Iran, U.S., Europe start implementing nuclear deal
The mutual actions - curbing atomic work in exchange for some sanctions relief - start a six-month clock for Tehran and the world powers to negotiate a final accord that the Obama administration and its European allies say will be intended to ensure Iran cannot build a nuclear weapon.
In the meantime, the interim deal puts limits on Iran's program - though it continues low levels of uranium enrichment. Tehran denies its nuclear program is intended to produce a bomb.
The payoff to Iran is an injection of billions of dollars into its crippled economy over the next six months from the suspension of some sanctions - though other sanctions remain in place.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague called the deal "an important milestone" - but not the ultimate goal.
"It's important that other sanctions are maintained and the pressure is maintained for a comprehensive and final settlement on the Iranian nuclear issue," Hague said.
The Europeans are aiming to start negotiations on a final deal in February, though no date or venue has been agreed on yet. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Saturday that Tehran is ready to enter talks as soon as the interim deal goes into force.
In the first step of the interim accord, Iranian state TV said authorities disconnected cascades of centrifuges producing 20 percent enriched uranium at the Natanz facility in central Iran. The broadcast said international inspectors were on hand to witness the stoppage before leaving to monitor suspension of enrichment at Fordo, another site in central Iran.
Iran also started Monday to convert part of its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium to oxide, which can be used to produce nuclear fuel but is difficult to reconvert for weapons use, the official IRNA news agency said.
After receiving independent confirmation of the steps from the U.N. watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, EU foreign ministers in Brussels approved the partial sanctions suspension.
The White House also announced the suspension of some American sanctions on Iran.
"These actions represent the first time in nearly a decade that Iran has verifiably enacted measures to halt progress on its nuclear program, and roll it back in key respects," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.
He said Iran is also providing U.N. inspectors with increased transparency, including more frequent and intrusive inspections. "Taken together, these concrete actions represent an important step forward," he said.
Under the deal reached in November in Geneva, Iran agreed to halt its 20 percent enrichment program but continue enrichment up to 5 percent.
Iranian Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi said his country has a total of 432 pounds of 20 percent enriched uranium and will convert half of it to oxide over a period of six months. The remaining half will be diluted to a level below 5 percent level within three months.
Uranium enriched to a high degree - above 90 percent - can be used to build a nuclear warhead. Enriched below 5 percent, it can power an electricity-generating reactor, and at 20 percent it can power reactors used to produce medical isotopes.
Rolling Back Iran's Nukes
Here's a look at the terms of the deal, as recently announced by the White House:
What Iran has committed to do
Halt production of near 20 percent enriched uranium and disable the centrifuge process used to produce it.
Start neutralizing its near 20 percent enriched uranium stockpile.
Refrain from enriching uranium in nearly half of the installed centrifuges at its Natanz site and three-quarters of installed centrifuges at its Fordow site.
Limit centrifuge production to what's needed to replace damaged machines.
Refrain from building additional enrichment facilities or advancing research and development of enrichment.
Refrain from commissioning, fueling or adding reactor components to its Arak reactor, and halt the production and additional testing of fuel for the reactor.
Refrain from building a facility capable of reprocessing, which would allow Iran to separate out plutonium, which could be used to make nuclear bombs.
If Iran keeps its end of the bargain, the six nations and the EU have committed to
Suspend implementation of sanctions on Iran's petrochemical exports and sanctions on goods imported for use in its automotive industry.
Suspend sanctions on Iran's import and export of gold and other precious metals.
Pause efforts to further curtail Iranian crude oil purchases by six economies.
Free up Iranian money to help pay the educational costs of young Iranians, many of whom are attending U.S. colleges and universities.
Raise tenfold the ceilings for money transfers to and from Iran.
Take actions to ease Iran's access to $4.2 billion in restricted Iranian funds in several installments.