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Why Would an Ayatollah Build Secret Uranium-Enrichment Facilities?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Would Pope Francis build a secret uranium-enrichment facility? The question is absurd.

But would Iran's Supreme Leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, build one? The answer: No, he has built at least two.


On Sept. 25, 2009, during a G-20 summit in Pittsburgh, Obama, then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy and then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown held a joint briefing.

"We are here to announce that yesterday in Vienna, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France presented detailed evidence to the IAEA demonstrating that the Islamic Republic of Iran has been building a covert uranium enrichment facility near Qom for several years," said Obama, according to the White House transcript.

"As the international community knows, this is not the first time that Iran has concealed information about its nuclear program," said Obama.

Iran had been deceitful about its nuclear program before?

"Following the enriching plant of Natanz in 2002, it is now the Qom one which is revealed," said President Sarkozy. "It was designed and built over the past several years in direct violation of resolutions from the Security Council and from the IAEA."

Prime Minister Brown followed up: "As President Obama and President Sarkozy have just said, the level of deception by the Iranian government, and the scale of what we believe is the breach of international commitments, will shock and anger the whole international community, and it will harden our resolve."

So what was the secret facility at Natanz that came before the one at Qom?

Immediately after the Obama-Sarkozy-Brown briefing on Sept. 25, 2009, senior administration officials gave reporters a background briefing on the newly revealed facility at Qom. While doing so, they talked about the previously revealed facility at Natanz.


"Let me start with a bit of history," said one of the officials, according to the White House transcript.

"Just to remind all of you that the Iranian nuclear issue first became public back in 2002, when it was revealed that Iran was building a secret underground enrichment facility, which we now know as the Natanz facility," said the official. "Once the Iranians were caught building the secret underground enrichment facility with centrifuge machines in it, they were forced to declare the facility, to allow the IAEA inspectors to inspect the facility and to place it under safeguards."

"Now, Iran has continued to build that facility despite a number of U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding that they completely suspend all activity there," said the official.

The senior administration official went on to explain why Iran needed another secret enrichment facility after Natanz was exposed.

"Now, it was evident to everybody, both the United States and our allies, that if the Iranians wanted to pursue a nuclear weapons option, the use of the Natanz facility was a very unattractive approach, because the IAEA inspectors were there, it would be noticed if Iran tried to produce weapons-grade uranium at that facility, or if they expelled the IAEA inspectors, everybody would assume that they were converting the facility to produce weapons-grade uranium," said the official.

"So the obvious option for Iran would be to build another secret underground enrichment facility, and our intelligence services, working in very close cooperation with our allies, for the past several years have been looking for such a facility," he said. "And not surprisingly, we found one."


"And as the President mentioned this morning, it's located near the city of Qom, a very heavily protected, very heavily disguised facility," said the official.

"Our information is that the facility is designed to hold about 3,000 centrifuge machines," he said. "Now, that's not a large enough number to make any sense from a commercial standpoint. It cannot produce a significant quantity of low-enriched uranium. But if you want to use the facility in order to produce a small amount of weapons-grade uranium, enough for a bomb or two a year, it's the right size. And our information is that the Iranians began this facility with the intent that it be secret, and therefore giving them an option of producing weapons-grade uranium without the international community knowing about it."

So what do these secretly built uranium-enrichment facilities have to do with a religious leader like Ayatollah Khamenei?

"While mechanisms for popular election exist within the structure of the state, the supreme leader directly controlled the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government as well as the armed forces," says the 2013 State Department Country Report on Human Rights in Iran.

"Since 1989 the supreme leader has been Ayatollah Ali Khamenei," says the report.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate Armed Services Committee Feb. 26 that the U.S. believes Ayatollah Khamenei will decide if Iran builds a nuclear weapon.


"We believe the supreme leader would be the ultimate decision maker here," said Clapper. "As far as we know, he's not made a decision to go for a nuclear weapon."

At a press briefing in November, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes noted one of the ayatollah's religious declarations.

"I think with respect to our engagement with Iran," Rhodes said, "the Supreme Leader has said that there's a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons inside of Iran, that their program is peaceful."

So Iran's supreme leader presides over the building of secret uranium-enrichment facilities and has issued a fatwa against an Iranian nuclear weapon.


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