UN: Iran may have more secret nuclear sites
The United Nations' nuclear watchdog has said Iran may have more secret nuclear sites it is hiding from the international community.
By Richard Spencer in Dubai and Andrew Osborn in Moscow
Published: 6:38PM GMT 16 Nov 2009
The International Atomic Energy Agency said suspicions were raised after inspectors were given access to the uranium enrichment plant under construction in a mountain near the city of Qom.
It said the government had failed to provide full and credible evidence that the plant was only for civilian use, and added that construction had been continuing for longer than the Iranians had admitted.
"Iran's declaration of the new facility reduces the level of confidence in the absence of other nuclear facilities under construction and gives rise to questions about whether there were any other nuclear facilities not declared to the agency," the report said.
The construction site at Qom was revealed suddenly to the IAEA by Iran in September, but only after its existence had become known to western intelligence agencies.
The discovery led to an uproar, with western analysts saying the only purpose of such a facility, which is too small to enrich enough uranium for a nuclear power plant, was to supply a weapons programme.
Iran claimed it was being built in case its main enrichment plant at Natanz, also initially kept secret, was bombed by enemies such as Israel.
The inspectors' report said the Qom site was in an "advanced state" of construction but did not yet have centrifuges or other nuclear-related equipment.
It confirmed that it was intended to house 3,000 centrifuges, enough to enrich uranium for one nuclear weapon per year.
Satellite photos indicated initial work had taken place between 2002 and 2004, and had resumed in 2006. Iran told the inspectors it would commence operation in 2011.
The report will strengthen the resolve of the West to press Iran to hand over most of its enriched uranium under a deal proposed by the IAEA last month.
The deal has been backed by the United States, France and Russia, and there are increasing signs that Moscow, previously regarded as an Iranian ally, is ready to apply more pressure on the issue.
On Sunday, Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, told President Barack Obama that "other options" might have to be pursued.
Yesterday Moscow announced that a nuclear power plant it was helping Iran build had been delayed.
Sergei Shmatko, Russia's energy minister, said "technical reasons" lay behind the decision not to activate the power station, the first in Iran to be powered by nuclear energy, by the end of this year as planned.
"We are expecting serious progress by the end of the year but the launch itself will not take place," he said.
But Russia is continuing to refuse to supply Iran with a consignment of S-300 air defence missiles it is seeking, and both delays appear part of a diplomatic game that Moscow hopes will allow it to improve relations with Washington while putting its lucrative relationship with Iran into a holding pattern until international concerns over its nuclear ambitions diminish.