President Obama, backed by the leaders of Britain and France, issued a stern warning to Iran today after announcing that it has been building a secret, second nuclear site.
At the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, Obama said the three western powers submitted evidence of the uranium enrichment facility to the International Atomic Energy Agency and now demand that Iran open the site to IAEA inspectors.
The disclosure came a day after Obama presided over the United Nations Security Council as it adopted a US-backed resolution that supports Obama's goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.
"Iran has a right to peaceful nuclear power that meets the energy needs of its people. But the size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful program," Obama said at a news conference.
"Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow, endangering the global nonproliferation regime, denying its own people access to the opportunity they deserve, and threatening the stability and security of the region and the world."
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown added, "We will not let this matter rest. And we are prepared to implement further and more stringent sanctions.
"Let the message that goes out to the world be absolutely clear: that Iran must abandon any military ambitions for its nuclear program."
(Their full remarks, along with those of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, are below.)
UPDATE: Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, asked about a possible military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, said today that diplomacy can work and is the better option.
"The reality is, there is no military option that does anything more than buy time," Gates said during an interview airing on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday. "The estimates are one to three years or so. And the only way you end up not having a nuclear-capable Iran is for the Iranian government to decide that their security is diminished by having those weapons, as opposed to strengthened."
"While you don't take options off the table, I think there's still room left for diplomacy," he added, in excerpts released by CNN this afternoon. "The Iranians are in a very bad spot now because of this deception, in terms of all of the great powers. And there obviously is the opportunity for severe additional sanctions. And I think we have the time to make that work."
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad abruptly cancelled a press conference he planned to hold at the United Nations today after Obama's news conference.
Ahmadinejad learned of Obama's announcement this morning during an interview at Time Magazine. He called the accusation "a mistake" and claimed that the Iranian government would have informed the IAEA of its new nuclear facility being built near the holy city of Qom in due time.
"This does not mean that anything was done secretly," he said. "We are the ones who always inform the IAEA of our activities."
An Iranian dissident group revealed the existence of the first clandestine uranium enrichment facility at Natanz in 2002. Under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, such a facility must be open to international inspectors. But Iranian officials argued that they did not have to inform the international body of its construction until they brought nuclear material there.
Senator John F. Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, echoed the leaders' warnings.
“In light of Iran’s continuing deception, the international community must step up its demands that Iran halt its enrichment and reprocessing work, answer the International Atomic Energy Agency's questions, and provide IAEA inspectors with the full complement of access and transparency they require," he said in a statement.
“President Obama has offered Iran every opportunity to open a constructive diplomatic dialogue on its nuclear program. To this point, there is no evidence that Iran intends to reciprocate. I continue to support engagement with Iran, but now is the time to supplement engagement with more robust international sanctions. That’s the only way to dramatically increase the economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran from the outside and help leverage pressure on the regime from its own population which wants a different relationship with the world. Tehran must make a fundamental decision on whether it wants to continue its pariah status or enter a more constructive relationship with the world.”
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio also weighed in with a rebuke of Iran, and warned that the United States should not directly negotiate with the country, as Obama has suggested he would be open to doing.
“Today’s announcement about Iran’s secret nuclear facility is further confirmation of its pattern of deception and denial. For years, the regime in Tehran has done everything in its power to hide the truth that it is committed to building a nuclear bomb to threaten the United States and our allies. The IAEA must be allowed into the country to conduct immediate, unimpeded, and comprehensive inspections, and there must be full transparency regarding the results of those inspections," Boehner said in a statement.
“This revelation should put the international community on notice that its collective willingness to give the Iranian regime ‘one more chance’ is not working. How will we respond to a regime that refuses civil liberties, denies its citizens free and fair elections, and aims to dominate a critical region through violence, terrorism, and nuclear weapons? How will we respond if Iran does not let inspectors in? Why should we feel confident they are being honest about anything else?
“The United States should not participate in direct negotiations with Iran – negotiations that will further legitimize this brutal regime – until we have answers to these important questions. Unfortunately, the Administration has not, to date, given Iran reason to believe we are serious about preventing them from acquiring or developing a nuclear capability, especially in light of the Administration’s recent policy decision regarding missile defense in Central Europe and its public remarks about Israel and the Middle East peace process. The United States and our European allies must demonstrate a willingness to quickly impose meaningful sanctions against the regime in Iran. We can do so even if other nations like Russia and China refuse to join this effort, and we should. Finally, Congress needs to get serious about moving a sanctions bill, and it needs to do so now.”
OBAMA, BROWN, SARKOZY REMARKS
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good morning. We are here to announce that yesterday in Vienna, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France presented detailed evidence to the IAEA demonstrating that the Islamic Republic of Iran has been building a covert uranium enrichment facility near Qom for several years.
Earlier this week, the Iranian government presented a letter to the IAEA that made reference to a new enrichment facility, years after they had started its construction. The existence of this facility underscores Iran's continuing unwillingness to meet its obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions and IAEA requirements. We expect the IAEA to immediately investigate this disturbing information, and to report to the IAEA Board of Governors.
Now, Iran's decision to build yet another nuclear facility without notifying the IAEA represents a direct challenge to the basic compact at the center of the non-proliferation regime. These rules are clear: All nations have the right to peaceful nuclear energy; those nations with nuclear weapons must move towards disarmament; those nations without nuclear weapons must forsake them. That compact has largely held for decades, keeping the world far safer and more secure. And that compact depends on all nations living up to their responsibilities.
This site deepens a growing concern that Iran is refusing to live up to those international responsibilities, including specifically revealing all nuclear-related activities. As the international community knows, this is not the first time that Iran has concealed information about its nuclear program. Iran has a right to peaceful nuclear power that meets the energy needs of its people. But the size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful program. Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow -- endangering the global non-proliferation regime, denying its own people access to the opportunity they deserve, and threatening the stability and security of the region and the world.
It is time for Iran to act immediately to restore the confidence of the international community by fulfilling its international obligations. We remain committed to serious, meaningful engagement with Iran to address the nuclear issue through the P5-plus-1 negotiations. Through this dialogue, we are committed to demonstrating that international law is not an empty promise; that obligations must be kept; and that treaties will be enforced.
And that's why there's a sense of urgency about the upcoming meeting on October 1st between Iran, the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and Germany. At that meeting, Iran must be prepared to cooperate fully and comprehensively with the IAEA to take concrete steps to create confidence and transparency in its nuclear program and to demonstrate that it is committed to establishing its peaceful intentions through meaningful dialogue and concrete actions.
To put it simply: Iran must comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions and make clear it is willing to meet its responsibilities as a member of the community of nations. We have offered Iran a clear path toward greater international integration if it lives up to its obligations, and that offer stands. But the Iranian government must now demonstrate through deeds its peaceful intentions or be held accountable to international standards and international law.
I should point out that although the United Kingdom, France, and the United States made the presentation to Vienna, that Germany, a member of the P5-plus-1, and Chancellor Merkel in particular, who could not be here this morning, wished to associate herself with these remarks.
I would now like to turn to President Sarkozy of France for a brief statement.
PRESIDENT SARKOZY: (As translated.) Ladies and gentlemen, we have met yesterday for a meeting -- a summit meeting of the Security Council on disarmament and nuclear disarmament. I repeated my conviction that Iran was taking the international community on a dangerous path. I have recalled all the attempts that we have made to offer a negotiated solution to the Iranian leaders without any success, which what has been revealed today is exceptional. Following the enriching plant of Natanz in 2002, it is now the Qom one which is revealed. It was designed and built over the past several years in direct violation of resolutions from the Security Council and from the IAEA. I am expecting from the IAEA an exhaustive, strict, and rigorous investigation, as President Obama just said.
We were already in a very severe confidence crisis. We are now faced with a challenge, a challenge made to the entire international communities. The six will meet with the Iranian representatives in Geneva. Everything -- everything must be put on the table now.
We cannot let the Iranian leaders gain time while the motors are running. If by December there is not an in-depth change by the Iranian leaders, sanctions will have to be taken. This is for the peace and stability. Thank you.
PRIME MINISTER BROWN: America, the United Kingdom, and France are at one. Iran's nuclear program is the most urgent proliferation challenge that the world faces today.
As President Obama and President Sarkozy have just said, the level of deception by the Iranian government, and the scale of what we believe is the breach of international commitments, will shock and anger the whole international community, and it will harden our resolve.
Confronted by the serial deception of many years, the international community has no choice today but to draw a line in the sand. On October the 1st, Iran must now engage with the international community and join the international community as a partner. If it does not do so, it will be further isolated.
And I say on behalf of the United Kingdom today, we will not let this matter rest. And we are prepared to implement further and more stringent sanctions.
Let the message that goes out to the world be absolutely clear: that Iran must abandon any military ambitions for its nuclear program. Thank you.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.