By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 25, 2009 5:37 PM
NEW YORK, Sept. 25 -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Friday sternly denied charges by the United States, France and Britain that his government had sought to conceal a nuclear enrichment facility, insisting that Tehran had met its legal obligation to inform the U.N.'s key nuclear agency of its activities and that it had invited inspections of the facility.
"It's not a secret facility," Ahmadinejad told reporters at a press conference at the Intercontinental Hotel. "What we did was completely legal."
The Iranian president said his government had recently notified the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of its plans to operate the new facility. He said the Vienna-based nuclear energy agency "will come and take a look and produce a report and nothing new."
Ahmadinejad's remarks came hours after President Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown accused Iran of pursuing a clandestine uranium enrichment facility in violation of U.N. rules.
Ahmadinejad said that the United States and its European partners were seeking to exploit the latest nuclear revelation to turn the international community against Iran, and to strengthen their negotiation position on the eve of Oct. 1 nuclear talks. He said Obama's contention that the facility was not for peaceful purposes was not true. "I don't think Mr. Obama is a nuclear expert," he said. "We have to leave it to the IAEA and let the IAEA carry out its duty."
At the crux of the dispute between Iran and the West is a difference of opinion over Iran's obligation to notify the IAEA of its plan to build nuclear facilities. Ahmadinejad claims that Iran is not required to notify the IAEA of its intention to construct a nuclear facility until six months before it begins operation, citing a longstanding IAEA policy.
The IAEA has persuaded most countries with the capacity to produce nuclear power to agree to notify the IAEA before they begin construction. Iran reached a similar agreement with the agency in 2003, but then withdrew from the accord four years later, when nuclear talks with the West collapsed. The IAEA maintains that Iran is still bound by that agreement, but that its failure to abide by it does not constitute a formal violation of its obligations, according to David Albright, a former U.N. nuclear inspector and now the head of the Institute for Science and International Security.