Tehran: Iran's president has thrown a new wrinkle into the nuclear debate by claiming his country is testing a more sophisticated type of centrifuge for enriching uranium - a device that could be used to more speedily create fuel for either power plants or for atomic weapons.
But some analysts familiar with the country's technology said on Monday that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could be deliberately exaggerating Iran's capabilities, either to boost his own political support or to persuade the UN nuclear watchdog to back off.
Ahmadinejad, in a speech last week to students in northeastern Iran, claimed publicly and for the first time that the country was testing a P-2 centrifuge for enriching uranium. Such a device would be a vast improvement over the current P-1 centrifuges, which Iran announced last week it had used to do small-scale enrichment.
Iran previously had told the UN nuclear watchdog agency it had given up all work on P-2 centrifuges three years ago. It was not clear if Iran had been doing work all along on the more-sophisticated model, or had recently restarted efforts, or even if Ahmadinejad's comments were accurate.
But either way, the president's assertion is sure to raise concerns that Iran might have a more sophisticated programme than believed.
The International Atomic Energy Agency and some independent groups have long questioned if Iran has a parallel, secret nuclear program that is farther along.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Ahmadinejad said in a speech to mark national army day, Iran's armed forces must be at the ready and will "cut off the hand of any aggressor".
"The army must always be equipped and ready, and have mastered the latest technology, to respond to any aggression," he said in his speech, given during a military parade just south of the capital.
"The powerful army of the Islamic Republic of Iran is in the service of peace and security and is no threat to anyone. But in the face of enemies, it is like a meteorite. It will cut off the hand of any aggressor and leave the enemy covered in shame," he said.
"We want peace, security and progress for all people, in particular the countries of the region and our neighbours," the president added.