Iran tests new uranium enrichment centrifuges, President Rouhani says

Iran President Hassan Rouhani said his country is working on the development of new, advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges, according to Iranian state-run news agency IRNA, a move that appears to violate the landmark nuclear agreement Tehran signed with world powers in 2015.

Rouhani said at a meeting with Iranian expatriates in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday that the country is now testing IR-9 centrifuges, which convert mined uranium into fuel for nuclear power. Iran has repeatedly denied it has any ambitions of building a nuclear weapon.

Iran had agreed to strict limits on uranium enrichment as part of the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Under the terms of the nuclear deal, Iran had committed to not using advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium, among other restrictions on its nuclear program, in exchange for the removal of strict sanctions.

But the pact has been in jeopardy since May 2018, when President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the agreement. The deal is still supported by five other nations — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.

Since withdrawing from the pact, Washington has passed multiple rounds of sanctions on Iran, crippling the country’s economy. Earlier this year, Rouhani said Iran would partially withdraw from the deal in response.

Iran said last month it had begun injecting gas into IR-6 centrifuges — a process that could ultimately be used to develop a nuclear weapon. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported in November that it was informed by Iran about the installation of one IR-9 centrifuge.

Western powers also appear to be worried about Iran’s ballistic missile development. These weapons were not covered as part of the JCPOA, but in theory could be used to deliver a nuclear warhead.

Ambassadors from France, Germany and the UK have alleged that Iran has developed nuclear-capable ballistic missiles in a joint letter addressed to the United Nations Secretary-General officially released by the UN earlier this month.

The ambassadors listed four examples of activity indicating nuclear-capable missiles, adding that “Iran’s developments of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and related technologies is inconsistent” with a UN resolution restraining the country from doing so.

Iran is believed to possess the largest and most diverse ballistic missile arsenal in the Middle East, according to US intelligence assessments, with a substantial inventory of close, short and medium range missiles that can strike targets throughout the region.

While the 2015 nuclear deal did not directly address Iran’s ballistic missile program, the UN Security Council resolution endorsing the pact called on Tehran to refrain from activities related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

CNN’s Eliza Mackintosh and Steve George contributed reporting