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Iran curbs uranium enrichment as nuclear deal takes effect

TEHRAN -- Iran on Monday halted production of 20 percent enriched uranium, marking the coming into force of an interim deal with world powers on its disputed nuclear program.

The U.N. atomic watchdog confirmed that Iran's partial nuclear freeze, part of a landmark deal struck in November with the P5+1 powers — the U.S., China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany — began on Monday as planned.

Mohammad Amiri, a top official of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, told the IRNA news agency that Tehran had kept to its part of the deal reached in Geneva.

“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 U.N. nuclear watchdog inspectors at Natanz and Fordo sites,” Amiri said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report passed to member states that Iran “has ceased enriching uranium above five percent” fissile purities at the Natanz and Fordo facilities.

The report, seen by AFP, said that Iran was also converting its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, a particular concern to the international community since it can be relatively easily be further purified to weapons-grade.

It added that Iran “is not conducting any further advances to its activities” at Natanz, Fordo or the heavy-water reactor under construction at Arak, which could in theory provide Iran with weapons-grade plutonium.

“It's all fine, all their requirements have been fulfilled,” one diplomat told AFP.

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, however, by possible new U.S. sanctions.

On day one, Iran had to halt enrichment of uranium to medium levels and to begin diluting half its stockpile of this material.

Once the IAEA gives the thumbs-up, EU foreign ministers will adopt legislation loosening sanctions on items including car parts and gold, followed later Monday 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 some US$6-7 billion, including US$4.2 billion in frozen overseas assets. The first US$550 million installment is due Feb. 1.

But 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.

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