Iranian officials announced the upcoming construction of two new nuclear plants on Saturday, just hours before the United States and Western nations signed a nuclear pact that will allow Iran to continue enriching uranium, the key component in a nuclear weapon.
Senior Iranian officials said that they are ready to build a second and third nuclear reactor in addition to the one currently operated in tandem with Russia, according to state-run media reports.
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The order to construct the new nuclear plants came from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, according to the deputy chief of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI).
"The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) has put construction of the second and third (nuclear) power stations on its agenda due to the government’s programs and the emphasis laid by the president," AEOI Deputy Chief Hossein Khalfi was quoted as saying during an address at the opening ceremony of the "25th Exhibition of Iran’s Nuclear Industry Achievements."
Iran is currently on pace to produce uranium via the Bushehr nuclear plant, which was engineered in part by the Russians.
"We have launched the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant and handed it over to the country’s experts in the past two months," Khalfi reportedly said.
Russia recently signed an agreement with Tehran to help it build new nuclear power plants as early as 2014.
The nuclear announcement was made just before Secretary of State John Kerry and other Western leaders signed an interim nuclear deal with Iran that will provide it around $7 billion in relief from economic sanctions.
It is believed that Iran could still reach a critical nuclear breakout capacity within two months under the deal.
"As part of this initial step, the P5+1 [Western nations] will provide limited, temporary, targeted, and reversible relief to Iran," the White House said in a background briefer sent to reporters Saturday evening.
"This relief is structured so that the overwhelming majority of the sanctions regime, including the key oil, banking, and financial sanctions architecture, remains in place," according to the White House.
Iran will be permitted to enrich uranium up to 5 percent under the interim deal, which experts say does little to walk back Tehran’s nuclear know-how.
Additionally, Iran agreed to stop using advanced centrifuges that allow it to enrich uranium at much quicker speeds, the White House said.
The West agreed in exchange to "not impose new nuclear-related sanctions for six months," the White House said.
The United States will also suspend "certain sanctions on gold and precious metals, Iran’s auto sector, and Iran’s petrochemical exports, potentially providing Iran approximately $1.5 billion in revenue."
Iran could earn another $4.2 billion in oil revenue under the deal.
Another "$400 million in governmental tuition assistance" could also be "transferred from restricted Iranian funds directly to recognized educational institutions in third countries to defray the tuition costs of Iranian students," according to the White House.
Iran’s critics on Capitol Hill and elsewhere quickly panned the deal and criticized the Obama administration for offering major concessions in return for very little.
"I share the president's goal of finding a diplomatic solution to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, but this deal appears to provide the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism with billions of dollars in exchange for cosmetic concessions that neither fully freeze nor significantly roll back its nuclear infrastructure," Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) said in a statement issued shortly after the deal was finalized.
"Furthermore, the deal ignores Iran's continued sponsorship of terrorism, its testing of long-range ballistic missiles, and its abuse of human rights," Kirk said, adding that he will continue to work with lawmakers to "craft bipartisan legislation that will impose tough new economic sanctions" on Iran.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon (R., Calif.) warned that America is repeating the mistakes it made in the lead up to North Korea’s successful nuclear tests.
"Iran hasn't given the world reason to be anything but deeply skeptical of any agreement that leaves their capacity to build nuclear weapons intact," McKeon said in a statement. "The president sees wisdom in placing trust, however limited, in a regime that has repeatedly violated international norms and put America's security at risk."
"Apparently, America has not learned its lesson from 1994 when North Korea fooled the world. I am skeptical that this agreement will end differently," he said.
The deal actually permits Iran to add to its nuclear arsenal, according to Josh Block, a onetime Clinton administration official who formerly served as spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
"During the six months, Iran will be adding to their stockpile of enriched material they could use to make nuclear weapons," said Block, current head of the Israel Project (TIP). "Iran currently possesses enough material for six to eight bombs and none of it will be evacuated out of the country or rendered permanently inert for further nuclear weapons use."
Pro-Israel advocacy groups such as the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) and the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) also expressed deep concerns about the deal.
"The Geneva Agreement is a defeat for the United States and the West," said ECI executive director Noah Pollak in a statement. "It fails to uphold even the minimum demand of repeated U.N. Security Council resolutions that Iran must stop enriching uranium."
"For the next six months, the centrifuges will not be dismantled and will continue to spin, uranium will be enriched, the 20 percent enriched uranium will stay in Iran, and a reactor designed to produce bomb-ready plutonium will remain just months away from completion," Pollak warned.
"Congress should make clear that it does not support this deal," Pollak said. "Congress should make clear that just because the Obama administration seems to have taken all our options off the table, our allies need not follow us down this futile path of accommodating the Iranian regime's nuclear ambitions."
Congress should also affirm that the United States "will support Israel" if it decides to take military action against Tehran, according to Pollak.
The RJC made a similar plea to Congress.
"President Obama's diplomacy is giving cheer to Tehran's rogue regime and causing alarm among our friends in the region—including Israel, Saudi Arabia, and most the other Gulf states," RJC executive director Matt Brooks said in a statement. "Congress and the American people need to speak out against this flawed deal."