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Iran says it has suspended 20 percent of uranium enrichment

The UN atomic watchdog has confirmed that Iran's partial nuclear freeze began on Monday as planned, diplomats told AFP.

Iran 20 percent enrichment uranium stoppedEnlarge
Unidentified International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors (2nd-3rd L) and Iranian technicians disconnect the connections between the twin cascades for 20 percent uranium production at nuclear power plant of Natanz, some 300 kilometers south of Tehran on January, 20, 2014. (AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

Iran on Monday suspended the production of 20 percent uranium enrichment in the presence of UN nuclear watchdog inspectors, a senior official announced.

"In line with the implementation of the Geneva joint plan of action, Iran suspended the production of 20 percent enriched uranium in the presence of UN nuclear watchdog inspectors at Natanz and Fordo sites," Mohammad Amiri, director general for safeguards at Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, told the official IRNA news agency.

"The connections between the twin cascades at Natanz and Fordo for 20 percent production have been disconnected," Amiri said.

"The process of diluting and turning the 196-kilogram (430-pound) stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium into oxide has also started," he added.

Amiri warned the P5+1 powers — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China plus Germany — that Iran would reverse these steps if the other parties do not keep their end of the bargain.

IAEA report confirms

A confidential report from the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency obtained by Reuters confirmed that Iran has halted its most disputed nuclear activity, paving the way for the easing of some Western sanctions against Tehran.

The IAEA report also said Iran had begun diluting its stockpile of uranium enriched to the fissile concentration of 20 percent — a level that took it closer to the capability of producing fuel for an atom bomb.

Iran was also continuing to convert some of this reserve into oxide for producing reactor fuel, the IAEA said, making the material less suitable for any attempt to manufacture bombs. Iran says its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.

The IAEA will play a pivotal role in checking that Iran lives up to its part of the interim accord by curbing uranium enrichment in exchange for some relaxation of international sanctions that are severely damaging its oil-dependent economy.

It has had one to two teams of two inspectors each on the ground in Iran virtually every day of the year to check there is no diversion of nuclear materials, but that number will now increase significantly.

Relief from crippling sanctions

Under the terms of the November 24 deal, Iran has pledged to limit uranium enrichment to low purities for a period of six months, convert its medium-enriched uranium and not make further advances at its nuclear facilities.

In exchange Western powers will slightly loosen crippling sanctions in a package worth between $6-7, according to the White House, including $4.2 billion in frozen overseas foreign exchange assets in eight installments starting February 1.

During the six months, Iran and the P5+1 are due to hammer out a long-term "comprehensive accord" aimed at ending once and for all the standoff over Iran's nuclear work.

This six-month period can however be extended by mutual agreement. According to the November 24 interim deal, the parties aim to conclude negotiating and begin implementing it within a year.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/iran/140120/iran-says-it-suspended-20-percent-uranium-enrichment