The Iranian government approved a plan Sunday to build 10 industrial scale uranium enrichment facilities, a dramatic expansion of the program in defiance of UN demands it halt enrichment.
The White House said in response that if Iran really does plan to building 10 new uranium enrichment facilities, then the development would be another instance of flaunting the United Nations.
Presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs noted that the UN nuclear watchdog agency has censured Iran for failing to live up to its obligations under various UN resolutions. Gibbs said the report Sunday means that Iran is "choosing to isolate itself."
"Time is running out for Iran to address the international community's growing concerns about its nuclear program," he added.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband described Iran's move as a provocation.
"This epitomizes the fundamental problem that we face with Iran," he said. "We have stated over and again that we recognize Iran's right to a civilian nuclear program, but they must restore international confidence in their intentions. Instead of engaging with us Iran chooses to provoke and dissemble."
Iran's state news agency IRNA says the government ordered the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to begin construction of five uranium enrichment sites that have already been studied and propose five other sites for future construction.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that centrifuges to be installed in the new facilities will serve the country's energy needs. According to him, Iran needs more advanced centrifuges "in order to reach the situation in which we can produce 250-300 tons of fuel."
The new sites will be modeled after the facility at Natanz. The decision was made during a cabinet meeting headed by President Ahmadinejad Sunday evening, IRNA said.
'Yet another violation'
About 8,600 centrifuges have been set up in Natanz, but only about 4,000 are actively enriching uranium, according to the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency. The facility will eventually house 54,000 centrifuges.
In Washington, a senior US officials said that, "if carried out, this would constitute yet another violation of Iran's continuing obligation of suspension of all enrichment-related activities, including construction of new plants."
"There remains a fleeting opportunity for Iran to engage with the international community, if only it would make that choice," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the Obama administration had not yet released a formal response.
In Vienna, spokeswoman Gillian Tudor said the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency would have no comment on Tehran's announcement.
Iran aims to generate 20,000 megawatts of electricity through nuclear power plants in the next 20 years. IRNA said the new plants are needed to produce enough fuel for its future reactors.
Ahmadinejad told the Cabinet that Iran will need to install 500,000 centrifuges throughout the planned enrichment facilities to produce between 250 to 300 tons of fuel annually, IRNA reported.
The US and other Western countries suspect that Iran is secretly developing nuclear warheads alongside its civilian nuclear program, a claim Iran denies. The Islamic Republic has continued to insist that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only and is necessary for the supplying the country with electricity.