Iran Focus - Editorial - Iran's main opposition group announced last week that the Islamic Republic has been secretly constructing a new underground uranium enrichment facility in the mountains near Qazvin. The Behjatabad-Abyek site, located 120 km west of Tehran, is said to be 85% complete and can fit several thousand centrifuges, according to the People's Mojahedin (PMOI).
The International Atomic Energy Agency said in its most recent report that Tehran continues to violate UN Security Council resolutions by continuing its uranium enrichment activities and even banning some IAEA inspectors.
Surprisingly, immediately after the dissidents' disclosure, an anonymous US official was quoted as saying "there's no reason at this point" to think that the revealed site is connected to the nuclear program. A nuclear expert, David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security, said the PMOI "did not present any evidence that verifies that this site in particular is intended to be an underground enrichment facility."
But similar hesitations were echoed in 2005 when the PMOI revealed the existence of another nuclear site buried deep in the mountains near the city of Qom. Construction of the complex, comprised of several tunnels and underground buildings, had commenced in 2000. The international community, however, did not act.
Four years later, Mr. Albright's institute conceded in a 29 September 2009 report, "It appears that the suspected uranium enrichment facility near Qom … was originally a tunnel facility associated with Iran's military—one of many throughout the country—and not a construction site for a uranium enrichment plant."
Western governments finally acknowledged the existence of the Qom facilities in 2009, but by then four precious years had been lost.
Iran's nuclear installations do not come with a yellow nuclear sticker visible from outer space. A certain amount of logical deduction needs to take place in addition to the empirical evidence. Even if it was ascertained that the Qazvin tunnels' initial purpose is for conventional military storage facilities - as the anonymous US official seems to suggest - this would not disprove links to the nuclear program.
This is where the PMOI's inside information proves crucial. The group has a long track record of providing accurate intelligence on Iran's nuclear program from its network in the regime.
Iran on Friday categorically denied the PMOI's claim about the clandestine underground atomic site, with Iran's atomic chief saying: "If they really are aware of such an installation, perhaps they would like to tell us about it so that we can thank them."
Granted, new information should not automatically be considered as concrete at face value. But, it would be a mistake to dismiss it out of hand. At the very least, the latest intelligence should be carefully reviewed and the regime should be pressed to allow IAEA inspectors to visit the site before making any modifications to it. It should not be ignored like the Qom site was in 2005.
Without a rapid and robust response to Tehran's consistent violations, the regime will not take the international community's resolve seriously.
The regime's hasty denials, its persistent defiance of the IAEA, and its plans to build more facilities and enrich higher grade uranium in violation of UN resolutions should be reason enough to impose a more comprehensive set of sanctions, targeting the mullahs' economic lifeline