Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), talks during an interview with Reuters in Vienna November 13, 2013. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader
(Reuters) – Iran will grant U.N. inspectors â€œmanaged accessâ€ to a uranium mine and a heavy-water plant within three months as part of a cooperation pact reached on Monday that aims to allay concern about Tehranâ€™s nuclear program.
It was signed by U.N. nuclear agency chief Yukiya Amano in Tehran after Iran and six world powers came close to a preliminary nuclear agreement during broader talks in Geneva at the weekend and decided to meet again on November 20.
The sets of negotiations are separate but both center on fears that Iran may be seeking the capability to build nuclear weapons, a charge it denies. The Iran-IAEA deal may encourage hopes for next weekâ€™s resumption of big power diplomacy after a decade of international deadlock on the issue.
â€œThis is an important step forward to start with, but much more needs to be done,â€ Amano said in the Iranian capital.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran will â€œstrengthen their cooperation and dialogue aimed at ensuring the exclusively peaceful nature of Iranâ€™s nuclear program,â€ a joint statement said.
â€œIt was agreed that Iran and the IAEA will cooperate further with respect to verification activities to be undertaken by the IAEA to resolve all present and past issues.â€
That seemed in part to be a reference to a stalled IAEA investigation into suspected atomic bomb research by Iran, but it gave no detail on when and how that probe may resume.
Amano suggested such issues would be addressed in â€œsubsequent stepsâ€ under the IAEA-Iran framework accord.
Britain – one of the six powers together with the United States, France, Germany, China and Russia that are negotiating with Tehran – welcomed the agreement and said it was â€œimportant that Iran addresses the substance of the agencyâ€™s concerns about possible military dimensionsâ€ to Iranâ€™s nuclear program.
â€œThis goodwill gesture is likely to put Iran in a better position when its negotiators meet again with their (six power) counterparts next week in Geneva,â€ said Iran expert Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group think tank.
Middle East specialist Shashank Joshi at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London said much would depend on implementation: â€œWe have had numerous false starts before.â€
The Vienna-based IAEA, which regularly inspects Iranian nuclear sites, has long requested more information and wider access to fulfill its mandate to supervise Iranâ€™s nuclear program to ensure there are no military links.
Iran had until now ignored several requests. But the election of a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, as Iranian president in June has fuelled hopes that Iranâ€™s nuclear dispute with the West can be resolved peacefully.
NO MENTION OF PARCHIN ACCESS
An annex to the IAEA agreement listed six first steps to be taken by February 11, including access to the Gchine uranium mine and a heavy water production plant near the town of Arak.
Under the accord on boosting nuclear transparency, Iran would also provide information about planned new research reactors and sites for future nuclear power plants, as well as clarify earlier statements about additional uranium enrichment facilities it has said it plans to build.
Amano said the agreed steps were â€œsubstantiveâ€ measures.
The IAEA last visited the Arak plant – which produces heavy water for a nearby research reactor under construction – more than two years ago and now monitors it via satellite images.
The Arak reactor is of deep concern for the West as it may yield plutonium, a potential bomb fuel, once it starts up. Iran says it will make isotopes for medical and agricultural use.
The Gchine mine is located near the Gulf port of Bandar Abbas and its annual output is estimated at around 21 tons of uranium, which when refined can be used to fuel power plants but also to build nuclear weapons if enriched much further.
Nuclear expert Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment think-tank described Mondayâ€™s agreement in principle as positive.
â€œThe details will have to be negotiated for specific facilities and cases, and success may ultimately depend on the atmospherics of Iranâ€™s relationship with the powers,â€ he said.
Iran says its nuclear program is a peaceful bid to generate electricity. But its refusal to halt sensitive work has drawn tough sanctions targeting its lifeblood oil exports.
The statement with the IAEA represents â€œa road map that specifies bilateral steps in relation to resolving outstanding issues,â€ the head of Iranâ€™s atomic energy organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, said at the news conference in Tehran with Amano.
The agreement, however, made no explicit mention of the IAEAâ€™s investigation into what it calls possible military dimensions to Iranâ€™s nuclear program, including long-sought access to the Parchin military base where the agency suspects nuclear-related explosives tests took place a decade ago.