Tehran Informs IAEA of Second Uranium Enrichment Site

The Islamic Republic has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency that it is working on a second uranium enrichment site, which was kept secret until last week.

Last Friday, Ali Akbar Salehi, chief of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, confirmed that the Islamic Republic was in fact building a new uranium enrichment plant and alluded to the fact that UN inspectors would be allowed to visit the previously secret site. The Islamic Republic acknowledged the existence of the nuclear facility for the first time last week in a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Tehran’s letter to the IAEA stated that “a new pilot fuel enrichment plant is under construction.”

President Ahmadi-nejad told a news conference last week that his country had complied with UN rules that required it to inform the IAEA six months before a uranium enrichment facility became operational, adding that the newly declared facility woudn’t be operational for another 18 months.

Tehran revealed information about the plant to the UN for the first time September 21; Tehran had previously acknowledged it had only one enrichment plant, at Natanz.

Salehi presented the facility as new, saying the country had achieved a “successful new step in the direction of preserving and enjoying its accepted right for peaceful use of nuclear energy.” He added that the Islamic Republic was “now in the process of building a semi-industrial plant for enriching nuclear fuel,” according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

“The activities of this facility, like other nuclear facilities in Iran, will be in the framework of the measures of the agency (IAEA),” he said.

At the Group of 20 summit in Pittsburgh last Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy threatened a new round of sanctions if the Islamic Republic did not come clean about its nuclear program, and for the first time, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signaled that Russia may not object to new sanctions on Iran.

After a bilateral meeting between Obama and Medvedev last week, the Russian leader said, “Russia’s position is clear: sanctions rarely lead to productive results but in some cases sanctions are inevitable.”

China maintained its stance against sanctions but said the Islamic Republic should work with the UN nuclear watchdog.

Speaking about the Iranian situation last Friday, Obama said, “Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow… and threatening the stability and security of the region and the world.” He went on to say that the Islamic Republic’s action “represents a direct challenge to the basic foundation of the non-proliferation regime.

“It is time for Iran to act immediately to restore the confidence of the international community by fulfilling its international obligations. We remain committed to serious, meaningful engagement with Iran to address the nuclear issue through the P5+1 negotiations,” Obama said just days before the scheduled October 1 meeting between Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, the United States and Iran in Geneva.

But speaking in New York that same day about Tehran’s revelation of its second nuclear site, Ahmadi-nejad said, “It’s not a secret site. If it was, why would we have informed the IAEA about it a year ahead of time?”

The Islamic Republic has long said its nuclear program is not up for negotiation, but recently the Iranian president hinted that he may be willing to disucss the controversial program during the upcoming October meeting. The Obama administration has said it would bring up the issue of Iran’s nuclear program regardless of whether Iran is willing to talk about it.

The international community has come out strong against Iran in recent days. France gave the Islamic Republic a December deadline to comply or else face new international sanctions, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany was “very worried” about the construction of an additional nuclear site, Russia said it was surprised by Iran’s new disclosure of its second nuclear site, while China urged the country to cooperate with United Nations inspectors, but said it still wanted a negotiated solution.

IAEA spokesman Marc Vidricaire said Iran had stated that it intended to enrich uranium at the new plant, like its Natanz complex, only to the five per cent level suitable for power plant fuel. Since its revelations to the IAEA, the Agency has asked the Islamic Republic to provide access to and information about the plant as soon as possible.

According to the BBC, the new facility is said to be located underground at a mountain on the site of a former missile site belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, north-east of the holy city of Qom. Construction on the nuclear site, which is believed to be large enough to contain 3,000 centrifuges, began in mid-2006, diplomatic sources said.

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