TEHRAN, Iran — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced progress in Iran's push for nuclear power, saying Tuesday that his nation was installing thousands of uranium-enriching centrifuges and testing a much faster version of the device.
During a tour of the Natanz underground nuclear facility, Ahmadinejad said scientists were putting 6,000 new centrifuges into place, about twice the current number, and testing a new type that works five times faster.
That would represent a major expansion of uranium enrichment — a process that can produce either fuel for a nuclear reactor or material for a warhead. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice cautioned the claim could not be substantiated yet.
Diplomats close to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency say Iran has exaggerated its progress and seen problems operating the 3,000 centrifuges already in place. One diplomat said Ahmadinejad's claims of a more advanced centrifuge appeared to allude to a type known as the IR-2, which the agency and Iran said months ago that Iran had begun testing.
The IR-2 is believed to be two to three times faster than the centrifuges currently in use. His claim the new machine was five times as quick added to the skepticism.
Permanent members of the Security Council, which already imposed three sets of sanctions against Iran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, were divided in their response to the announcement.
The United States and Britain quickly condemned it, and France warned Iran could face more sanctions. But Russia, an ally of Iran, dismissed the need for that, saying negotiators were preparing a new package of incentives aimed at persuading Iran to freeze uranium enrichment.