Iran: UN criticism prompted new nuke plans

Iran's decision to build 10 new uranium enrichment facilities followed a critical UN report

Published November 30, 2009 8:00AM (EST)

Iran's nuclear chief asserted Monday that the U.N. atomic watchdog's critical report was pushing Tehran to develop new nuclear facilities. France, meanwhile, pressed for new sanctions against Iran, saying diplomacy was not working.

A Russian minister visiting Iran, however, attempted to defuse the situation by maintaining that there were still a good chance for negotiations to resolve the crisis.

Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi told state radio that Iran's decision to build 10 new uranium enrichment facilities was necessary after the International Atomic Energy Agency's resolution Friday demanded that Iran halt all enrichment activities.

Any new plants would take years to build and stock with centrifuges -- if the material could even be obtained under U.N. sanctions -- but the ambitious plans were a bold show by Iran that it won't back down amid a deadlock in negotiations.

The U.S. and its allies fear the facilities give Iran the capability to produce weapons-grade nuclear material and have called for an immediate halt to the enrichment of uranium.

French Defense Minister Herve Morin said that after Iran's decision Sunday the international community should "probably commit toward new economic sanctions against Iran."

"It's clear for weeks that the extended hand of Barack Obama and the extended hand of the international community, in an approach of transparency ... are not working," Morin told France-Inter radio Monday.

"Intelligence services of various countries, and notably French intelligence services, are giving us enough elements to be convinced that this (Iranian nuclear) program does not have civilian ends," he added.

Iran has rejected such claims, saying its uranium enrichment facilities will only produce fuel for nuclear reactors to generate electricity.

Despite the rising tension over Iran's nuclear program, the country's parliament speaker insisted on Monday that a diplomatic solution was possible.

"Still, there is a diplomatic opportunity ... under which Iran will continue its (nuclear) work under international surveillance," he said, even while hardline elements in the country have called for severing of ties with international regulating bodies.

Visiting Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko on Saturday urged Iran to continue cooperating with the IAEA and talking with the U.S. and its allies.

"We are not interested in the deterioration of the situation at all," he said. "There are good capacities for the continuation of talks."

On Sunday, Cabinet ordered the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to begin building new nuclear facilities at five sites that have already been studied and propose five other locations for future construction within two months.

The new sites are to be on the same scale of Iran's only other industrial enrichment plant currently in operation, near the town of Natanz in central Iran.

"We had no intention of building many facilities like the Natanz site, but apparently the West doesn't want to understand Iran's peaceful message," Salehi said.

Salehi, who is also the head of Iran's nuclear program, said the IAEA resolution backed by six world powers left no option for Iran but to give a firm response.

"The action by 5+1 (U.S., Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany) at the IAEA prompted the (Iranian) government to approve a proposal to build 10 sites like that of Natanz," he said.

On Sunday, Salehi said Iran would build its new sites inside mountains to protect it from possible attack because Iran has decided not to let its nuclear activities stop "even for a moment."

Iran aims to generate 20,000 megawatts of electricity through nuclear power plants in the next 20 years. Iranian officials say the new enrichment facilities are needed to produce enough fuel for its future nuclear power plants.

Ahmadinejad told the Cabinet that Iran will need to install 500,000 centrifuges at the planned facilities to produce between 250 to 300 tons of fuel annually.

The IAEA resolution came after Iran rejected a U.N.-backed plan to ship most of its stock of uranium abroad for further enrichment.

The UN-brokered plan required Iran to send 1.2 tons (1,100 kilograms) of low-enriched uranium -- around 70 percent of its stockpile -- to Russia in one batch by the end of the year, easing concerns the material would be used for a bomb.

After further enrichment in Russia, France would convert the uranium into fuel rods that would be returned to Iran for use in a reactor in Tehran that produces medical isotopes. Fuel rods cannot be further enriched into weapons-grade material.

Iran had indicated that it may agree to send only "part" of its stockpile in several shipments. Should the talks fail to help Iran obtain the fuel from abroad, Iran has threatened to enrich uranium to the higher level needed to power the research reactor itself domestically.

Salehi said the Iranian Cabinet will discuss the issue Wednesday, but didn't give any further details.


Associated Press Writer Ingrid Rousseau contributed to this report from Paris.

By Ali Akbar Dareini

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