QOM, Iran – Iran said Tuesday it had found uranium ore at three new sites in the center of the country, an announcement that appeared designed as a fresh challenge to the drive by the United States and allies to curb Tehran's nuclear program.
Iran already has considerable uranium resources available for its nuclear program, a fact that called into question the importance of the new discoveries — beyond their propaganda value.
"We have got good news: the discovery of new economically viable deposits of uranium in central Iran," Mohammad Ghannadi, deputy chief for nuclear research and technology, told a conference.
He said the deposits were found in the Khoshoomi region, Charchooleh and Narigan.
Iran's principal source of uranium is the Saghand mine in the center of the country, which has the capacity to produce 132,000 tons of ore per year.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Iran's announcement showed "they are feeling increasingly uncomfortable" with their programs being reviewed by the U.N. Security Council.
As a result, he said, "they are throwing up all sorts of chaff in the air right now to divert attention, to try to make threatening statements to the international community."
Ghannadi said Iran's enrichment of uranium was continuing, but he confirmed reports that a few of centrifuges at the enrichment facility in Natanz had crashed last month.
"It's not a problem. They were repaired," Ghannadi said in this holy city south of Tehran.
Iran announced April 11 that it had enriched uranium through cascades of centrifuges for the first time.
The Security Council has demanded that Iran cease enrichment until all questions have been answered about extent of its nuclear program. Enriched uranium is used a fuel for nuclear power generators or in nuclear warheads.
Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that Iran has flouted a Security Council deadline to suspend enrichment and had failed to provide answers to questions about its program.
Iran says its nuclear program is confined to generating power, but the United States and France accuse the country of secretly trying to build nuclear weapons.
Representatives of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China discussed the outlines of a Security Council resolution on Iran's nuclear program in Paris on Tuesday.
"I think what we will see unfold is that European governments will put forward following today's (Tuesday's) discussion some form of Chapter 7 resolution, and we'll discuss the form of it," U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said before the talks began.
A resolution under the U.N. Charter's Chapter 7 makes any demands mandatory and allows for the use of sanctions and possibly force.
Russia and China have said they are opposed to sanctions on Iran's nuclear program.