Iran's foreign minister says a new uranium enrichment facility near the city of Qom is being constructed to produce fuel for the country's nuclear power plants.
"In order to generate the fuel needed for these power plants, we need to build these facilities in the country," Manouchehr Mottaki, speaking through a translator, tells NPR's Steve Inskeep.
Last week, it was revealed that Iran has been building the previously unknown uranium enrichment facility for the past several years.
The new plant, located 100 miles southwest of Tehran, is the second known Iranian enrichment facility. Iran had previously acknowledged having only one plant, under international monitoring, near the city of Natanz. President Obama said the site and configuration of the newly disclosed plant are "inconsistent" with Iran's stated goal of producing peaceful nuclear energy and shows that Iran is on "a path that is going to lead to confrontation."
Iranian diplomats are meeting with their counterparts from the U.S. and five other world powers Thursday for discussions the U.S. hopes will lead to a freeze of Iran's nuclear program. In the short term, the U.S. and the other countries want international inspectors to visit the new uranium enrichment site.
A transcript of Inskeep's interview with Mottaki follows:
Steve Inskeep: Would you explain for us simply, what are you building there?
Manouchehr Mottaki: According to the law approved by the parliament, the government has to generate 20,000 megawatts of electricity for the country in order to meet the domestic requirements. It means that Iran needs to build at least 10 nuclear power plants. In order to generate the fuel needed for these power plants, we need to build these facilities in the country. And fortunately, over the past years, Iran has succeeded in being self-sufficient for producing the nuclear fuel.
You have stated, I understand, that this is for civilian purposes to develop fuel for as many as 10 nuclear power plants. But in order to enrich uranium for even one or two power plants, you would need 50,000 centrifuges. And it's my understanding that at this site, there is a plan for only 3,000 — not nearly enough to build fuel for a civilian power plant, but enough to create fuel for an atomic weapon. Am I mistaken about that?
The numbers about 3,000 centrifuges is not correct.
How many centrifuges are you going to build then, at that specific facility at Qom?
I have no technical expertise to explain the exact situation. But I am sure that that is going to be done within the framework of our requirements.
But you've said 3,000 is wrong. What is the right number?
I think the last figures, sometime ago, they talked about 7,000 centrifuges.
That still sounds, if I don't misunderstand this issue, a little low for creating 10 civilian nuclear power plants.
I think we should focus or pay attention to the trends; we cannot count them one by one.
Meaning that you have a number of facilities around the country, at which you are working at once?
No, I don't mean that. I'm just referring to the number of centrifuges.
I'd like to ask another question if I might, Mr. Foreign Minister. If this is for civilian power, why is it being constructed on a Revolutionary Guard base, a military base?
One of our focuses is the geographical position for security purposes. In the past two years we have been facing threats on the part of some countries. The former U.S. administration always threatened Iran. And in the past few months, the Zionist regime repeated its threats against Iran. Although, they know very well that if they do that, they would regret. But, I am not going to confirm or endorse the news that this site has been constructed on a military site. But, surely, it is in a place where security can be maintained.
Manouchehr Mottaki is Iran's foreign minister. Our conversation also touched on Iran's disputed presidential election. We asked about the arrest and torture of protesters that followed. The torture of prisoners devastated America's image, so we wondered about Iran's.
What has the damage been to Iran's image abroad as you see it?
The Western media, especially some European ones, tried to distort the realities and undermine our glorious presidential elections. But, as you know, the sun could never be hidden under the clouds. And you can see the sun very well. And you can see that from New York or Washington.