Iran must take “concrete steps” to calm fears over its nuclear ambitions, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said today, as he refused to rule out the prospect of military action against the country.
Mr Miliband insisted that the focus remained on a diplomatic solution after revelations that Iran is building another nuclear facility.
It was also reported that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards would carry out missile defence exercises tomorrow.
But Mr Miliband repeatedly declined invitations to describe military intervention as “inconceivable”.
Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is under pressure after the existence of the covert site, buried in a mountainside near the holy city of Qom, was revealed.
In a joint statement yesterday US President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy demanded an end to Tehran’s nuclear activities.
They warned Mr Ahmadinejad that his regime must come clean about its programme - and allow in weapons inspectors – or face further international sanctions.
The scene is set for a showdown next Thursday when Iranian officials meet representatives of the E3+3 group of Britain, France, Germany, the US, Russia and China, in Geneva.
Questioned about the likelihood of military force against Iran, Mr Miliband said: “No sane person looks at the military question of engagement with Iran with anything other than real concern.
“That’s why we always say we are 100% committed to the diplomatic track.”
But, questioned on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Miliband declined to describe military action as “inconceivable” – the word used by Jack Straw when he was UK foreign secretary.
The Qom site, which is thought to be still under construction, was originally discovered by British, US and French intelligence agencies three years ago.
Western diplomatic sources said it included an underground chamber big enough to hold 3,000 centrifuges capable of producing sufficient highly enriched uranium to build one nuclear bomb every year.
The number of centrifuges was seen by intelligence analysts as highly significant as it was too big to be a pilot facility – as the Iranians claimed - and too small for a civil plant capable of powering a whole town.
Under international pressure, Mr Ahmadinejad sought to deflect criticism by insisting nuclear weapons were the arms of the last century and calling for global disarmament.
Mr Ahmadinejad said last night his country had complied with International Atomic Energy Agency rules.
Speaking at a press conference, the Iranian leader said the new facility would not be operational for 18 months so he had not violated any requirements.
Mr Ahmadinejad dodged a question about whether Iran had sufficient enriched uranium to manufacture a nuclear weapon but said Tehran rejects such armaments as “inhumane”.