WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday there was “no plausible justification” for Iran’s production of enriched uranium at a new site, again calling on Tehran to cease all such work.
In a toughening of tone from Washington, Clinton said confirmation from the UN atomic watchdog that Iran had begun enriching uranium at a new, underground bunker southwest of Tehran was “especially troubling.”
“There is no plausible justification for this production. Such enrichment brings Iran a significant step closer to having the capability to produce weapons-grade highly enriched uranium,” Clinton said in a statement.
“This step once again demonstrates the Iranian regime’s blatant disregard for its responsibilities and that the country’s growing isolation is self-inflicted.”
Clinton reiterated a call for Iran to “immediately cease uranium enrichment and to comply with its international nuclear obligations,” as well as to return to talks with six world powers including the US on its suspect nuclear program.
The statement from the US secretary of state comes as both Iran and the West have dug in their heels in their showdown over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, with the Islamic republic ever more defiant and the West toughening sanctions.
The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency said it “can confirm that Iran has started the production of uranium enriched up to 20 percent… in the Fordo Fuel Enrichment Plant” near the holy city of Qom.
The Islamic republic admitted the existence of the facility in 2009 and earlier reports from the IAEA had said that Iranian scientists were preparing the facility to begin operations.
Iran, which insists its nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes, has repeatedly said it will not abandon uranium enrichment despite four rounds of UN Security Council sanctions demanding Tehran desist.
Western powers believe Iran has been researching ways to develop and deliver nuclear weapons.