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Deal curbing Iran nuclear drive to take effect Jan 20

Tehran - A landmark deal that curbs parts of Iran's disputed nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief will take effect from January 20, Tehran and Western powers said Sunday.

US President Barack Obama welcomed the news, but warned there was still a rough road ahead to clinch a comprehensive deal.

Western nations and Israel have long suspected Iran of pursuing a nuclear weapons capability alongside its civilian programme, charges the Islamic republic fiercely denies.

Tehran agreed in November to roll back parts of its nuclear work and halt further advances in exchange for the release of billions of dollars in frozen assets and limited relief from sanctions that have choked its economy.

The deal was a major achievement for President Hassan Rouhani, who won a first-round electoral victory over a pool of conservatives last year by vowing a more diplomatic approach with the West after eight years of stalled talks and escalating sanctions under his hardline predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"Both sides reached the same interpretation on how to implement the agreement and the first step will be executed from January 20," Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi said, quoted by IRNA news agency.

The White House confirmed the news.

"Beginning January 20th, Iran will for the first time start eliminating its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium and dismantling some of the infrastructure that makes such enrichment possible," it said.

US$4.2 billion unblocked

A senior US administration official told AFP that the first US$550-million installment of US$4.2 billion in frozen assets would be released early next month.

"The installment schedule starts on Feb. 1 and the payments are evenly distributed" across 180 days, a senior US administration official told AFP.

February 1 is a Saturday and the first payment might not be made until the following Monday.

Similar amounts will be unblocked roughly every month for six months, with the last payment due around July 20.

Araqchi said Tehran would keep to its part of the bargain, with half of its 20 percent enriched uranium diluted or oxidised.

A US official warned the sanctions relief would be terminated if Tehran did not comply.

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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a press conference at Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, Jan. 12. Zarif is in Beirut to meet with Lebanese officials.

(AP)

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