US describes Iran’s nuclear steps as ‘unprecedented opportunity’

DPA Brussels | Updated on March 12, 2018

Iran took the first step on Monday to limit its nuclear programme, creating what the United States described as an “unprecedented opportunity” to address the long-standing international concerns over Tehran’s uranium enrichment activities.

“These actions today are significant steps in our efforts to achieve a diplomatic solution to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

The European Union temporary lifted some sanctions, in line with a landmark deal negotiated with six world powers late last year.

It is the first time Tehran has scaled back its nuclear programme, ten years after its secret activities came to light and prompted Western fears that it was working on an atomic weapon. Iran has always insisted that its programme is peaceful.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the agreement with Iran “the only hopeful sign that a further escalation in the region can be avoided’’.

The EU announcement came after inspectors with the UN nuclear watchdog confirmed that Iran had halted uranium enrichment to 20 per cent and had begun down-blending uranium enriched to higher levels, as demanded by the November 24 deal.

The United States said it would also lift some sanctions for a six-month period. During this time, the two sides hope to reach a permanent solution.

“Today’s events have made clear that we have an unprecedented opportunity to see if we can resolve this most pressing national security concern peacefully,” Psaki said.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said more work was needed to reach a lasting agreement with Iran.

Ashton, who has represented Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States in the nuclear negotiations, said that the six countries would consult on Tuesday on the next steps. The aim is to resume talks with Iran in February.

“It is important that other sanctions are maintained and the pressure is maintained for a comprehensive and final settlement of the Iranian nuclear issue,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — which is tasked with verifying that Iran is implementing the deal — will carry out daily visits to the Natanz enrichment plant and issue monthly update reports, a senior diplomat who is following its work said.

IAEA inspectors said that Iran is not building any new uranium enrichment plants or working to complete its Arak reactor, which would produce plutonium as a side-product once it operates.

The international community has been concerned that uranium enriched to 20 per cent or plutonium from Arak could be turned into material for nuclear warheads.

The suspension of sanctions will allow Iran to resume trading in petrochemical products, gold and precious metals. Companies will again be able to provide transport and insurance for crude oil shipments.

Published on January 21, 2014

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