EU lifts some Iran sanctions after nuclear work curbed

Much-awaited report by nuclear watchdog finds Iran has implemented first steps of deal

 An IAEA inspector checks the enrichment process inside the uranium enrichment plant Natanz in central Iran today.  The aim of the inspectors was to check whether Iran would fulfill its commitments in line with the Geneva agreement of November 24th last year and suspend uranium enrichment at 20 per cent. Photograph: EPA

An IAEA inspector checks the enrichment process inside the uranium enrichment plant Natanz in central Iran today. The aim of the inspectors was to check whether Iran would fulfill its commitments in line with the Geneva agreement of November 24th last year and suspend uranium enrichment at 20 per cent. Photograph: EPA

Mon, Jan 20, 2014, 15:20

In a historic deal, European Union foreign affairs ministers agreed this afternoon to lift some sanctions on Iran, following confirmation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran has begun curbing nuclear enrichment.

A much-awaited report published today by the international nuclear watchdog found that Iran had implemented the first steps of the historic agreement reached between Iran and Western powers late last year, by ceasing the enrichment of uranium above 5 per cent purity and disconnecting centrifuges used for enrichment at the Nantaz plant 100 kilometres south of Tehran.

The confirmation paved the way for EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels today to ease some sanctions which have been in place since 2006, including the suspension of the prohibition of the import or purchase of precious metals, petrochemicals and gold, and the lifting of prohibitions on the insurance and reinsurance of Iranian oil.

Earlier today Iran started to shut down its most sensitive nuclear work as part of a landmark deal struck with world powers to ease international concerns over its nuclear programme and clear the way for a partial lifting of sanctions, state media said.

The UN nuclear agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, confirmed that higher-level uranium enrichment in the Natanz facility in central Iran had been stopped.

Iran’s decision to halt higher-level enrichment is seen as a key step towards easing Western fears over Tehran’s nuclear programme.

The West fears Iran seeks to build a nuclear bomb but the Islamic Republic insists the scheme is solely for peaceful purposes.

The shutdown follows an historic deal Iran reached with world powers in Geneva on November 24th that calls for an end to higher-level enrichment in exchange for the lifting of some economic sanctions.

Iranian state TV said authorities halted enrichment of uranium to 20 per cent by disconnecting the cascades of centrifuges at the facility. That level is just steps away from bomb-making materials.

The broadcast said international inspectors were on hand to witness the stoppage before leaving to monitor the suspension of enrichment at Fordo, another site in central Iran.

The official IRNA news agency said Iran has also started to convert part of its stockpile of 20 per cent enriched uranium to oxide, which can be used to produce nuclear fuel but is difficult to reconvert for weapons use.

Under the Geneva deal, Iran agreed to halt its 20 per cent enrichment programme but continue enrichment up to 5 per cent. It also agreed to convert half of its stockpile of 20 per cent enriched uranium to oxide and dilute the remaining half to 5 per cent over a period of six months. In addition to the enrichment measures, the six-month interim deal also commits Iran to opening its nuclear programme to greater UN inspections and providing more details on its nuclear activities and facilities.

Iran will also refrain from commissioning its under-construction 40 megawatt heavy water reactor in Arak.

The US, European Union and other world powers are studying the UN nuclear agency report, said US state department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf.

She said the US would have further comment “after all parties have had the opportunity to review the report”. In exchange for the nuclear curbs, Iran receives a halt to new sanctions and easing of existing sanctions.

Measures targeting petrochemical products, gold and other precious metals, the auto industry, passenger plane parts and services will be lifted immediately. The Geneva deal allows Iran to continue exporting crude oil in its current level, which is reported to be about a million barrels a day. I

Iran’s hard-liners have called the deal a “poisoned chalice”, highlighting the difficult task president Hasan Rouhani faces in selling the accord to sceptics.

Hard-line media denounced the planned halt. The Vatan-e-Emrooz daily was printed in black instead of its usual colours, a sign of sorrow and mourning. It declared the deal a “nuclear holocaust” and called it a gift to Israel’s prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu.

“Today, Netanyahu is the happiest person in the world,” it said. However, the Israeli prime minister has made the opposite argument and says the deal gives Iran too much for too few concessions.

The interim Geneva accord will last for six months as Iran and the world powers negotiate a final deal. Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters Tehran is ready to enter talks for a permanent accord as soon as the interim deal goes into force.

Additional reporting: Agencies