ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Robert Siegel.
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
And Im Madeleine Brand.
A dramatic revelation today in the ongoing saga of Irans nuclear activities -the U.S. disclosed the existence of a secret uranium enrichment facility under construction in Iran. President Obama made the announcement just prior to the G-20 meeting this morning in Pittsburgh. The U.S. intelligence community suspects the facility would be used to make highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons though Iran denies that.
NPRs Mike Shuster reports.
MIKE SHUSTER: It had all the makings of a trap that the White House set for Irans President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And at first blush, it appears to have worked. Early this morning White House officials started leaking the story - a secret uranium enrichment facility under construction for several years in a mountain near the city of Qom in Iran, 100 miles south of Tehran. Only this year, U.S. officials said, that they conclude its purpose was uranium enrichment. Then President Obama went public with the story in Pittsburgh.
President BARACK OBAMA: The existence of this facility underscores Irans continuing unwillingness to meet its obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions and IAEA requirements. We expect the IAEA to immediately investigate this disturbing information and to report to the IAEA Board of Governors.
SHUSTER: The International Atomic Energy Agency first learned of the secret facility on Monday when Iran sent a letter to the IAEA acknowledging its existence. Then yesterday, the U.S. briefed the agency in detail on what it knows about the facility. Immediately, the IAEA asked for more information from Iran and access to the facility as soon as possible. For President Obama, this strengthens the case that Iran, in contrast to the denials of its leaders, does seek to acquire nuclear weapons eventually.
Pres. OBAMA: This site deepens a growing concern that Iran is refusing to live up to those international responsibilities, including specifically revealing all nuclear-related activities. The international community knows this is not the first time that Iran has concealed information about its nuclear program.
SHUSTER: The story appears to have taken Irans leaders by surprise, including President Ahmadinejad who was in New York this week for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly. Ahmadinejad was meeting with the editors of TIME magazine this morning when they informed him of Mr. Obamas announcement. TIME has posted video of the interview on its Web site.
President MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD (Iran): (Through translator) If I were Mr. Obamas adviser, I would definitely ask him to refrain from making this statement, because it is definitively a mistake. We have no secrecy, and we work within the framework of the IAEA.
SHUSTER: Iran claims it is not required to inform the IAEA of new nuclear projects until six months before the introduction of nuclear material. It appears the delivery of nuclear material in the new facility is at least that far away. That was the defense that Ahmadinejad put up today.
Pres. AHMADINEJAD: (Through translator) We are the ones whove always informed the agency of our activity within the framework defined by the rules and regulations that are there. So we dont see any problems coming up.
SHUSTER: The discovery of this new facility helps to explain the recent conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community that if Iran decides to build a nuclear weapon, it would not use the stockpile of low enriched uranium manufactured at the enrichment facility at Natanz. This is a well-known facility under constant inspection by the IAEA.
The U.S. director of national intelligence said recently Iran would more likely go the secret route and this new facility appears to bolster that conclusion. Thats how George Perkovich sees it. Perkovich is a nuclear proliferation expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Mr. GEORGE PERKOVICH (Nuclear Proliferation Expert, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): An Iranian intention to have at least the capability to produce nuclear weapons and to do that, to acquire that capability without, in their view, breaching any international legal requirement whose breach would get them basically whacked.
SHUSTER: President Obama shared the intelligence on Wednesday with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and today Chinese leaders were informed. Both nations issued statements expressing their concern about the news. The disclosure of the new site is likely to increase the pressure on Iran when it meets with the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, china and Germany next week.
Mike Shuster, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.