- The Washington Times - Friday, September 25, 2009

VIENNA (AP) — Iran has revealed the existence of a secret uranium-enrichment plant, officials told the Associated Press Friday, a development that could heighten fears about Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon and escalate its diplomatic confrontation with the West.

The New York Times reported that President Barack Obama and the leaders of France and Britain had been planning to charge Iran with constructing the facility in an announcement in Pittsburgh before the opening of the G-20 economic summit. It said they were to demand Tehran open the plant to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Two officials told the AP that Iran revealed the existence of a second plant in a letter sent Monday to International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei.

Iran is under three sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions for refusing to freeze enrichment at what had been its single known enrichment plant, which is being monitored by the IAEA.

The officials told the AP that Iran’s letter contained no details about the location of the second facility, when — or if — it had started operations or the type and number of centrifuges it was running.

But one of the officials, who had access to a review of Western intelligence on the issue, said it was about 100 miles (160 kilometers) southwest of Tehran and was the site of 3,000 centrifuges that could be operational by next year.

Iranian officials had previously acknowledged having only one plant — the one under IAEA monitoring — and had denied allegations of undeclared nuclear activities.

The last IAEA report on Iran in August said Iran had set up more than 8,000 centrifuges to churn out enriched uranium at the cavernous underground Natanz facility, although the report said that only about 4,600 of those were fully active.

The Islamic Republic insists that it has the right to the activity to generate fuel for what it says will be a nationwide chain of nuclear reactors. But because enrichment can make both nuclear fuel and weapons-grade uranium, the international community fears Tehran will use the technology to generate the fissile material used on the tip of nuclear warheads.

The revelation of a secret plan further hinders the chances of progress in scheduled Oct. 1 talks between Iran and six world powers.

At that meeting — the first in more than a year — the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany plan to press Iran to scale back on its enrichment activities. But Tehran has declared that it will not bargain on enrichment.

The officials who spoke to the AP — one from a European government with access to IAEA information and the other a diplomat in Vienna from a country accredited to the IAEA — demanded anonymity Friday because their information was confidential. One said he had seen the Iranian letter. The other told the AP that he had been informed about it by a U.N. official.

While Iran’s mainstay P-1 centrifuge is a decades-old model based on Chinese technology, it has begun experimenting with state-of-the art prototypes that enrich more quickly and efficiently than its old model.

U.N. officials familiar with the IAEA’s attempts to monitor and probe Iran’s nuclear activities have previously told the AP that they suspected Iran might be running undeclared enrichment plants.

The existence of a secret Iranian enrichment program built on black-market technology was revealed seven years ago. Since then, the country has continued to expand the program with only a few interruptions as it works toward its aspirations of a 50,000-centrifuge enrichment facility at the southern city of Natanz.

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