Iran eliminates sensitive stockpile under interim nuclear deal
Iran has moved to eliminate its most sensitive stockpile of enriched uranium gas under an interim nuclear deal reached with six world powers last year, according to a monthly update by the UN nuclear watchdog.
The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) showed that Iran had met the terms of the six-month agreement, under which it limited its atomic activities in exchange for some easing of sanctions that are crippling its economy.
The preliminary accord had been due to expire today but will be extended with some adjustments, after Iran and the six powers failed during negotiations in Vienna to meet a self-imposed July 20 deadline for a long-term deal to end the decade-old nuclear standoff and agreed to continue talking.
The four-month extension underlines the difficulties negotiators face in settling the dispute permanently even if Iran has met its commitments under the initial agreement, as Sunday's IAEA report suggests.
The six powers - the United States, France, China, Russia, Germany and Britain - want Iran to significantly reduce its uranium enrichment programme to make sure it cannot produce nuclear bombs. Iran says it is peaceful and wants sanctions on the oil-dependent economy to be lifted as soon as possible.
After years of rising tension between Iran and the West and fears of a new Middle East war, last year's election of a pragmatist, Hassan Rouhani, as Iran's president led to a thaw in ties that resulted in the current nuclear negotiations.
Under the accord reached in Geneva on Nov. 24, designed to buy time for talks on a comprehensive solution, Iran halted the most controversial aspect of its nuclear programme - enrichment of uranium gas to a fissile concentration of 20 percent.
It also undertook to dilute or convert to oxide its remaining stockpile of the material - nearly 210 kg - during the half-year period, which Sunday's IAEA report showed it had now completed. That stockpile was closely watched by the West as the level of enrichment represented a relatively short technical step away from that required for nuclear weapons.
Iran says it is only refining uranium to fuel nuclear power plants or research reactors, not to develop a nuclear weapons capability as the West suspects.