Iran Warned To Come Clean On Nuclear Plans

The leaders of France, Britain and the United States are warning Iran that it'll be "held accountable" unless it comes clean about its nuclear ambitions. The statements at the G-20 economic summit in Pittsburgh came after the disclosure that Iran had kept a secret nuclear facility hidden from weapons inspectors.

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:

I'm Linda Wertheimer, and this is what Britain's prime minister declared today about Iran.

GORDON BROWN: Confronted by the serial deception of many years, the international community has no choice today but to draw a line in the sand.

WERTHEIMER: Prime Minister Gordon Brown, President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy stood together this morning. They demanded action after Iran admitted to having a secret nuclear facility.

INSKEEP: We're gonna begin our coverage now with NPR's Don Gonyea. He's been following developments from Pittsburgh, where the announcement came at a summit of leaders of the world's largest economies. Don's in our studios live. Don, good morning.

DON GONYEA: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How was this news revealed?

GONYEA: This is a complicated story, Steve. The US has known about this facility that Iran has been keeping secret for, administration officials say, some time now. Now, what happened is the Iranians learned that their security had been breached, and on Monday of this week, sent a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency acknowledging it. But what we started to hear last night - and this is when the story started to break - was that the US, Britain and France, at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh - very convenient that they're all together - would make this announcement this morning, telling the world what the US has known for some time.

WERTHEIMER: And denouncing Iran, but what do these world leaders, what are they gonna do about this thing?

GONYEA: In some ways, again, we're still in the early stages of this, in terms of it being something people are talking about publicly. But in some ways, at least for now, it feels like they are treating it as reinforcing the need to do what they have already been calling for, which is sanctions against Iran. But we did hear this morning, President Sarkozy mentioned it, that Iran has to change its behavior and do something by December.

We have always heard that the coming months are critical, that we're in a critical time, but we have heard now, December, and there will be a very strong push at the United Nations and elsewhere to really ratchet up the pressure with sanctions and then who knows what else at this point on Iran.

WERTHEIMER: Let's bring another voice into this conversation. NPR's Mike Shuster covers nuclear issues. He's also a regular visitor to Iran. He's on the line with us from California. Mike, based on what's known so far, what is this secret nuclear plant?

MIKE SHUSTER: Well, Linda, this looks like the way that the US intelligence community believes Iran would seek to acquire the technology to make a nuclear weapon. Earlier this year, the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, in testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said he believes that if Iran decides to go for a nuclear weapon, it would do it clandestinely, it wouldn't do it through the known uranium enrichment facilities and other known nuclear sites in Iran, but it would seek to establish secret - an entirely covert secret operation that would produce highly enriched uranium, and then would be incorporated into a bomb.

And this seems to be evidence of why the US intelligence community believed that, there seems to be an awareness on the part of the intelligence community that the secret facility which is being - which is said to be built in a mountain about 100 miles southwest of Tehran, was meant to keep away entirely from the prying eyes of inspectors from the IAEA, but the United States says it knew about this for quite some time.

INSKEEP: So, Mike Shuster, let's listen to another statement by the three leaders. This is President Obama speaking earlier today.

BARACK OBAMA: Iran's decision to build yet another nuclear facility, without notifying the IAEA, represents a direct challenge to the basic compact of the center of the non-proliferation regime. These rules are clear.

INSKEEP: All right, Mike Shuster, what are the rules that will apply to Iran in this situation?

SHUSTER: Well, Iran is a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty, and it has what is known as a safeguards agreement with the IAEA, which means that it's supposed to declare all of its nuclear facilities, and allow the IAEA to send in inspectors and confirm that that's just for civilian purposes and that nothing is being diverted for military purposes.

The issue here is what is this facility for? The Iranians have already indicated what their defense would be. They say that they're transparent about this. They informed the IAEA, they say, on Monday, and the IAEA has confirmed that, that Iran sent a letter to the IAEA that this second facility exists. But the Iranians claim they're not required legally to inform the IAEA about new plans for nuclear facilities until about six months before they intend to introduce nuclear material into those facilities.

And it doesn't look like we're anywhere near six months before they're going to introduce nuclear materials. And in fact, the US says that no nuclear material, the US believes, has been introduced in this secret plant. So the Iranians claim that they're on safe and legal ground, though, as far as what they've done.

INSKEEP: So we have some sense of the Iranian position there. The International Atomic Energy Agency now has demanded an immediate inspection of this facility. Do they have the legal right to do that?

SHUSTER: Yes, they certainly do. Once the IAEA learns of nuclear facilities in a country that has an agreement with it, and Iran does, as I've said, then they're within their legal rights to demand a visit, and the likelihood is that they'll get an opportunity to see what is actually being constructed there quite soon.

WERTHEIMER: Let's listen for, to some more of this morning's announcement by the leaders of the US and France as well as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

INSKEEP: Let the message that goes out to the world be absolutely clear, that Iran must abandon any military ambitions for its nuclear program.

WERTHEIMER: Let me just ask you one quick question. Mike, does this slow down Iran - the possibility that Iran will build a bomb? Does this throw some kind of a hitch into their, whatever they're trying to do?

SHUSTER: There's no question that whenever secret activities connected to nuclear weapons development or nuclear development, in general, are revealed, it slows down the process. It certainly did that in 2002 and 2003 when we first learned that Iran was developing in secret a uranium enrichment facility and a program. And this is likely to slow it down much further. And in fact, from what little we know about this secret facility, it suggests that its been developed quite slowly in recent years anyway, in order to keep away from the eyes of the IAEA, and to try to avoid the United States and other intelligence agencies finding out about it.

INSKEEP: So pretty dramatic that this information is exposed, and that could make a difference in the pace of Iran's nuclear program, but I want to put a question to Don Gonyea who's still with us, our White House correspondent. The stagecraft of this, impressive to have the leaders of US, Britain and France all making the same statement on the same stage, but we have to note, there were 17 other world leaders in Pittsburgh who were not on that stage today.

GONYEA: Exactly. And most notably the absence of Russia and of China. The one other country that was mentioned was Germany. President Obama noted that Chancellor Merkel could not be there, but that she did agree with the position being put forth by these three leaders. But Russia, they have this week at the United Nations, the President held a bilateral meeting with President Medvedev, he did seem to - if not get on the board directly with sanctions, state that it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

We do not know why he wasn't there. Maybe they're just getting the news. We do know that in the separate meeting that the President had with the Chinese president, that they talked at length about Iran, but the US did not reveal to China that we knew about this secret facility.

INSKEEP: Mike Shuster, very briefly, what's all this mean for these meetings scheduled in October, where Iran, the US and other nations are supposed to discuss Iran's nuclear program?

SHUSTER: The first meeting is supposed to take place October 1st, next week, and this will put even more sharp pressure on Iran to explain what they're doing, and to come clean. It puts Iran on the defensive, and it's not clear that Iran is going to be able to regain the offensive this quickly.

INSKEEP: Mike, thanks very much.

SHUSTER: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Mike Shuster, along with NPR's Don Gonyea reporting on Iran this morning. You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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