'Ahmadinejad has enough uranium to go whole way'

Senior US official says secret facility is right size to make 'bomb or two a year'

The crisis in relations with Iran escalated ominously yesterday after the leaders of the US, Britain and France accused the regime in Tehran of operating a secret uranium enrichment facility buried deep in a mountain bunker near the ancient religious city of Qom. Barack Obama called Iran's activity "a direct challenge" to the international community.

The accusations were made public in an extraordinary joint statement by the US President, flanked by Gordon Brown and the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy before the start of the G20 economic summit in Pittsburgh.

Iran had previously insisted that its plant at Natanz, which is open to international inspection, was the only one involved in enrichment. The new revelation sharply raises the stakes at a time when Israel has been signalling that military strikes against Iran are on the table.

Iran's first response was one of familiar defiance. "If I were Obama's adviser, I would definitely advise him to refrain from making this statement because it is definitely a mistake," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in an interview with Time magazine in New York.

Western sources said the plant at Qom, 120 miles south-west of Tehran, is not yet operational. But it is designed to hold about 3,000 centrifuge machines, which would provide the uranium needed to produce one atomic bomb a year. "Iran has enough uranium to go the whole way," one Western diplomat said. A senior US official said that number of centrifuges could not produce enough uranium to make sense commercially for power generation. "But if you want to use the facility to produce a small amount of weapons-grade uranium, enough for a bomb or two a year, it's the right size."

He stressed that making a bomb was "still some way off" but that the plant gives Iran "more options." French officials said the secret plant was in a "heavily protected" area under the control of the Revolutionary Guards loyal to Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad.

If nonplussed that the plant's cover has been so dramatically blown, Iran's President insisted his government was in compliance with the rules of the International Atomic Energy Agency. "This does not mean we must inform Mr Obama's administration of every facility that we have," he said. Mr Obama's claim "simply adds to the list of issues to which the United States owes the Iranian nation an apology over".

Later, Mr Ahmadinejad softened his tone telling reporters that Iran was in fact ready to give international inspectors access to the Qom facility. "We have no fears," he said.

Yet for Mr Obama, the revelation will bolster the case for tougher sanctions on Iran, if its regime does not bend now to calls for enrichment to stop. It also ratchets up tensions significantly on the eve of talks scheduled next Thursday in Geneva between the regime and six world powers, including Britain, the US and Russia.

"The Iranian government must now demonstrate through deeds its peaceful intentions or be held accountable to international standards and international law," Mr Obama said. His French and British peers portrayed even deeper indignation. "The level of deception by the Iranian government and the scale of what we believe is a breach of international commitments, will shock and anger the whole international community and it will harden our resolve," Mr Brown said, adding that it was time to "draw a line in the sand". He went on: "This is the third time they have been caught red-handed, not telling the truth."

Mr Sarkozy set a deadline of December for Iran to put everything on the table and provide proof that it is not attempting to weaponise nuclear technology. New sanctions could include a ban of the sale of refined petrol to Iran, which could seriously harm the regime but also hurt much of the population

British intelligence agencies played a "big part" in uncovering the plant, working closely with their American and French counterparts, diplomats said. The intelligence has been shared with Israel, but British sources are playing down the prospect of military action. One said: "We are a long way from that. We have no interest in a military operation against Iran or anybody undertaking such an operation."

Even as Mr Ahmadinejad was speaking to Time, his officials in Tehran were acknowledging the plant's existence. "In order to preserve its definite rights [in] the peaceful use of nuclear energy, Iran has taken a successful step and created a semi-industrial plant to enrich nuclear fuel," Ali Akbar Salehi, its nuclear energy agency chief, said in a statement.

Iran insists its enrichment programme is for civilian purposes and other countries have no right to interfere. But Western governments have long doubted this. British sources said the intelligence on Qom specifically suggests it is not consistent with plans for electricity generation.

US officials said that Western intelligence had found out about the Qom plant several months ago and that Mr Obama had been briefed on it even before he took office. Exactly how they cracked the wall of secrecy erected by Iran around it has not been divulged.

Iran itself then became aware that the West had got wind of the concealed plant. On Monday, it sent a cryptic letter to the IAEA in Vienna in which it spoke for the first time of a "pilot uranium enrichment plant" in addition to the one at Natanz. It added that additional information would be furnished to the agency in due course.

All this off-stage drama was unfolding just as world leaders were gathering first for the UN General Assembly in New York and then in Pittsburgh for the G20 summit. Mr Ahmadinejad, last night cancelled a press conference he had been scheduled to give at the UN before leaving New York.

The game had already moved on after the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, signalled that Moscow was dropping its opposition to new sanctions against Iran. The switch was attributed to Mr Obama's decision a week ago to drop the US anti-missile shield in eastern Europe. But a senior US administration official revealed that the information about Qom was shared by Mr Obama with President Medvedev during a bilateral meeting in New York on Wednesday. That may have helped modify Mr Medvedev's thinking.

Iran fights back: President tells US it's making 'a big mistake'

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fought back against claims of illegal concealment last night, saying that it was the United States that should be apologising to Iran and that Barack Obama was making a big mistake which would ultimately play into the Islamic Republic's favour.

In an interview with Time magazine, which took place as the US President was ratcheting up pressure on him from Pittsburgh, Mr Ahmadinejad shrugged off accusations of a secret underground second nuclear facility. "If I were Obama's adviser, I would definitely advise him to refrain from making this statement because it is definitely a mistake. It would definitively be a mistake," he told Time editors in New York, where he had been attending the UN General Assembly.

"We have no secrecy, we work within the framework of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency]," he added. "This does not mean we must inform Mr Obama's administration of every facility that we have."

Far from seeming contrite, Mr Ahmadinejad went on the offensive saying that by bringing up the uranium facility, the US President, "simply adds to the list of issues to which the United States owes the Iranian nation an apology over. Rest assured that this will be the case. We do everything transparently".

Mr Ahmadinejad also hinted that the attack by the US, France and Britain might be just the thing around which his deeply fractured nation might rally.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 3 Primary Teacher - Dewsbury

£110 - £155 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: An excellent, last minute opp...

Year 2 Primary Teacher - Dewsbury

£110 - £155 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: An excellent, last minute opp...

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam