The United States said on Monday that Iran's uranium work at an underground facility at Fordo, constitutes "further escalation" in its pattern of violating its obligations under UN Security Council resolutions.
"If they are enriching at Fordo to 20%, this is a further escalation of their ongoing violations with regard to their nuclear obligations," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
"The fact that the IAEA has made clear that they are enriching to a level that is inappropriate at Fordo is obviously a problem," she added. Nuland said the IAEA's assessment, previously reported by diplomats in Vienna, did not come as a surprise to the United States.
Earlier Monday, the UN nuclear agency confirmed that Iran has begun enriching uranium at an underground bunker near Iran's holy city of Qom.
"The IAEA can confirm that Iran has started the production of uranium enriched up to 20% using IR-1 centrifuges in the Fordo Fuel Enrichment Plant," an IAEA statement said.
Nuclear facility near Qom
IAEA Spokeswoman Gill Tudor added that "All nuclear material in the facility remains under the Agency's containment and surveillance." Uranium enriched to a 20% level enables turning it into fissile warhead material.
Following the revelation, European diplomats said that the EU is expected to bring forward key meeting to decide Iran oil embargo to January 23.
The UK also expressed anger at the move, warning that it was "a provocative act that undermines claims that the program is civilian in nature,"
“If Iran has nothing to hide, it should seek every opportunity to reassure the international community of its peaceful intentions,” UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle described Iran’s new enrichment activities as a "further escalation," adding he was confident that the European Union will impose new sanctions on the country’s oil exports.
Iran's work in Fordo was expected, as Tehran announced months ago that it would use the Fordo facility for 20% production.
Iran began to further enrich a small part of its uranium stockpile to nearly 20% as of February 2010 at a less-protected experimental site, saying it needs the higher grade material to produce fuel for a Tehran reactor that manufactures medical equipment.
AP, Reuters and Yitzhak Benhorin in Washington contributed to this report
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