U.N. chief, Europeans chide Iran's new atom plant

Sunday, September 27, 2009
A May 14, 2009 photo taken from 423 miles in space and released Friday, August 21, 2009 by GeoEye Satellite Image shows Iranís uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz. Iran has revealed the existence of a second secret uranium-enrichment plant, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Friday, Sept. 25, 2009. One official, who had access to a review of Western intelligence on the issue, said it was about 100 miles (160 kilometers) southwest of Tehran and was the site of 3,000 centrifuges that could be operational by next year. Iranian officials had previously acknowledged having only one plant, Natanz, which is under IAEA monitoring _ and had denied allegations of undeclared nuclear activities. (AP Photo/GeoEye Satellite Image)

UNITED NATIONS-- Iran's sudden revelation of a formerly secret uranium enrichment plant brought more condemnation Saturday at the U.N. General Assembly, with the Netherlands calling Tehran's presumed weapons program "a major challenge to international peace and security."

Slovakia's Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak joined the chorus of outrage, rebuking "Iran's continued defiance of its international obligations, including the Security Council's demands to suspend its nuclear activities."

The denunciations came hours after Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met privately Friday night with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about Tehran's nuclear ambitions, and about respect for human rights in Iran.

A statement from Ban's office said he "expressed his grave concern about ... the construction of a new uranium enrichment facility in the country."

Ban "emphasized that the burden of proof is on Iran," in an unusually skeptical comment.

On Saturday, Iran's nuclear chief said his country will allow the U.N. nuclear agency to inspect its newly revealed, still unfinished uranium enrichment facility near Qom.

Ali Akbar Salehi didn't specify when inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency could visit the site. He said the timing will be worked out with the U.N. watchdog agency.

The maneuvering comes ahead of a Thursday meeting of diplomats from Iran, the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany on Tehran's nuclear program.

The U.S. and its five partners plan to tell Tehran at that meeting in Geneva that it must provide "unfettered access" to its previously secret Qom enrichment facility within weeks, a senior Obama administration official said in Washington.

The six major powers also will present a so-called transparency package covering all of Iran's nuclear activities, the official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss plans that are not yet ready to be announced.

The six countries will demand full access for the International Atomic Energy Agency to any and every site, notebooks, computers and documents related to nuclear development, and all scientists.

They will demand that Iran prove to the increasingly skeptical group that its intentions with its various sites are peaceful and energy-related, as Iran claims, and not for weapons development, as the West believes, the official said Saturday.

Earlier Saturday, President Barack Obama offered Iran "a serious, meaningful dialogue" over its disputed nuclear program, while warning Tehran of grave consequences from a united global front.

Obama said that evidence of Iran's building the underground plant "continues a disturbing pattern of Iranian evasion" that jeopardizes global nonproliferation.

Iran's failure to comply with international inspectors raised the potential of tougher economic penalties, although Obama and administration officials did not rule out military action.

Evidence of the clandestine facility was presented Friday by Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the G-20 economic summit in Pittsburgh. The news overshadowed developments on regulating financial markets and reducing fossil fuel subsidies.

Soon after, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, at his own news conference, urged Iran to cooperate, as did Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei. He, however, did not endorse penalties against Tehran.

Netherlands' Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, speaking Saturday at the U.N. General Assembly, said, "The recent revelation of a nuclear facility, which was long kept secret, is additional reason for great concern. It calls for a strong reaction by the international community and for total transparency by Iran."

"Iran must regain the trust of the international community, comply with relevant Security Council resolutions, and contribute to peace and stability in the Middle East."

Iran's newly revealed site is said to be in the arid mountains near the holy city of Qom, inside a heavily guarded, underground facility.

The site will house thousands of centrifuges that could enrich uranium to provide nuclear fuel for generating electricity -- or if highly enriched, be used as a payload for atomic warheads.

Salehi, Iran's nuclear chief, told Iranian state television Saturday that the government had "pre-empted a conspiracy" against Tehran by the U.S. and its allies by reporting the site voluntarily to the IAEA.

The key Western powers have given Tehran until year's end to cease enriching uranium or face new sanctions, but resistance from China could undermine any effort to mount new Security Council sanctions.

Any new U.N. sanctions would require agreement among all five permanent Security Council members. The United States, Britain and France lean toward more sanctions. Russia now appears open to such measures, but China, which is heavily reliant on Iranian oil imports, still is reluctant.

The U.S., Britain and France all mentioned Iran, along with North Korea, as obstacles to a safer world during a Security Council meeting Thursday that approved a U.S.-drafted resolution that commits all nations to achieving a nuclear weapons-free world.

Washington has been pushing for heavier sanctions if Iran does not agree to end enrichment, which many nations believe is part of Tehran's drive to build a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear program is designed for peaceful purposes to generate electricity.

But, the prospects of pushing a new sanctions resolution through the Security Council were undercut Thursday when China, one of the veto-wielding permanent members, rejected the idea.

Current U.N. sanctions on Iran are meant to prohibit exports of sensitive nuclear material and technology.

They also allow the inspection of cargo suspected of carrying prohibited goods, tighter monitoring of financial institutions and the extension of travel bans and asset freezes if linked to its nuclear program.

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