Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said his country's nuclear experts are testing a new type of advanced centrifuges, remarks likely meant to rally support for the Iranian leader as his nation struggles under crushing U.S. sanctions.
Rohani spoke during a meeting Wednesday with Iranian expatriates in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where he also used an Islamic conference on Thursday as a platform to decry American sanctions against Iran.
“We have had great achievements and today, Iranian new IR-6 centrifuges are working and models IR-9 are currently being tested,” the state-run IRNA news agency quoted Rohani as telling the Iranian expats.
Iran was gripped by several days of violent protests in November amid anger over a sharp hike in gasoline prices following U.S. sanctions after Washington withdrew last year from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Rohani told the Islamic conference that the U.S. sought to cripple Iran with the “heaviest sanctions” but the country's economy is on the mend and moving away from reliance on oil.
His announcement a day earlier about the new centrifuges being tested was not the first time they were mentioned. Last month, Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salemi first mentioned that Iranian scientists have built a prototype of an IR-9 centrifuge that is 50 times faster than the IR-1 ones, which Iran mostly uses.
Also in November, Iran began injecting uranium gas into over a thousand centrifuges at a fortified nuclear facility at Fordo, built inside a mountain as the latest step away from its atomic accord with world powers since President Donald Trump pulled America out of the deal.
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The centrifuges at Fordo are first-generation IR-1s but the 2015 landmark nuclear deal allowed those at Fordo to spin without uranium gas, as well as allowing over 5,000 such centrifuges to operate at the Iranian Natanz facility to enrich uranium.
In the meantime, Tehran has also doubled the number of advanced IR-6 centrifuges operating in the country to 60, another step away from the nuclear accord.
A centrifuge enriches uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas. An IR-6 centrifuge can produce enriched uranium 10 times faster than an IR-1, Iranian officials say.
For now, Iran is enriching uranium up to 4.5%, in violation of the accord’s limit of 3.67%. Enriching uranium at the 3.67% level is enough for peaceful purposes but is far below weapons-grade levels of 90%.
The nuclear deal was struck amid Western fears that Iran could use its program to build a nuclear weapon. Tehran insists the program is for peaceful purposes.