Iran's announcements were likely to heighten concerns about the country's disputed uranium-enrichment program.

Share story

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran said Sunday that its scientists had produced the country’s first nuclear fuel rod and its navy had test-fired a new medium-range surface-to-air missile, announcements that were likely to heighten concerns about the country’s disputed uranium-enrichment program.

The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported that the fuel rod had “passed all physical and dimensional tests” and had been inserted into the core of Tehran’s research reactor.

Iran had said it would be forced to manufacture the rods because it is barred from buying them on foreign markets. The tubes contain pellets of enriched uranium that provide fuel for nuclear reactors.

Tension has been growing between Iran and the West since a report by the United Nations nuclear-inspection agency in November expressed serious concerns about a possible military dimension to the country’s nuclear program.

The United States and its allies accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear payloads for missiles. Tehran denies the charge, saying it needs the technology to generate electricity and produce radioisotopes to treat cancer patients.

On Saturday, President Obama signed a defense bill that includes new penalties against financial institutions that do business with Iran’s central bank, an attempt to hamper Tehran’s ability to fund the program. The head of Iran’s Chamber of Commerce, Mohammad Nahavandian, dismissed Obama’s action Sunday.

“The Iranian nation and those involved in trade and economic activities will find other alternatives,” Nahavandian was quoted as saying by the semiofficial Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA).

The European Union also is considering additional measures that could include an embargo on Iranian oil imports, a vital source of hard currency for Tehran.

Iranian officials have threatened to retaliate by closing the Strait of Hormuz to oil-tanker traffic, although they later appeared to back down by saying the country would not do so for now.

On Saturday, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, said the country had proposed a new round of talks with the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, according to IRNA. The last negotiations between Iran and the group — the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany — were held in January in Istanbul, Turkey.

State television reported that the new missile was tested during military exercises in international waters near the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran’s state TV said the missile, named Mehrab, or Altar, is designed to evade radar and was developed by Iranian scientists.

A leading Iranian lawmaker said the sea maneuvers serve as practice for closing the Strait of Hormuz if the West blocks Iran’s oil sales. After top Iranian officials made the same threat a week ago, military commanders emphasized that Iran has no intention of blocking the waterway now.

The exercise covers a 1,250-mile stretch of water beyond the Strait of Hormuz, including parts of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden.

The 10-day exercise drew significant attention after the Iranian warnings about closing the strait. Iranian military officials later appeared to back away from that threat.

A spokesman for the exercise, Rear Adm. Mahmoud Mousavi, made a similar conciliatory comment Sunday.

Also

Iranian security personnel crossed into southwest Pakistan on Sunday, shot to death one man and wounded another in an incident that could cause tension between the two countries, a Pakistani border official said. Iranian forces took the two men, apparently smugglers, from the Mazah Sar area of Baluchistan province back across the border, Mir Zafar Bangulzai said. Tensions have flared periodically between Pakistan and Iran over Jundullah, an armed Sunni Muslim opposition group that has been fighting the Shiite Iranian government. Tehran has accused the group of operating along the border area in Baluchistan. Iran captured the group’s leader, Abdulmalik Rigi, in 2010 on a flight from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan.

Additional information from The Associated Press