By Parisa Hafezi
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran is installing new centrifuges to enrich uranium as part of its efforts to speed up its nuclear program, the foreign ministry said Tuesday, in an announcement likely to alarm Western powers.
France, which has taken a hardline stance on Iran's nuclear ambitions, condemned the move as a "clear provocation."
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast appeared to confirm a Reuters story last week that Iran was installing two more advanced models of the centrifuges used to refine uranium for large-scale testing at a research site.
If Iran eventually succeeds in introducing the more modern centrifuges for production, it could significantly shorten the time needed to stockpile material which can have civilian as well as military purposes, if processed much further.
"By installing the new centrifuges progress is being made with more speed and better quality," Mehmanparast said, adding the move showed Iran was being successful in its "peaceful nuclear activity."
France said the announcement undermined arguments the Iranian nuclear program was aimed at boosting energy production for peaceful purposes.
"(It) clearly confirms the suspicions of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and of the international community about the finality of a program with no credible civilian application," the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Iran said it had notified the U.N. nuclear watchdog about the installment of new centrifuges.
"The agency is aware that our peaceful nuclear activities are progressing ... the installment is a confirmation of the Islamic Republic's success in the nuclear field," he said.
Iran has for years been trying to develop centrifuges with several times the capacity of the 1970s-vintage, IR-1 version it now uses for the most sensitive part of its atomic activities.
The United States and its allies accuse Iran of trying to develop bombs under cover of its nuclear program. Iran denies the allegation, saying it needs nuclear technology to generate electricity to meet its booming domestic demand.
Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment has led to four rounds of U.N. sanctions on the major oil producer, as well as tighter U.S. and European Union restrictions.
Diplomatic efforts to find a solution to Iran's nuclear dispute have stalled, after talks between Iran and six world powers over half a year ago failed to make any progress.
"No new development has taken place regarding the nuclear talks with major powers," said Mehmanparast.
Western diplomats have often accused Iran of deploying stalling tactics in the nuclear dispute with major powers, including the United States, China and Russia, to buy more time while it pushes ahead with its disputed activities.
(Additional reporting by Ramin Mostafavi in Tehran and Nick Vinocur in Paris, writing by Parisa Hafezi and Fredrik Dahl; editing by Maria Golovnina)