U.S., Europe Respond Angrily to Iran’s Threat to Build More Nuclear Plants

On Monday, an Iranian nuclear official said the country’s decision to build additional uranium-enrichment sites comes in response to last week’s censure of the Islamic republic by the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, for its refusal to stop enriching uranium.

“We had no intention of building many facilities like the Natanz site,” Ali Akbar Salehi, told Iranian state radio, referring to a once-secret nuclear enrichment plant started in the 1990s but still under development. “But apparently the West doesn’t want to understand Iran’s peaceful message.”

The facilities will be built inside mountains so as to secure them from military attack, he added.

Iran’s announcement drew quick rebuke from the U.S. and Europe. At the White House, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said of Iran’s declaration that “If true, this 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.”

Britain’s Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, called Iran’s declaration a provocation.

“This epitomizes the fundamental problem that we face with Iran,” he said. “We have stated over and again that we recognize Iran’s right to a civilian nuclear program, but they must restore international confidence in their intentions. Instead of engaging with us, Iran chooses to provoke and dissemble,” Miliband said.

While it remains unclear how long it would take Iran to enrich enough of its existing stockpile of nuclear fuel to use in a reactor, its latest declaration seems to have convinced Western diplomats of the nation’s intentions to produce weapons-grade material.

New sanctions against Iran would require the approval of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — China, France, Russia, U.S., and U.K.

Russia, which sponsored Friday’s censure of Iran, said it was “seriously concerned by the latest statements from the Iranian leadership,” according to news reports. France’s foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said Iran should be granted a “last chance,” while adding, “The fact that Iran persists in ignoring the demands of big independent agency like the I.A.E.A., that’s very dangerous.”

Prior to Sunday’s announcement, the United States and other world powers had been focused on winning Iran’s acceptance of a plan that would result in shipping the bulk of Iran’s low-enriched uranium abroad to be processed into fuel rods for a research reactor in Tehran.