DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The head of Iran’s nuclear program insisted Wednesday that his government would cooperate with international inspectors on any “new activities.” His statement followed an exclusive Associated Press report about Tehran’s new underground system near a nuclear enrichment facility.
This week, the AP detailed how far inside a mountain the new tunnels are near the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility. Unfortunately for the U.S. military’s last ditch weapon to destroy these sites .
The AP report has sparked a wider discussion about the building of the tunnels in the Middle East. Israel’s national security advisor said Tuesday that the site was not immune to attack , even though its depth would put it outside the range of American airstrikes.
Speaking to journalists Wednesday after a Cabinet meeting, Mohammad Eslami of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran sought to describe the interest in the site as a case of Israel feeling pressured.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran is working under the IAEA safeguards, and whenever wants to start new activities, it will coordinate with the IAEA, and acts accordingly,” Eslami said, using an acronym for the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The IAEA did not respond to questions from the AP about the construction at Natanz, about 225 kilometers (140 miles) south of Tehran. Since its discovery two decades ago, Natanz has caused international concern.
Satellite photographs of the piles of dirt from the digging and experts who spoke to the AP suggest the new tunnels will be between between 80 meters (260 feet) and 100 meters (328 feet) deep.
Such underground facilities led the U.S. to create the GBU-57 bomb, which can plow through at least 60 meters (200 feet) of earth before detonating, according to the American military. U.S. officials have reportedly discussed the use of two bombs to destroy a target. It is not clear that such a one-two punch would damage a facility as deep as the one at Natanz.
With the possibility of such bombs being off-limits, it is left to the U.S. or its allies with less options for targeting the site. If diplomacy remains stalled as it has for months over Iran’s tattered nuclear deal, sabotage attacks may resume.
Iran says the new construction will replace an above-ground centrifuge manufacturing center at Natanz struck by an explosion and fire in July 2020. Tehran blamed Israel for the accident, which it has long believed to be responsible for sabotage against their program.
Associated Press writer Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.
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