Six months after the revelation of a secret nuclear enrichment site in Iran, international inspectors and Western intelligence agencies say they suspect that Tehran is preparing to build more sites in defiance of United Nations (UN) demands.
The UN inspectors assigned to monitor Iran’s nuclear program are now searching for evidence of two such sites, prompted by recent comments by a top Iranian official that drew little attention in the West, and are looking into a mystery about the whereabouts of recently manufactured uranium enrichment equipment.
In an interview with the Iranian Student News Agency, the official, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had ordered work to begin soon on two new plants. The plants, he said, “will be built inside mountains,” presumably to protect them from attacks.
“God willing,” Salehi was quoted as saying, “we may start the construction of two new enrichment sites” in the Iranian new year, which began March 21.
The revelation that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, now believe there may be two new sites comes at a crucial moment in the White House’s attempts to impose tough new sanctions against Iran.
When President Obama publicly revealed the evidence of the hidden site at Qum last September, his aides had hoped the announcement would make it easier to win international support for a fourth round of economic sanctions, particularly from a reluctant China and Russia. Since then the White House has been struggling to persuade those countries to go along with the toughest sanctions and the administration is now being forced to scale back its proposed list of sanctions.
The UN inspectors operate separately from the diplomats who are developing sanctions. Still, the disclosures may be intended to underscore the belief of Western officials that the Iranian efforts are speeding ahead, and the assertions could aid in efforts to press Iran to open up locations long closed to inspectors.