UN nuclear inspectors throw a bone to 'Trust Iran' camp (+video)

Iran has assured skeptical diplomats that it is slowing its nuclear work. The latest report from the UN nuclear agency backs them up.

By , Staff writer

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    European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (l.) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif share a laugh during a press statement after a conference in Vienna on Thursday. The latest IAEA report states that Tehran is complying fully with the terms of an interim nuclear deal signed in Geneva in November.
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News that hasn’t hit the headlines – yet

Negotiators conducting nuclear talks with Iran have been clear that they expect the Islamic Republic will abide by any deal. Critics and Iran hawks have hit back, arguing that Iran simply can’t be trusted.

The latest report by the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency, released late last week, bolsters the case of those who called for a degree of optimism about Iran's promises. It states that Tehran is complying fully with the terms of an interim nuclear deal signed in Geneva in November that requires Iran to halt its most sensitive nuclear work for six months while a final deal is hammered out.

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International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors have worked in Iran for more than a decade, accumulating more inspection hours there than in any other country. This report is based on a broader array of inspections and even daily visits to enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow, as agreed in the Geneva deal. This is the first IAEA report since the agreement.

“The measures implemented by Iran and the further commitments it has undertaken represent a positive step forward, but much remains to be done to resolve all outstanding issues,” the IAEA concluded. 

This report is not the first to come to such a conclusion – in November the IAEA reported that the first few months of President Hassan Rouhani's term were marked by the first slowdown in years. Western negotiators saw it as a first concrete sign of serious intent after much talk of "moderation."

The IAEA reports that Iran has halted uranium enrichment to levels of 20 percent purity – a few technical steps from weapons grade – and has substantially lowered its stockpile of the stuff from 196 kg to 160.6 kg, well below the 250 kg threshold considered by experts to be required for a single nuclear device. 

That stockpile is to be entirely converted for use as fuel or diluted by the time the Geneva deal expires in July. Iran has not installed any more first or second generation centrifuges (IR-1 and IR-2), in adherence with the Geneva deal, though advanced research continues. Nor was any work done on the Arak heavy water reactor, which produces plutonium – another potential pathway to a bomb. And centrifuges at the Fordow facility buried under a mountain now no longer enrich uranium to 20 percent purity.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says Iran aims to “give no reason” for doubt that Iran’s nuclear program is peaceful, or any excuse for crippling sanctions to continue. But issues remain, and the IAEA “remains concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities [including work on] development of a nuclear payload for a missile.”

The IAEA has not been granted recent access to a military complex at Parchin, where it suspects high explosives testing took place before 2003. Since the IAEA’s first request for access, “extensive activities have taken place at this location that will have seriously undermined the Agency’s ability to conduct effective verification,” reads the report.

“Now we have seen some actions,” a senior US official said in Vienna, shortly before the IAEA report was made public. “So while we have much, much more work to do, it is worth remembering that we have come some distance in a relatively short period of time."

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