Iran announced on Wednesday a number of advances in its nuclear programme, including a 50 per cent increase in its uranium enrichment capacity, the production of new centrifuges and the loading of domestically produced fuel into a research reactor.

The announcements were made in defiance of international pressure on Tehran to freeze the expansion of its nuclear programme, which western countries suspect is being used to develop the capacity for building a nuclear weapon.

Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the president, said at a ceremony at the Tehran reactor on Wednesday that Iran was not “bluffing” when it announced two years ago that it could produce reactor fuel at home after western countries refused to supply the fuel in what he described as an attempt at “political leverage”. The reactor makes medical isotopes to treat cancer patients.

The Islamic regime in 2010 rejected western terms to continue receiving reactor fuel and vowed to convert its uranium into reactor fuel by relying on domestic expertise, and to increase the fissile purity of uranium enrichment from 3.5 per cent to 20 per cent.

Iran’s announcement that it is loading domestically-made fuel into a research reactor will allow Tehran to claim that it is enriching uranium for civil nuclear purposes, in this case the production of medical isotopes for cancer cures.

But while this may give Iran some political cover for its nuclear activities, western governments will argue that this does not detract from other evidence suggesting Iran wants to build a nuclear weapon.

Iran’s president also said on Wednesday the capacity of uranium enrichment at 3.5 per cent purity had gone up by 50 per cent after 3,000 centrifuges were added to the existing 6,000 in Natanz facility.

A new generation of centrifuges which Iran has designed, produced and installed, will triple the country’s uranium enrichment capacity according to Mr Ahmadi-Nejad, although he gave no further details.

The announcement that Iran wants to develop a fourth generation centrifuge will be seen by western countries as a sign of Tehran’s growing nuclear ambitions and its wish to build up its uranium enrichment capability.

But nuclear experts in the west are likely to be sceptical about the significance of the announcement given difficulties Iran has already had developing less-advanced, second generation centrifuges.

It was not immediately clear whether the timing of announcements are part of Iran’s efforts to gain leverage in its future talks with six major powers – US, Britain, France, Russia and China as well as Germany known as 5+1.

The country’s Supreme National Security Council, which is in charge of nuclear talks with the group, replied on Wednesday to a recent letter from Lady Ashton, European Union foreign policy chief. A statement by the council said Iran was ready to resume talks. No preconditions seemed to be mentioned in the letter.

“They [western powers] have lined up repeating ‘all options are on the table’. That’s fine. Let everything remain on the table until it rots like yourselves, your thoughts and your morals which stink and its smell has filled up the history,” Mr Ahmadi-Nejad said.

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