Iran Halts New Sensitive Nuclear Centrifuge Tests: IAEA

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Published Friday, February 20, 2015

Iran has refrained from expanding tests of more efficient models of a centrifuge used to refine uranium under a nuclear agreement with six world powers, a UN report showed, allaying concerns it might be violating the accord.

An interim accord in 2013 between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia stipulated Tehran could continue its "current enrichment R&D (research and development) practices," implying they should not be stepped up.

But a UN nuclear agency report in November said Iran had been feeding one of several new models under development, the so-called IR-5 centrifuge, with uranium gas, prompting a debate among analysts on whether this may have been a violation.

A confidential document by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), distributed among its member states on Thursday and obtained by Reuters, showed the IR-5 had been disconnected.

"The disconnection reflects Iran addressing concerns about its enrichment (of uranium)," said the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), which closely tracks Iran's nuclear program.

"The disconnection provides additional confidence that Iran is abiding by its commitments under the Joint Plan of Action," it said, referring to the 2013 agreement.

International talks have been resumed in Geneva on Friday with the aim of narrowing remaining gaps in negotiations to end Iran's 12-year standoff with the six powers.

Washington suspects Iran’s nuclear program is designed to develop nuclear weapons; Iran denies this, saying it is for peaceful purposes.

The deal sought by the powers would have Iran accept limits to its uranium enrichment capacity and open up to unfettered IAEA inspections.

In return, Iran would see a lifting of international trade and financial sanctions that hobbled its oil-based economy.

The IAEA document about the UN inquiry, which has run parallel to the big power talks, was issued to IAEA member states only weeks before a deadline in late March for a framework agreement between Iran and the powers.

They have set themselves a deadline for a final deal at the end of June. Two deadlines for a permanent agreement have already been missed since the November 2013 interim deal.

Negotiators are now working toward reaching a political framework by March 31, with the final technical details to be laid out in a comprehensive accord by June 30.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed that his country would resist global sanctions imposed over its nuclear program, saying that Iran might respond to international pressure by cutting back gas exports.

"If sanctions are to be the way, the Iranian nation can also do it. A big collection of the world's oil and gas is in Iran, so Iran if necessary can hold back on the gas that Europe and the world is so dependent on," Khamenei said.

Disagreements in the talks between Iran and P5+1 center on the extent of nuclear activities Iran would be allowed to continue and the timetable for the lifting of sanctions imposed on Tehran over its nuclear efforts.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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