DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran has confirmed it tested a new centrifuge that could speed up its enrichment of uranium but dismissed suggestions the move may have violated last year's nuclear deal with world powers, as suggested by a U.S. think-tank.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham gave no indication that Iran had stopped feeding natural uranium gas into the so-called IR-5 centrifuge. Washington said on Monday Tehran had ceased the activity.
Iran's development of advanced enrichment centrifuges is sensitive because, if successful, it could enable the country to produce potential nuclear bomb material at a rate several times that of the decades-old model now in use. Iran says it is only producing enriched uranium to fuel nuclear power plants.
Afkham said the IR-5 was among ordinary machines belonging to Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, the official state news agency IRNA reported.
"Such tests were conducted before the Geneva agreement (between Iran and the world powers) and have continued after the deal was reached," she said late on Tuesday. "Testing on the machines will be carried out and stopped depending on the need."
The IR-5 is one of several new models that Iran has been seeking to develop to replace the erratic, 1970s vintage IR-1 centrifuge that it now uses to produce refined uranium.
Last year's interim nuclear agreement between Iran and the six global powers said Tehran could continue its "current enrichment R&D (research and development) practices", language that implies it should not expand them.
After a U.N. nuclear agency report on Friday said Iran had "intermittently" been feeding the IR-5 with uranium gas, the U.S.-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) said this may have been a violation of the accord.
Afkham dismissed the allegation as "psychological warfare".
Other U.S. experts said they no saw no breach of the agreement between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, China, Russia and Britain - designed to buy time for talks on a permanent settlement by a Nov. 24 deadline.
(Reporting by Michelle Moghtader; writing by Parisa Hafezil; editing by Fredrik Dahl)