TEHRAN (AP) — Iran claimed Wednesday that it has taken two major steps toward mastering the production of nuclear fuel, a defiant move in response to increasingly tough Western sanctions over its controversial nuclear program.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad oversaw the insertion of the first Iranian domestically-made fuel rod into a research reactor in northern Tehran, the country’s official IRNA news agency reported.

Separately, the semiofficial Fars news agency reported that a “new generation of Iranian centrifuges” had been installed and had gone into operation at the country’s main uranium enrichment facility at Natanz in central Iran.

The West suspects Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at producing atomic weapons, a charge Tehran denies, insisting it’s geared for peaceful purposes only, such as energy production.

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