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Iran's 'secret' nuclear plant: an instant reaction

by GARETH SMYTH reporting from Ireland

25 Sep 2009 22:4110 Comments

[ comment ] Less than a week before Iran is due to meet six world powers, including the United States, over its atomic programme, the news of a "secret" Iranian nuclear site could hardly be more timely.

The London Financial Times reports a "covert" facility near the holy city of Qom "concealed from international inspectors". The newspaper's website says "Iran had been building a secret nuclear plant to enrich uranium".

Throughout the media, there are suggestions that the "discovery" of the nuclear site, where Iran will enrich uranium, helps justify tougher sanctions or even "Israel's approach", which could mean a military attack.

There are echoes in all this of 2002, when the Mujahedin-e Khalq, the exiled Iranian opposition group, unleashed a media frenzy by "revealing" Iran was constructing nuclear facilities at Natanz and Arak.

But today's press statement from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN body that monitors Tehran's nuclear programme, reveals that the question of "secrecy" is far from straightforward.

The IAEA confirms it was informed on Monday by Iran in a letter that a "new pilot fuel enrichment plant is under construction", with enrichment levels up to 5%. The statement adds that "the agency also understands from Iran that no nuclear material has been introduced into the facility".

Tehran has said, adds the IAEA, that it would provide further information at "an appropriate and due time".

Exactly what that means is legalistic but controversial.

Under the basic requirements of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty (NPT), a state is obliged to tell the IAEA about any site 180 days before any nuclear material is introduced.

In 2003, Iran agreed to a stiffer requirement, the so-called Code 3.1, which required the agency be told when a new facility came into construction. This was also a time of substantive talks between Iran and the European Union -- and was also the year when Iran signed the Additional Protocol (AP) to the NPT, which gave the IAEA powers of snap inspection.

When negotiations with the EU broke down and the IAEA referred Iran to the UN security council over the nuclear programme, Tehran informed the IAEA in 2006 it would no longer implement the Additional Protocol.

Later, in March 2007, it said it would no longer implement Code 3.1.

Iran's argument was the same in both cases: that neither agreement had been approved by parliament, whose ratification is required for international treaties.

Tehran stressed it would continue to follow its obligations under the NPT but that the granting of additional powers to the IAEA had been entirely voluntary and hence could be withdrawn.

The matter is legalistic, but then Iran's case all along has been based on its "legal rights". Tehran has dismissed as "political" the UN security council resolutions demanding it suspend uranium enrichment.

Certainly, the legal details are less important than the overall dynamics. Unless a compromise can be reached, Iran seems set on continuing its nuclear programme.

But the reaction today to the news of Iran's "secret" facility is hardly likely to encourage or empower those on either side who want a compromise.

As one analyst told me: "He who screams loudest gets heard in this day and age. Obviously those in favour of bringing Iran to its knees will be screaming very loudly over this, whatever the evidence."

In an interview in 2004, Ali Akbar Salehi, now head of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, was scornful over the "revelation" of the Natanz plant.

"Through the force of the media, they made the public believe that our activity in Natanz was a secret activity," he said. "There was no secret activity in Natanz. How can it be secret if it has a few hundred acres, and a sign saying 'Atomic Energy Organisation' and the buses that go from Tehran to Natanz stop at a station called 'Atomic station'?

"Yes, we didn't tell .. the IAEA, but we didn't have to. Under the safeguards agreement, we have to tell the IAEA only 180 days before we enter the nuclear material into the facility."

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau

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it is really a big fuss. it is iran that first reported the existence of this site, but some in the media would want to make us beleive that it was actually discovered by western intelligence.

Anonymous / September 26, 2009 10:00 AM

This only goes to prove the Iranians are right: even when they play by the rules, the West turns things around to purposefully demonize Iran.

Iran is standing up for its right to peaceful nuclear technology. Tehran Bureau should select articles which reflect this fact. Otherwise it gives the impression that TB is actually anti-Iranian.

An Iranian-American Free Thinker / September 26, 2009 6:36 PM

The root problem is that Iran's nuclear program is directed towards weapons, and that they have convinced the world that they intend to actually use the weapons.

Look up the Sajjil-2 and Shahab-3 missiles and you will find they have no possible purpose other than delivering nuclear weapons. Iran has several ballistic missile series, and quite a few ready-to-fly military missiles. We think they currently lack a warhead.

Iran has many ballistic missiles but an insignificant nuclear electric industry, and is anyway energy-rich in oil.

Ahmadinejad and Ali Khamenei are holocaust deniers and threaten the next holocaust at the same time. Their movement is rife with suicidal ideation and symbolism. They see enemies where none exist and so create enemies by threatening nuclear war.

AreaMan / September 26, 2009 10:46 PM

MEK / MPO is a terrorist group and not considered by Iranians as a opposition group. They entered the irak army to kill Iranians and exterminate kurds. They put bombs and killed many innocents.
We can say royalists are opposition, communists are, green wave is. but not MPO which gets no credibility in Iran.

esfahani / September 27, 2009 12:42 AM

It's interesting that Iran "informed" the IAEA just 4 days before the announcement of Sarkozy, Brown and Obama. There seems to be a good working information service.
And surprise, because Iraniens are soooo nice and innocent, they informed them not only 6 month before entering fuel - no! Even 18 months as Mr Ahmadinejad told us yesterday.
Where is the outcry of the world? Iraniens have completely changed!
As Obama said, the factory has a suspicious size. I guess in these times above mentioned leaders make sure that their allegations are not set to useless provocation.

Lews / September 27, 2009 1:50 AM

I never understand this. You accuse your government of election fraud. I mean ELECTION FRAUD, this is one of the ugliest lies a government can do to his people. But you really believe, they tell the truth to the world community?

Lews / September 27, 2009 2:13 AM

It is a big trick by barbaric republic to unite and rally majority of Iranians behind the regime again and get out of the present quagmire they are in because of clandestine "Green Movement".
The reaction of Big6 starting on Oct. 1st really doesn't matter to them. They are trying to keep their own face against internal opposition.
just my $0.02

Aryajet / September 27, 2009 5:25 PM

In response to Lews, the governments can commit electoral fraud, although in Iran's case nothing has been proven beyond reasonable doubt, but it does not mean that all their policies are tainted. George Bush got elected the second time in disputed circumstances, and many Democrats still hold that Al Gore was the rightful winner and had that been the case then US would have been spared the costly war in Iraq.

As ordinary citizens the difficulty we face is the hypocrisy of our political leaders whether in an Islamic state like Iran or a supposedly secular democratic state like the US. I think ordinary citizens have very little actual power but what we should seek to do is to stop our leaders from inflicting another disastrous war upon our countries but I doubt anyone will listen. But try we must, the dispute between Iran and the US and its allies must be solved peacefully and without causing hardship to the Iranian people and Iranian people must decide what changes they want in their own country and the US citizens should do the same and ask their govt to stop giving funding to destabilize Iran and use the $450m to help its own people who are losing their own homes and livelihoods.

rezvan / September 29, 2009 3:38 AM

rezvan, this seems to be a backdoor, letting Iraniens suppose what they wish to believe.
I guess this isn't an honest way to get out of a difficult situation.

There must be a firm conviction of electoral fraud if someone risks his life for protest against. It would be honest to contemplate they could commit fraud to others as well (who assumed that since many years). In particular if they are part of "the west", those evil enemies. Some Muslims even believe, it is allowed to tell lies if it will harm the enemy.
So if they took the high hurdle why should they avoid the small?

I agree to you, we should do our outmost to avoid war. As an Iranien I would feel guided to war. As an American I would feel angry in view of this pack of lies posed on my concern.
But I am a German. In my history a leader had acted exactly the same way, had used exactly the same methods, had had similar morbid ideas.
So I am not very hopeful.

Lews / September 29, 2009 11:09 PM


If PMOI is not an opposition to the fascist mullahs in Iran, then why are the mullahs so scared of them? Why do the media identify the PMOI as the main opposition to the mullahs. What are you smoking? Wake up. Mullahs are scared to death from Maryam Rajavi.

Tim Ghaemi / October 5, 2009 12:59 PM