An Iranian nuclear official said a newly created uranium-enrichment centrifuge improves vastly on Iran's existing machines, Agence France-Presse reports.
"This new machine is 15 times more powerful than the previous generation," Iranian Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi said in Monday comments reported by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Other developmental centrifuges are between three and five times more efficient than Iran's oldest-model machines, which it has deployed in far greater numbers.
Salehi added that the new line of centrifuges "surprised the Westerners."
The United States and European countries are fearful that Iran could tap its uranium-enrichment capabilities to rapidly produce fuel for nuclear arms, but Tehran has long insisted it only wants lower-purity material for peaceful use.
Washington and its allies hope to secure broad restrictions on Iran's atomic activities in upcoming negotiations, which are scheduled to start next week. The discussions would follow up on a short-term nuclear agreement reached in November by Iranian diplomats and counterparts from the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany.
Salehi said his nation "successfully argued" to permit centrifuge preparation under the November interim agreement's "research and development article," and asserted that the new development does not violate the temporary accord. The half-year arrangement bars Iran from upgrading its operational centrifuges or increasing their number.
The Iranian atomic chief also suggested his nation "would refuse to give up uranium enrichment to 20 percent" in accordance with orders from Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds the last word on major Iranian policy decisions, Agence France-Presse reported. Iran agreed in the interim deal to suspend production of 20 percent-enriched uranium, which hold the potential for conversion into nuclear-bomb fuel faster than lower-enriched material.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday said he expected the upcoming nuclear discussions to be "difficult."
"The biggest challenge is the lack of trust," the top diplomat said.
Iran is still "determined to hold fair and constructive talks," President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday during remarks in Tehran's Azadi Square. "We hope to see such an intention on the other side as well."