Washington: UN inspectors and intelligence specialists in western countries believe Iran may be preparing to build at least two additional secret nuclear sites despite demands that it open up its nuclear program, The New York Times reported.
The newspaper said the suspicions were prompted by recent comments by a top Iranian official.
In an interview with the Iranian Student News Agency, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had ordered work to begin soon on two new plants.
The plants, he said, "will be built inside mountains”, presumably to protect them from attacks, according to The Times report.
"God willing," Salehi was quoted as saying, "we may start the construction of two new enrichment sites" in the Iranian new year, which began March 21.
Last September, US President Barack Obama revealed the evidence of a hidden Iranian nuclear site at Qum.
US officials say they share the International Atomic Energy Agency`s suspicions and are examining satellite evidence about a number of suspected sites in Iran, The Times said.
But they have found no solid indications yet that Iran plans to use the new sites to produce nuclear fuel, the report said. Also, US officials are not certain about the number of sites Iran may be planning.
But even if the sites are built, US officials believe they would pose no immediate threat or change US estimates that it will still take Iran one to four years to obtain the capability to build a nuclear weapon, the paper said.
They think it would probably take several years for Iran to enrich uranium at any of the new sites, The Times noted.