UN inspectors to investigate 'new Iranian nuclear plants'

International inspectors are preparing to search for two new uranium enrichment sites in Iran, which the country says it plans to build in defiance of United Nations demands. According to reports, the UN inspectors are taking seriously claims by the head of Iran's atomic energy organisation that Tehran has ordered work to begin on new plants, and are trying to avoid a repeat of the debacle over the enrichment site at Qom, which Iran was able to keep hidden until last year.

Western intelligence sources also told The New York Times this weekend that Iran had already amassed the equipment for new enrichment plants. UN inspectors are focusing on an interview with the Iranian Student News Agency by Ali Akbar Salehi, the country's atomic energy chief. He said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had ordered work on two new enrichment plants, which "will be built inside mountains", presumably to protect them from attacks.

The reports come as the US is piling pressure on Russia and China to support additional sanctions. David Axelrod, President Barack Obama's chief strategist expressed optimism for a deal yesterday. On Saturday, Russia's President, Dmitry Medvedev, had said that additional punishment for Iran is not the best option, but added that such a step can't be excluded.

Armed with shaky intelligence, the US is headed into today's meeting of the G8 group of industrialised nations hoping to bolster the Western consensus for additional sanctions. Canada, which holds the chair of the G8, has put the issue on the agenda for the meeting of foreign ministers in the Quebec town of Gatineau. Lawrence Cannon, Canada's Foreign Minister, said last week: "I believe we are left with little choice but to pursue additional sanctions against Iran, ideally through the UN Security Council."