Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Iran Touting Latest Nuclear Development Second Facility Said to Be Nearly Ready

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Iran Touting Latest Nuclear Development Second Facility Said to Be Nearly Ready

Article excerpt

CAIRO -- Iran's top nuclear official announced this weekend that the country was on the verge of starting production at its second major uranium enrichment site, in a defiant declaration that its nuclear program would continue despite new international sanctions restricting its oil revenue.

The announcement, made through official news media reports, came after a week of escalating confrontations between Washington and Tehran, including a threat that Iran would respond with military force if the United States tried to send an aircraft carrier strike group back into the Strait of Hormuz.

The imminent opening of the enrichment site -- the Fordo plant, near the city of Qum -- confronts the United States and its allies with difficult choices about how far to go to limit Iran's nuclear abilities. The new facility is buried deep underground on a well- defended military site and is considered far more resistant to airstrikes than the existing enrichment site at Natanz, limiting what Israeli officials, in particular, consider an important deterrent to Iran's nuclear aims.

When the existence of the Qum facility was first disclosed by President Barack Obama and his counterparts in France and Britain in the fall of 2009, U.S. officials expressed doubts that Iran would ever go forward with the facility. But once it goes into operation, the chances of disabling it, in the words of one former top Israeli official, "diminish very dramatically."

The declaration that the facility was nearly ready came in an interview on Saturday with Fereydoon Abbasi, who was made the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization after surviving a 2010 assassination attempt. The official news agency Mehr quoted him as saying, "The Fordo site near Qum would soon be opened and become operational." Iranian newspapers reported the development on Sunday.

While Iran has often exaggerated its abilities, nuclear experts say this claim is plausible. In December, inspectors for the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that during a visit to the plant they saw the finishing touches put on enrichment centrifuges and said they expected the facility to be operating soon. …

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