By AP, JPOST.COM STAFF
The day after the existence of second uranium enrichment facility in Iran was revealed, the Islamic republic announced it would begin missile defense exercises beginning Sunday, according to a Reuters report.
"The Revolutionary Guards' air force will tomorrow start missile, defensive war games ... as part of regular annual defense plans to maintain and upgrade defense capacities of ... Iran's armed forces," said a Saturday statement quoted by the Mehr and IRNA news agencies.
The Guards' air force chief, General Hossein Salami, was quoted as saying that the exercise would include "simultaneous firings of missiles at targets."
Also Saturday, Iranian nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi told state television that Teheran would allow the UN nuclear agency to inspect the newly revealed and still unfinished facility. He did not specify when inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency could visit the site, but said it has to be worked out with the agency under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty rules.
Iran's newly revealed enrichment site is said to be in the arid mountains near the holy city of Qom, inside a heavily guarded, underground facility belonging to the Revolutionary Guard. The small-scale site is meant to house no more than 3,000 centrifuges - much less than the more than 8,000 machines at Natanz, Iran's known industrial-scale enrichment facility. Still, the enriching machines in Qom facility will produce nuclear fuel - or possibly the payload for atomic warheads.
US President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy accused Iran on Friday of constructing the secret underground facility and of hiding its existence from international inspectors for years.
However, Salehi said there was nothing secret about the site and that Iran complied with UN rules that require it to inform the world body's nuclear agency six months before a uranium enrichment facility becomes operational.
"Inspection will be within the framework of the regulations ... we have no problem with inspection [of the site]. We will work out this issue with the agency and will announce the date of the inspection later after reaching an agreement with IAEA," Salei told state television Saturday.
Salehi, who is also the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said Teheran should be praised, not condemned, for voluntarily revealing the existence of the nuclear facility.
"Under [NPT] rules, we are required to inform the IAEA of the existence of such a facility 180 days before introducing materials but we are announcing it more than a year earlier. Still, we see there is controversy. We are astonished," he said.
On Saturday, a close aide to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that the Qom facility will be operational soon.
"This new facility, God willing, will become operational soon and will blind the eyes of the enemies," Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani told the semi-official Fars news agency.
However at a Friday news conference in New York, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that the plant would not be operational for 18 months, sidestepping a question about whether Iran had sufficient enriched uranium to manufacture a nuclear weapon.
Still, he said Teheran rejects such armaments as "inhumane."
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