Iran yesterday halted production of 20 percent enriched uranium as an interim deal with world powers on Tehran’s disputed nuclear program came into force.
“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,” Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Director-General For Safeguards Mohammed Amiri told the official IRNA news agency.
“The process of diluting and turning the 196kg stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium into oxide has also started,” Amiri said.
UN inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that the freeze had begun, diplomats said in Vienna, the watchdog’s headquarters.
The suspension starts the clock on negotiating a trickier long-term accord aimed at ending the Iran nuclear standoff and averting war once and for all, a process threatened by possible new US sanctions.
On day one, Iran has to halt enrichment of uranium to medium levels — close to weapons-grade — and to begin diluting half its stockpile of this material.
If the IAEA gives the thumbs-up, EU foreign ministers will adopt legislation loosening sanctions on items including car parts and gold, followed later by a similar move in Washington.
Over the next six months, Iran will also not install or switch on new nuclear machines and will grant the IAEA more access, including daily visits to the Fordo and Natanz enrichment facilities.
The total sanctions relief — staggered over the six months — is worth between US$6 billion and US$7 billion, including US$4.2 billion in frozen overseas assets. The first US$550 million installment is due on Feb. 1.
However, the core sanctions will still bite. Over the next half-year alone, Iran will miss out on US$30 billion in oil revenues, the White House says.
Iran and the P5+1 — the US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany — will soon begin talks on a long-term comprehensive accord.
Mark Fitzpatrick, a former US Department of State official now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the powers will want Iran to slash the number of centrifuges to between 3,000 and 4,000, from the current 19,000.
In addition, Iran will have to mothball Fordo; change the Arak reactor under construction so it cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium; and cut the stockpile of low-enriched uranium to less than a bomb’s worth, Fitzpatrick said.
Coupled with tighter inspections, this would not remove entirely Iran’s capability to make nuclear weapons — it denies having this aim — but it would make it considerably more difficult.