WASHINGTON (CN) – President Obama and the heads of France and Britain on Friday announced the discovery of a secret underground nuclear-enrichment facility in Iran, an alleged deception that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said would “shock and anger the international community.”
Obama, Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy gave the Iranian government two months to comply with international demands or face increased sanctions.
The revelation came one day after the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a nuclear non-proliferation resolution.
White House officials said the United States has known about the secret facility for “some time” and predicted it could be functional within the next few months. The underground plant is reportedly 100 miles from Tehran, near the city of Qum, and is designed to hold about 3,000 centrifuge machines.
“It cannot produce a significant quantity of low-enriched uranium,” a senior administration official said at a press briefing. “But if you want to use the facility in order to produce a small amount of weapons-grade uranium, enough for a bomb or two a year, it’s the right size.”
The same official said the Obama administration decided to come forward with information about the facility after it became clear that Iranian intelligence had caught wind of its discovery.
The secret plant was likely built following the 2002 discovery of a similar underground nuclear-enrichment facility called Natanz, the official added. When Iran continued to build Natanz despite U.N. resolutions calling for a suspension of all activity, the international community began to carefully monitor the site.
“It was evident to everybody that if the Iranians wanted to pursue a nuclear weapons option, the use of the Natanz facility was a very unattractive approach,” the official said, referring to the inspections and safeguards at the plant.
“So the obvious option for Iran would be to build another secret underground enrichment facility,” the official said. “And not surprisingly, we found one.”
Obama, Sarkozy and Brown demanded that Iran open up the plant for inspection.
“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 entire international community,” Brown said. “The international community has no choice today but to draw a line in the sand.”
Iranian diplomats have insisted that they are not developing nuclear weapons and, during meetings at U.N. headquarters in New York, called the allegations “preposterous.”
Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, later admitted that Iran was building a semi-industrial nuclear enrichment compound that it had not disclosed to the international community, but said the facility follows international regulations, the Islam Society of North America reported.
However, U.S. officials said they believe the United States now has “irrefutable evidence” that the secret facility was intended for uranium enrichment.
The International Atomic Energy Agency was briefed Thursday at its headquarters in Vienna and is reported to be following up “very vigorously.”
Iran notified the agency in a short letter Monday that it has a “pilot plant” under construction.
It reportedly began building the facility before it backed out of a nuclear safeguards agreement with the agency, requiring it to declare new nuclear plants.
Officials called the discovery another example of Iran’s “disturbing” nuclear program.
Iran is scheduled to hold a meeting next week in Geneva with the five permanent U.N. members and Germany.
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