President Barack Obama and the leaders of France and Britain on Friday accused Iran of building a secret uranium enrichment facility that could have military uses and warned that the Islamic republic would face tougher U.N. sanctions unless it suspended its nuclear program by December.
"The size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful program," Obama asserted in a joint televised appearance with French President Nicholas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in Pittsburgh, where they were attending the G-20 summit. The three leaders demanded that Iran give UN inspectors immediate and unfettered access to the secret plant.
Uranium enrichment is used to produce low-enriched uranium for nuclear power plants and highly enriched uranium for nuclear bomb fuel.
The extraordinary announcement came less than a week before talks between world powers and Iran on its nuclear program and could make it very difficult for Russia and China to continue opposing tougher sanctions on Tehran if it refuses to abide by U.N. resolutions to suspend its nuclear program.
"At that meeting, Iran must be prepared to cooperate fully and comprehensively," Obama said. "The Iranian government must now demonstrate through deeds its peaceful intentions or be held accountable."
Russian President Dmitri Medvedev signaled earlier this week after talks with Obama in New York that Moscow could support additional sanctions. The existence of the secret facility could account for the change of heart.
Sarkozy, speaking in even harsher terms that Obama, said that Iran had until December to comply with a series of U.N. resolutions demanding that it suspend its enrichment of uranium and open negotiations on a deal to ensure that its program is strictly for peaceful purposes.
"Everything, everything must be put on the table now," he said. "We cannot allow Iranian leaders to gain time while the motors are running."
Iran, apparently forewarned that U.S. and French intelligence agencies had been monitoring the construction of the secret facility near the holy city of Qom for several years, sent a letter to the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency on Monday admitting the construction of a "pilot plant."
Obama said that the existence of the plant "underscores" Iran's refusal to live up to its obligations under U.N. resolutions and international law and "represents a direct challenge" to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the cornerstone of the international system designed to halt the spread of nuclear weapons.
Iran has repeatedly asserted that its program is for peaceful purposes, as mandated by the treaty, and that it is not concealing any facilities from IAEA inspectors.
The revelation of the secret plant and Iran's confirmation that it exist shows its assertions to have been false and at the very least a violation of its safeguards agreement with the IAEA.
The existence of the facility appears to account for the continued charges by the United States and its allies that Iran may be secretly developing nuclear weapons.
Iran hid its uranium enrichment program for 18 years from the IAEA until an Iranian dissident group revealed its existence in 2002.
The United States several years ago presented the IAEA with materials allegedly showing that Iran secretly conducted nuclear weapons-related research that U.S. intelligence agencies determined were suspended in 2003.