Ahmadinejad vows dramatic expansion of Iran's nuclear program

Ahmadinejad said construction on some facilities will begin soon.
Ahmadinejad said construction on some facilities will begin soon. (Eraldo Peres/associated Press)
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By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, November 30, 2009; 11:17 AM

TEHRAN -- A top Iranian nuclear official said Monday that the country's decision to build 10 more uranium-enrichment sites is a direct response to last week's censure by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The facilities will be built inside mountains, the official added, to secure them from military attack.

"We had no intention of building many facilities like the Natanz site," Ali Akbar Salehi told state radio, referring to an enrichment plant that was launched in the 1990s but is still not fully operational. "But apparently the West doesn't want to understand Iran's peaceful message."

The head of Iran's parliament, former nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, accused Western nations of "haggling," "lying" and "cheating" during talks over Iran's nuclear program. Larijani also questioned the usefulness of the IAEA, the U.N. international watchdog agency, and the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which calls for curbing the spread of nuclear weapons but encourages member countries to share peaceful nuclear technology.

"If any country really wants to obtain nuclear energy, they should not try and obtain it though the IAEA and the NPT, because they won't do anything," Larijani said in a news conference. "The West is at a crossroad. Either they accept our nuclear program, or Iran will use its own capabilities."

In a sign of growing hostility toward the West, Iran's parliament on Sunday called on the government to reduce ties with the IAEA -- a move that could limit the agency's access to Iranian nuclear sites. Some parliamentarians suggested that Iran should leave the treaty all together, though analysts doubt that Iran would make such a move.

The plan to build 10 new enrichment sites was announced Sunday by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The move, which was broadly condemned in Europe, would constitute a dramatic expansion of Iran's nuclear program and would inevitably fuel fears that Iran is attempting to produce a nuclear weapon.

Russia, France and Germany said they were concerned about the expansion, which would violate four demands by the U.N. Security Council that Iran stop enriching uranium.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Iran should be given a "last chance" in talks over its atomic program. His German counterpart, Guido Westerwelle, warned Iran that the patience of the international community is not endless. A Russian Foreign Ministry official said the country was "seriously concerned," Reuters news agency reported.

U.S. officials reacted cautiously to the announcement on Sunday. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that Iran's plans, if carried out, "would be yet another serious violation of Iran's clear obligations under multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and another example of Iran choosing to isolate itself."

Less than a year after President Obama pledged to engage Iran, U.S. efforts at rapprochement have yielded little in return, and relations between the sides now appear to be headed toward a more confrontational phase.

Ahmadinejad told the official Islamic Republic News Agency that construction of at least five nuclear facilities is to begin within two months.

The surprise announcement came two days after the IAEA's censure over the Islamic republic's refusal to stop enriching uranium, a key demand of Western powers. The 35-member board of the agency also criticized Iran's construction of a second enrichment plant near Qom, southwest of Tehran.

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