It isn’t clear why, exactly, the United States and its allies revealed today what they know about a secret uranium enrichment facility in Iran. The New York Times, which broke the story, says:
“American officials said that they had been tracking the covert project for years, but that Mr. Obama decided to disclose the American findings after Iran discovered, in recent weeks, that Western intelligence agencies had breached the secrecy surrounding the complex.”
What “Western intelligence agencies” did to breach the secrecy isn’t stated. But the revelation is devastating for Iran, guaranteed to raise suspicions about Iran’s intentions, inflame the passions of bomb-Iran hawks, and vastly complicate the talks between Iran and the P5 + 1 world powers scheduled to start on October 1.
Iran has informed the IAEA about the new facility, into which, the IAEA says, no nuclear material has yet been introduced, i.e., the site is not operational. Of course, it isn’t surprising that Iran might build a hardened facility more impervious to military attack, given the drumbeat of warnings that the US and/or Israel might launch an assault on Iran’s scattered nuclear installations. But the existence of the previously unreported facility, combined with Iran’s apparent efforts to conceal it from the IAEA and the world community, will only add heft to charges that Iran is covertly seeking a military nuclear capability, i.e., an A-bomb.
That latter possibility is at the center of the new revelations, since it suggests that Iran might be seeking to construct a facility in which it could secretly enrich its low-enriched, fuel-grade uranium into high-enriched, weapons-grade material.
According to the Times, the facility is built into a mountainside near Qom, Iran’s religious capital, and is designed to handle 3,000 centrifuges, i.e., about half of what Iran already has installed in its Natanz site. Worryingly, Obama said, without elaborating:
“The size and type of the facility is inconsistent with that of a peaceful facility.”
Presumably, though it isn’t known, Obama and the Western allies briefed the Russians and the Chinese about the secret facility, as part of their effort to win support for a unified position on Iran that might include a new round of UN Security Council sanctions if the talks don’t make progress. French President Sarkozy has warned explicitly that Iran must face new sanctions by December.