By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, September 26, 2009 4:23 PM
TEHRAN, Sept. 26 -- The head of Iran's nuclear program said he was "shocked" by the West's angry reaction to news that his country is opening a second uranium enrichment facility, which he said was disclosed a year earlier than required by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, state television reported Saturday.
Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said the facility 60 miles south of Tehran would be completed within "a year and a half to two years," the Arabic language state news channel Al Alam quoted him as saying.
He stressed that the facility, like other declared nuclear sites in the country, would be open to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The United States, France and Britain denounced Iran's plans Friday at the Group of 20 conference in Pittsburgh. "Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow," President Obama said, condemning the site as a "covert uranium enrichment facility" that Western intelligence discovered years ago and has since been monitoring.
National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said Saturday: "We call on Iran to cooperate fully and immediately with the IAEA. As our partners in Russia and China made clear Friday, we all support the authority of the IAEA to conduct a full investigation. After hiding this site from the international community for years, full transparency is essential, and it is time for Iran to play by the rules like everyone else."
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called the facility a legal and proper attempt to provide nuclear energy for his people.
Salehi said the Western leaders' "embarrassing reaction and their unbalanced response has shocked us" and that Iran had acted within the framework of IAEA laws. "We have to inform the agency of the building of nuclear facilities 180 days before insertion of nuclear fuel, but we informed them even sooner," he said.
Salehi said the Western reactions were planned and accused the United States, France and Britain of hatching a conspiracy against Iran. "The plot was that the three big Western countries were to speak against Iran at the G-20 summit and spin the story to make the world opinion united against Iran," he said.
Another Iranian official, Hassan Ghashghavi, said Iran's declaration of the new site was on time and a sign of goodwill. "But unfortunately, some Western governments resorted to propaganda and incorrectly created a biased atmosphere," he said, according to the state news agency IRNA.
Other Iranian officials reacted more defiantly. "This new plant, God willing, will soon become operational," said Mohammad Mohammadi-Golpayegani, the semi-official Fars News Agency reported. Mohammadi-Golpayegani heads the office of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Salehi told state television on Friday that the new site was built to protect the country's nuclear program. "We built a new installation that could guarantee the continuation of our nuclear activities. Iran's nuclear activities will not be stopped under any circumstances," he said.
Israel has repeatedly threatened to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities.
Friday's announcement came in the run-up to the first international talks about Iran's nuclear program in more than a year. On Thursday, a senior Iranian diplomat is scheduled to meet in Geneva with counterparts from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, a group known as the P5 plus one. U.S. officials have described the meeting as a key moment in the long nuclear standoff.
Meanwhile, Iran's revolutionary Guards Corp, which is celebrating armed forces week, announced plans for large-scale missile drills on Sunday. Code-named Great Prophet-4, the aim of the maneuvers is to "carry out annual defense missions and maintain and enhance the deterrent capabilities of the Islamic Republic of Iran's armed forces," the Guards Corps' public relations said, according to Fars news.