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U.S.: Time running out for Iran

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. says Iran faces sanctions unless it forsakes nuclear ambitions
  • Iran pledges legal action over alleged infringements of its nuclear "rights"
  • U.N. watchdog has demanded Iran stop construction on new nuclear plant
  • Iran announced plans Sunday to build 10 new nuclear production facilities

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House warned Iran Tuesday that it faces further sanctions if "they don't stop their enrichment activities, if they don't forsake their nuclear weapons program."

"Our allies are serious about addressing this head-on," President Barack Obama's spokesman Robert Gibbs told CNN. "I think it would be wise for the Iranians to uphold their responsibilities" to the international community.

"This is up to them. Time is indeed running out," he said.

Iran denies it plans to build nuclear weapons, saying its nuclear program is for civilian electricity and medical research.

Obama's spokesman refused to rule out military action against the Islamic state, but said "I think first and foremost we will examine what type of sanctions will have an impact on Iran."

Gibbs was speaking on the heels of a declaration by Iran that not only will it move ahead with plans to build 10 new nuclear plants, it will take legal action over infringements on its nuclear rights.

"We will not do away with our rights," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said at a news conference Tuesday, without clarifying what legal action meant.

He did say that Iran would write letters of protest to nations that backed a U.N. resolution of rebuke over Iran's nuclear program.

Mehmanparast accused such countries of politicizing nuclear fuel as a way to meddle in his country's domestic affairs.

"We will elaborate on why their decisions were incorrect, and how to correct and what the consequences might be," he said of the letters.

Locations have been chosen for five of the 10 new nuclear plants, according to Tabnak, a Web site owned by former Revolutionary Guards commander Mohsen Rezaie.

"These five locations are situated in northern provinces and in the Darkhowain region in Khuzestan," Tabnak said Tuesday, quoting PANA News.

The board of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, on Friday passed a resolution demanding that Iran stop construction on a once-secret nuclear enrichment facility in the Iranian holy city of Qom.

Twenty-five countries, including Russia and China, backed the measure, which also demanded that Iran stop uranium enrichment, which can be used for producing fuel for a nuclear device.

In the resolution's wake, Iran's state news agency reported Sunday that the nation's Cabinet had authorized the construction of 10 new nuclear production facilities.

At Tuesday's news conference in the Iranian capital, Tehran, Mehmanparast said his country needs nuclear fuel from the plants to meet its long-term energy needs, to move toward self-sufficiency.

"The plans we have, we will push our plans ahead," the foreign minister said. "We will adhere to IAEA framework and under their supervision.

Video: Iran to expand nuclear program
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"We remain committed to the NPT," he added, referring to the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty, which bars member states from pursuing nuclear weapons and requires international inspectors to have access to nuclear facilities. The treaty gives Iran the right to produce nuclear fuel, Iran says.

Tehran says the plants authorized Sunday would produce enough enriched uranium to yield about 20,000 megawatts of electricity a year. Iran currently has one nuclear power plant, which has yet to begin full operation.

By comparison, 65 nuclear power plants in the United States produced about 800,000 megawatts of power in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

In his final report to the IAEA's governing board, outgoing Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei said Thursday that the agency has been able to verify that no known stocks of nuclear fuel have been diverted from authorized uses. But he said inspectors "have effectively reached a dead end" without further Iranian cooperation.

Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Monday that, in the United States' view, "as Iran makes choices that seem to indicate that it is not at this stage ready and willing to take up the offers on the engagement track, then we will put greater emphasis on the pressure track."

The "pressure track" is often code language for the pursuit of further U.N. Security Council sanctions.