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September 26, 2009

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Western leaders blast Iran after reports of secret nuke fuel plant

US President Barack Obama and other Western leaders accused Iran yesterday of building a secret nuclear fuel plant and demanded Tehran immediately halt what he called a "direct challenge" to the international community.

Obama went public with the charge in an appearance with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy at a Group of 20 nations summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, sharpening a standoff with Iran over its disputed nuclear program.

"It is time for Iran to act immediately to restore the confidence of the international community by fulfilling its international obligations," Obama said, adding that Tehran had been building the plant in secret for years.

The head of Iran's nuclear program confirmed later yesterday that his country is building a new uranium enrichment plant and suggested that UN inspectors will be allowed to visit the facility.

It was the first official confirmation from Tehran of the new site, which Iran revealed to the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi presented the facility as new, saying the country had achieved a "successful new step in the direction of preserving and enjoying its accepted right for peaceful use of nuclear energy."

He said Iran is "now in the process of building" what he calls "a semi-industrial plant for enriching nuclear fuel," according to Iran's state news agency IRNA.

"The activities of this facility, like other nuclear facilities in Iran, will be in the framework of the measures of the agency," he said, referring to the IAEA. The comment suggests that the new facility could be opened to inspectors, like Iran's known enrichment facility, Natanz.

A senior US official said it appeared the Iranian facility was at least a few months from having all centrifuges installed and able to operate. The nascent plant was believed to be designed for about 3,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium.

The IAEA said Iran had disclosed the existence of the plant to IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei on Monday.

Obama accused Iran of "breaking rules that all nations must follow" and called for international inspectors "to immediately investigate this disturbing information."

Sarkozy said Iran was taking the international community down a "dangerous" path and threatened new sanctions if Iranian leaders did not change course by December.

Brown said Iran's defiance should harden the resolve of the international community, which must now "draw a line in the sand" against Tehran.

While lodging a serious accusation against Tehran, Obama said: "We remain committed to serious, meaningful engagement with Iran to address the nuclear issue..."

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman in Pittsburgh said, "We hope that Iran will cooperate with the IAEA on this matter."


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