HomeIran News NowIran Nuclear NewsRobert Gates Says Iran regime faces "severe" new sanctions

Robert Gates Says Iran regime faces “severe” new sanctions

Source: The New York Times
WASHINGTON — The disclosure of a new nuclear enrichment site in Iran places the government “in a very bad spot” and raises the prospect of “severe additional sanctions,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said in an interview broadcast Sunday.

Mr. Gates restated his strong preference for a diplomatic solution. "While you don’t take options off the table, I think there’s still room left for diplomacy," Mr. Gates said on CNN’s Sunday program "State of the Union."

“There is no military option that does anything more than buy time,” he added.

The Obama administration plans to tell Iran this week that it must open the site to international inspectors “within weeks,” senior administration officials said Saturday. The administration will also insist that the inspectors must have full access to the leading personnel who put together the clandestine plant and to documents on its construction.

The demands, following the revelation Friday of the secret facility at a military base near the holy city of Qum, set the stage for the next chapter of a diplomatic drama that has toughened the West’s posture. The first direct negotiations between the United States and Iran in 30 years are scheduled to open in Geneva on Thursday.

In the wake of the disclosure, Iranian officials reported the test-firing on Sunday of three short-range missiles by the elite Revolutionary Guard on Sunday, . Although the tests had reportedly been planned for some time, the impression was of a show of force. On Monday, Iran plans to fire two medium-range Shahab-1 and Shahab-2 missiles, the state -run Fars news agency reported.

The news agency quoted Gen. Hossein Salami, head of the Revolutionary Guards Air Force, as issuing a blunt warning that any country launching an aggression against Iran — presumably an allusion to occasional speculation that Israel might do so — would be dealt with “in a crushing manner."

Mr. Gates estimated that Iran is still one to three years from a nuclear weapons capability, a somewhat tighter timeline than the official American estimate that Iran could produce a nuclear weapon between 2010 and 2015. He said the latest nuclear site had been under observation for at least “a couple of years,” but side-stepped a question on whether other facilities might yet be discovered.

While the new disclosure adds urgency, the defense secretary insisted that “there’s still room left for diplomacy.”

“The only way you end up not having a nuclear-capable Iran is for the Iranian government to decide their security is diminished by having those weapons,” Mr. Gates said.

Both he and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” underscored the point that unless Iran is fully forthcoming in Geneva, support will continue to build for what Mr. Gates called “severe additional sanctions.”

Mrs. Clinton emphasized that Iran now faces a considerably heavier burden of proof.

“The Russians have come out with a strong statement saying the burden has now shifted; it has shifted to Iran,” she said in a pretaped interview.

She confirmed that Mr. Obama had first shared the intelligence on the Iranian site with President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia when they met last week in New York.

Asked what the Iranians could do at this point to ease the deepening suspicions about their nuclear program — which they maintain is for peaceful purposes — Mrs. Clinton replied, “They can open up their entire system to the kind of extensive investigation that the facts call for.”

She added: “Words are not enough.”

American and European officials say they will press Iran to open what they suspect are nuclear-related sites to international inspectors, and to turn over notebooks and computers that they think may document efforts to design weapons.

Evidence of the hidden nuclear facility was presented on Friday by Mr. Obama, Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, who were attending the G-20 economic summit in Pittsburgh.

On Sunday, neither Mr. Gates nor Mrs. Clinton spoke of any deadline, though Mr. Gates said Iran could not play endlessly for time.

President Obama has repeatedly said that Iran must show significant cooperation by the end of the year, but American and European officials appear to differ about how much time Iran should be given.

Iran’s nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, said Saturday that the International Atomic Energy Agency would be invited to visit the site near Qum, which American intelligence agencies estimate was designed to house 3,000 centrifuges, enough to produce about one bomb’s worth of material a year. But he did not say when.

Iranian officials have long maintained that their nuclear program is designed to produce energy, not weapons, but so far they have not explained why the facility near Qum was situated inside a heavily guarded base.

David Kay, a nuclear specialist who led the fruitless American search for unconventional weapons in Iraq, said the discovery “reopens the whole question of the military’s involvement in the Iranian nuclear program.”

From the White House to Europe, senior officials sought to exploit the disclosure of the covert facility.

“This is the most important development in the three and a half years since the U.S. has offered negotiations with Iran,” said R. Nicholas Burns, a Harvard professor who served as the Bush administration’s chief strategist on Iran. Mr. Burns said Mr. Obama “now has much greater leverage to organize an international coalition” to pressure Tehran.

Two United States senators said Sunday on CNN that the new revelations, and the heightened threat of sanctions, could prove pivotal.

“That gives us the best chance of getting them to give up their program,” said Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana who is a member of the intelligence committee.

Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, said, “I think the table couldn’t be set better for that meeting” in Geneva.

But Mr. Corker, who is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, urged patience while pursuing diplomacy.

For now, the most urgent issue, current and former officials agree, is gaining immediate access to the hidden tunnel complex that Iran now acknowledges is a uranium enrichment plant still under construction. Quick access to the facility is considered crucial because of fears that Iran could move incriminating equipment or documents.

It is still unclear what kind of incentives the United States and its allies might offer Iran if it completely opened, and ultimately dismantled, its nuclear program. On Saturday, Mr. Obama said he remained committed to building a relationship with Tehran.

In Geneva, Iran will be told that to avoid sanctions, it must adhere to an agreement with the international atomic agency that would allow inspectors to go virtually anywhere in the country to follow suspicions of nuclear work, and to abide by agency rules requiring it to announce in advance any plans to build nuclear facilities.

Administration officials acknowledge that it is unlikely that Iran will accede to all of their demands. But they say this is their best chance to move the seven-year standoff sharply in their favor.

In recent, the administration’s tone toward Iran has become tougher and more confrontational. Speaking on ABC, Mr. Gates called the hidden facility “part of a pattern of deception and lies on the part of the Iranians from the very beginning with respect to their nuclear program.”

Asked whether the administration might provide the apology Iran had demanded over what it insisted were inaccurate reports of the hidden site, Mr. Gates replied bluntly, “Not a chance.”