PRESIDENT Barack Obama and the leaders of France and Britain said yesterday that the existence of a previously secret Iranian nuclear facility ups the ante on Tehran in international talks next week, declaring that Iran must co-operate on its suspected weapons development “or be held accountable”.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Iran has until December to comply or face new sanctions.
“We will not let this matter rest,” said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who accused Iran of “serial deception”.
Obama said: “The Iranian government must now demonstrate through deeds its peaceful intentions or be held accountable to international standards and international law.”
Their dramatic three-way statement opened the G20 economic summit.
Obama urged Iran to fully disclose its nuclear activities and said the International Atomic Energy Agency must investigate the newly revealed site.
Iran has kept the facility, 160km south-west of Tehran, hidden from weapons inspectors until a letter it sent to the IAEA on Monday, which was publicly disclosed for the first time yesterday.
But the US has known of the facility’s existence “for several years” through intelligence developed by US, French and British agencies, a senior White House official said. Obama decided to gather allies to talk publicly about it after Iran’s letter made clear it had become aware that Western intelligence knew of the project, officials said.
The plant would be about the right size to enrich enough uranium to produce one or two bombs a year, but inspectors must get inside to know what is actually going on, one official said.
Obama hopes the disclosure will increase pressure on the global community to impose new sanctions on Iran if it refuses to stop its nuclear programme.
Beyond sanctions, the leaders’ options are limited and perilous; military action by the United States or an ally such as Israel could set off a dangerous chain of events in the Islamic world. In addition, Iran’s facilities are spread around the country and well-hidden or buried, making an effective military response logistically difficult.
The leaders did not mention military force. But Sarkozy said ominously: “Everything, everything must be put on the table now. We cannot let the Iranian leaders gain time while the motors are running.”
The disclosure comes on the heels of a UN General Assembly meeting at which Obama saw a glimmer of success in his push to rally the world against Iranian nuclear ambitions. And it comes just days before Iran and six world powers are scheduled to discuss a range of issues including Tehran’s nuclear programme.
Germany is one of those six powers, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters yesterday that her country views the revelation of the second nuclear site as “a grave development” and called on Iran to answer IAEA questions about it “as quickly as possible.”
She said Germany, Britain, France and the US had consulted on the issue and agreed to a joint response. Merkel did not appear with Obama, Sarkozy and Brown because she had an already-scheduled meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the same time.
She said “we will see” about the reactions of Russia and China, which also are part of the group of six but always more reluctant to take a firm line on Iran.
Earlier this week, Medvedev opened the door to backing potential new sanctions against Iran as a reward to Obama’s decision to scale back a US missile shield in Eastern Europe. But it’s unclear if that will translate into action.
The senior administration official said Obama told Medvedev about the facility during their meeting this week in New York. The Chinese were informed about 48 hours ago and are “just absorbing these revelations,” the official said.
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