REPORTING FROM WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has condemned Iran’s decision to begin uranium enrichment at a covertly built underground bunker near Qom, Iran, saying it brought Tehran “a significant step closer” to gaining the ability to produce bomb-grade fuel.
Amid rising tensions over Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program, Clinton said in a statement Tuesday that the move violated Iran’s United Nations obligations and demonstrated “that the country’s growing isolation is self-inflicted.”
Iran, which insists its nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes, said this week that centrifuges in the Fordo bunker will be used to enrich the uranium to 20% purity to create isotopes for medical research. About 90% purity is normally required for bomb-making.
Clinton said the circumstances surrounding construction of the facility were “especially troubling” because Iran confirmed the bunker’s existence to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, only after it had been disclosed by Western powers. The IAEA confirmed Tuesday that they were aware of Iran’s activities at the Fordo site.
Clinton called on Iran to halt the enrichment and to return to international talks aimed at negotiating an end to the program.
International tensions between Iran and the West have risen since U.N. nuclear inspectors released a report last fall asserting that Iran was conducting research aimed at bomb development.
Iranian military officials have recently threatened that they might seek to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which 20% of the world’s crude oil is shipped, if the United States and its allies continued to punish Iran with new economic sanctions.
Photo: A satellite image shows a facility in mountains northeast of Qom, where Iran has begun uranium enrichment at an underground bunker well-protected from possible air strikes. Credit: GeoEye Satellite Image / IHS Jane's Analysis