had admitted the existence of a second uranium-enrichment facility in Iran, in addition to the one at Natanz. The disclosure came in the form of a letter sent on September 21 to IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei.
Iran's president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, responded by warning that Western powers would "regret" the accusation that his government was hiding a "secret site" and said inspectors would be allowed into the facility.
Standing beside British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, U.S. President Barack Obama called on Iran to immediately open the facility to UN nuclear inspectors.
"The existence of this facility underscores Iran's continuing unwillingness to meet its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions and IAEA requirements," Obama said. "We expect the IAEA to immediately investigate this disturbing information and to report to the IAEA board of governors."
Obama said Iran has a right to develop peaceful nuclear power. But he said the size and configuration of the newly disclosed facility is not consistent with Tehran's claims that its nuclear program is aimed only at developing nuclear energy.
"Iran must comply with UN Security Council resolutions and make clear it is willing to meet its responsibilities as a member of the community of nations," Obama said. "We have offered Iran a clear path toward greater international integration if it lives up to its obligations, and that offer stands. But the Iranian government must now demonstrate through deeds its peaceful intentions, or be held accountable to international standards and international law."
'Level Of Deception'
British Prime Minister Brown said the United States, France, and the United Kingdom are "at one" in the belief that Iran's nuclear program is "the most urgent proliferation challenge" that the world currently faces.
"The level of deception by the Iranian government and the scale of what we believe is the breach of international commitments will shock and anger the whole international community and it will harden our resolve," Brown told the G-20 summit. "Confronted by the serial deception of many years, the international community has no choice today but to draw a line in the sand."
Sarkozy also accused Tehran of committing a serious violation of UN resolutions that has strengthened suspicions that it is trying to build nuclear weapons.
The three leaders stressed that Tehran should expect further international isolation -- including a possible fourth round of UN sanctions -- if it does not disclose all details about its nuclear program to the international community by October 1.
Mark Fitzpatrick, a nuclear nonproliferation expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said that Iran is obliged under its nuclear safeguards agreement to report to the IAEA the planning of facilities like the uranium enrichment plant.
Fitzpatrick told RFE/RL that the presence of a second Iranian enrichment plant should have been disclosed by Tehran long ago.
"I've long expected that Iran had another enrichment plant at some undisclosed location," Fitzpatrick said. "It stands to reasons that Iran eventually would have to bring this to light."
Fitzpatrick said Iran is obliged under its safeguards agreement to report to the IAEA the planning of facilities like a uranium enrichment plant. But Iran unilaterally withdrew its obligation.
"Iran a few years ago unilaterally withdrew its obligation to make such initial reporting," he told RFE/RL. "I think Iran is way behind in reporting this facility. It will be very interesting to learn more about it -- how far advanced it is and what its purpose was."
Meanwhile, an exiled Iranian opposition group in France has released satellite images and details about what it claims are two sites in Iran that are used to research and build nuclear weapons. It is the National Council of Resistance of Iran -- a political arm of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran).
Experts said the group's claims could not immediately be verified. The IAEA is investigating the information.
The Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) is on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist organizations for its past activities. Iran and Iraq also consider the Mujahedin-e-Khalq to be a terrorist group. But the group says it has changed and is now peaceful.
Fitzpatrick said the Mujahedin-e-Khalq has some credibility because of "stunning and very useful revelations" it has made about Iran's nuclear program in the past.
"They were the ones who broke the news about Iran's enrichment plant at Natanz and its research reactor at Araq back in 2002," Fitzpatrick said. "That's what led to the unraveling of Iran's secret program."
"But the MEK has also made some allegations about other aspects of Iran's program which have not proven to be true. So its record is mixed," Fitzpatrick continued. "These latest revelations we have to take with some grain of salt -- and not automatically believe them -- but not dismiss them either."
Fitzpatrick said the exiled Iranian opposition group's claims also bolster allegations from Washington, London, and Paris that Tehran is secretly trying to build nuclear weapons.
"The world's focus is on Iran and its march to acquire the capability for a nuclear weapon," he said. "It is not surprising that more information would be coming out from various sources about Iran's plans because so much of what they are doing is still opaque -- if not totally secret. There has been a lot of interest and concern about what else they may be up to."
President Ahmadinejad responded late in the day by saying that "we don't have any problems with [IAEA] inspections of the facility," according to Reuters.
"We have no fears," he added at a New York news conference.
Ahmadinejad said Iran was also hoping to buy enriched uranium for medical purposes from any country willing to sell it, and was hopeful that October 1 talks with Western powers concerned over its nuclear program would help decrease tension.
He warned that those countries would "regret" accusing Iran of hiding a nuclear fuel facility.
"It's not a secret site," Ahmadinejad said. "If it was, why would we have informed the IAEA about it a year ahead of time?"
"They will regret this announcement."
Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, a private group based in Washington that seeks to improve understanding of weapons issues, tells RFE/RL's Radio Farda that Iran still could come back into compliance with its international obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
He claims the country "would have to give up the fuel-making" and "to make sure that there wasn't any fuel-making going on covertly, you would have to open that country up to at least several hundred [IAEA inspectors] roaming the countryside for quite a while."
Iran, he says, could then operate its reactors in a way that might satisfy international skeptics.
"You'd have to have [around-the-clock] on-site inspectors," Sokolski says. "Second, you would have to have what's called near real-time surveillance of the fuel -- that is, a secure satellite link to the cameras and sensors [in the reactors] to make sure that they were on and not being interfered with."
Sokolski says the international community also needs to understand that safeguards like the IAEA aren't infallible, and that any future inspection regime in Iran would have to be far larger and stricter than anyone might now anticipate.
with additional agency and RFE/RL reports
Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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