Iran's second uranium enrichment facility 'changes every equation'
President Obama will demand at the G-20 summit today that Iran open the nuclear fuel plant to inspectors immediately. If Tehran refuses, it could bolster the case for sanctions.
Iran has announced the existence of a second, previously unknown uranium-enrichment facility, prompting new fears about Iran's nuclear-weapon capabilities, according to new reports.
The New York Times suggests that Iran may have decided to reveal the second facility – a "pilot" enrichment plan – upon discovering in recent weeks that the US and its allies were aware of its existence. US officials had been monitoring the facility, located in a mountain near the Shiite holy city of Qom, for years, the Times writes. But now that Iran has publicly acknowledged the facility's existence, President Barack Obama, along with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, are set to demand Friday at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh that Iran open it to IAEA inspections immediately.
The IAEA said Iran had told [IAEA Director-General Mohamed] ElBaradei in a letter that the plant would enrich uranium only to a level needed to generate electricity.
"The agency also understands from Iran that no nuclear material has been introduced into the facility," International Atomic Energy Agency spokesman Marc Vidricaire said.
, The IAEA has been conducting daily monitoring of Iran's primary enrichment facility at Natanz, the existence of which was revealed by an Iranian exile group in 2002, according to the Associated Press.
Reuters reports that it is unknown whether the facility contains the more advanced centrifuges that Iran has been experimenting with over the last two years. Iran's facility at Natanz uses 1970s-era centrifuges, but new centrifuges could process uranium two to three times faster.
President Obama has been pushing for stricter sanctions against Iran during the UN summit this week, both at the UN Security Council and in direct meetings with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, The Christian Science Monitor reported.
The New York Times adds that US officials believe that the new facility's existence will strengthen the case for sanctions against Iran.
"They have cheated three times," one senior administration official with access to the intelligence said of the Iranians late on Thursday evening. "And they have now been caught three times."
He was referring to the revelations by an Iranian dissident group that led to the discovery of the underground plant at Natanz in 2002, and the evidence developed two years ago – after Iran's computer networks were pierced by American intelligence agencies – that the country secretly sought to design a nuclear warhead. That effort is believed by American officials to have been ordered halted in late 2003.
All the estimates about how long it would take Iran to build a nuclear arsenal are built on the assumption that the process of enriching uranium was being closely monitored by the array of IAEA cameras and inspections in Natanz. ...
This explains why Dmitry Medvedev emerged from his meeting with Obama in New York an apparently changed man, conceding that "in some cases, sanctions are inevitable".
Iran will have to do a lot now to avoid severe sanctions. It will first have to let the IAEA inspectors into the suspected plant at Qom. If the plant does exist – and it sounds like Tehran has already tried to prepare the IAEA for its existence with its recent cryptic letter about a pilot plant to the agency – then Iran would have to suspend all enrichment and agree to the IAEA's additional protocol, allowing more invasive inspections.
Mr. Borger adds that the new facility's revelation may change whether the nuclear talks scheduled for Oct. 1 between Iran, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and Germany still happen - but if they do go on, "it will be an almighty showdown."