TEHRAN — Iran's government will build 10 new sites to enrich uranium, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Sunday, a dramatic expansion of the country's nuclear program and one that is bound to fuel fears that it is attempting to produce a nuclear weapon.
Ahmadinejad told the official Islamic Republic News Agency that construction of at least five nuclear facilities was to begin within two months.
The surprise announcement came two days after a censure of Iran by the International Atomic Energy Organization over the Islamic republic's refusal to stop enriching uranium, a key demand of Western powers. The 35-member board of the agency also criticized Iran's construction of a second enrichment plant in Qom, southwest of Tehran.
U.S. officials reacted cautiously to the announcement. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that Iran's plans, if true, "would be yet another serious violation of Iran's clear obligations under multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions and another example of Iran choosing to isolate itself."
Less than a year after President Obama pledged to engage Iran, U.S. efforts at rapprochement have yielded little in return, and relations between the sides now appear to be headed toward a more confrontational phase. In a sign of growing hostility toward the West, Iran's parliament on Sunday called on Ahmadinejad's government to reduce ties with the IAEA — a move that could limit the agency's access to Iranian nuclear sites.
Iran has insisted that its nuclear program is designed for energy production and denies that it is seeking to build a nuclear bomb. In announcing plans for the new facilities on Sunday, Ahmadinejad said his country's need for energy would grow dramatically over the next 15 years.