Iran Underground Nuclear Plant Almost Finished, N.Y. Times Says

Iran has almost completed an underground nuclear enrichment facility in what may be an attempt to influence negotiations with the U.S. and Europe, the New York Times said, citing unidentified intelligence officials.

Almost 3,000 centrifuges are being installed at the Fordo plant constructed in the side of a mountain, putting Iran closer to being able to build a nuclear weapon should the country’s leaders decide to do so, the report said. The work has proceeded in the face of U.S., European and Israeli vows to stop it through sanctions that have damaged the Iranian economy.

While Iran maintains the plant is for peaceful energy development, Israel says it is part of an atomic weapons program and has said it may attack the Islamic republic’s facilities. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pushing President Barack Obama and the international community to set “red lines” for military action if Iran continues to enrich uranium.

The progress at Fordo was revealed by unidentified officials familiar with recent inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the New York Times said. Some of the officials come from European countries that oppose a military strike in favor of economic sanctions on Iran, the report said.

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor is cited by the newspaper as saying “we remain concerned about Iran’s defiance of its international obligations” while declining to comment about any unreleased intelligence reports.

The Times reported on Oct. 21 that the U.S. and Iran had reached a tacit agreement to hold talks after next month’s American presidential election, which Obama denied the next day during a debate with Republican candidate Mitt Romney. The prospect of negotiations may be behind the accelerated pace of activity at Iran’s underground site, today’s report said.

The number of centrifuges installed at the Fordo facility doubled to about 2,140 from 1,064 in June, the IAEA said in August. While fewer than half of the machines are putting out enriched uranium, Iran could have all of them doing so within months, the newspaper quoted the unidentified officials as saying.

To contact the reporter on this story: John Brinsley in Tokyo at jbrinsley@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at phirschberg@bloomberg.net

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