Iranian nuclear chief: Islamic Republic designing new centrifuges

Khamenei adviser: Iran should negotiate with each of the six world powers separately; talks to resume with P5+1 Dec. 30.

Iran's Ali Akbar Salehi 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed)
Iran's Ali Akbar Salehi 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed)
Iran's nuclear chief said the Islamic Republic was making plans to mass produce new centrifuges for uranium enrichment, Iran's media reported him as saying on Thursday.
The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi said the "new generation" of centrifuges still had to undergo various tests before they could be produced.
“A new generation of centrifuges is being built, but they should undergo all tests before mass production," Iran's Tasnim news quoted him as saying.
Salehi added that his country currently has 19,000 centrifuges. He also lauded Iran's capability of "conducting the full fuel cycle of the nuclear fuel production from discovery to mining and from there to turning uranium to nuclear fuel,” according to Iran's official IRNA news agency.
As part of a deal reached in November with six world powers in Geneva, Iran agreed to limit its enrichment capabilities and reduce the number of operational centrifuges already installed at the Fordow and at Natanz enrichment facilities.
Iran was also to refrain from installing new centrifuges, and will be required to freeze all enrichment beyond 20 percent, according to the agreement with the P5+1 world powers.
Meanwhile, a top strategic adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Friday Iran should negotiate the future of its nuclear program with each of the P5+1 countries separately,
"We aren’t on the right path if we don’t have one-on-one talks with the six countries," Ali Akbar Velayati was quoted by Mehr news agency as saying.
Iran and the P5+1 states - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States - reached an interim deal in Geneva last month that freezes Tehran's nuclear program for six months in return for some sanctions relief. The allocated six months are meant to allow for time to negotiate a permanent accord.
"We have to talk with the countries separately... It would be wrong if we bring the countries into unity against us, since there are rifts among them over various international issues," he added.
Technical talks on how best to implement the deal are still ongoing and were due to resume on December 30.
A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who oversees diplomacy with Iran on behalf of the P5+1 states, said talks were scheduled to last one day for now.
The experts have to work out when the deal will be implemented, triggering the loosening of economic restrictions by the European Union and United States.
A key sticking point appears to be what information Western governments will receive in advance to verify that Iran is meeting its end of the deal before they lift some sanctions.
Other outstanding issues address how exactly sanctions will be eased and practical details of Iranian concessions.
Some diplomats from the six nations have said they hoped the deal could be put fully in place by the second half of January.
The talks resume at a sensitive time. A group of 100 hardline Iranian lawmakers are seeking to oblige moderate President Hassan Rouhani's government to increase uranium enrichment to 60 percent, a level that can produce bomb-grade material if enriched further, if new sanctions are imposed on the Islamic Republic.
It is not clear if the bill would be debated in Iran's 290-seat parliament, as the country's most powerful authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has repeatedly backed the Geneva talks.
If approved, the bill has to be ratified by a constitutional watchdog body to become law.
Iranian lawmakers said the measure was a response to "America's hostile measures", referring to a legislation introduced by 26 US senators last week to impose new sanctions on Iran if the country breaks the Geneva interim deal.
An Iranian official warned that the process could be derailed if US lawmakers imposed the tougher curbs despite the Obama administration's opposition.
"Any wrong move by the US Congress in the form of approving a sanctions bill targeting officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran will be given a similar response by the parliament," deputy head of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee Mansour Haqhiqhatpour said, Press TV reported.
"Ratification of such a bill could put an end to nuclear negotiations, and Tehran may opt not to continue negotiations in the wake of such sanctions."
The proposed US legislation would require reductions in Iran's petroleum production and apply new penalties to Iran's engineering, mining and construction industries.
Last Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned that the Islamic Republic can resume 20 percent uranium enrichment in less than 24 hours if the implementation of the Geneva accord breaks down.
Iran rejects Western fears that its nuclear work has any military intentions and says it needs nuclear power for electricity generation and medical research.
Michael Wilner and Reuters contributed to this report.