United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has expressed "grave concern" over Tehran's secret nuclear activities. He was referring to the disclosure of a new uranium enrichment facility hidden beneath a mountain.
Ban, who met the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Friday evening in New York, urged Tehran to implement relevant Security Council resolutions and to co-operate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on resolving concerns related to its nuclear activities.
Ahmadinejad, however, insists that his country has done nothing wrong. "It is not a secret site," he told reporters at a news conference in New York. He added that the facility would not become operational for another 18 months, which therefore meant that Iran had not violated IAEA rules requiring a site to be reported six months before it is up and running.
But the IAEA has rejected Ahmadinejad's claim and US President Barack Obama and a host of European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel have made clear their doubts that the new facility is strictly for the peaceful generation of energy.
Playing with an open hand
Obama said it was time for Tehran to put its cards on the table. "I think Iran is on notice that, when we meet with them on October 1st, they are going to have to come clean and they are going to have to make a choice."
He said he had not ruled out military action, but that he preferred to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
French President, Nicolas Sarkozy said Iran was "taking the world down a dangerous path" and he threatened sanctions by the end of the year if the Iranian leadership did not change its nuclear course.
Angela Merkel called on Ahmadinejad to explain the new facility. She said Germany, like France, Britain and the US was "deepy concerned" about the plant, which violated the requirements laid down by the UN and the IAEA.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also criticised Iran, saying that the revelation increased existing doubts about its nuclear program.
Six major world powers - Britain, France, Russia, China, Germany and the United States - are meeting Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in Geneva next week for talks on ways to allay those doubts.
Meanwhile, the head of Iran's nuclear program, Ali Akbar Salehi, has said that construction of the second plant was necessary in order to ensure continued uranium enrichment in the event of foreign air raids on other sites.
Speaking on Iranian television, he said "considering the threats, our organization decided to do what is necessary to preserve and continue our nuclear activities." He added that they would not stop their nuclear activities "at any cost."
Prior last times, Iran's only known enrichment facility was at Natanz, near the central city of Isfahan.
Europe and the US said they believe that the scale of the new plant is such that uranium could be enriched to far higher levels than at Natanz, possibly to weapons-grade. The US president said that he expects IAEA inspestors “to immediately investigate this disturbing information and to report to the IAEA board of governors."
The IAEA said on Friday that Iran had sent a letter on Monday confirming that it was indeed constructing the facility. Iran is required under a UN Security Council resolution to inform the IAEA of its nuclear enrichment activities.
Iranian state news agency ISNA has reported that Tehran told the Vienna-based agency the plant would produce nuclear fuel with an enrichment level of only up to 5.0 percent - insufficient for use in nuclear weapons.