The monthly update by the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA), which has a pivotal role in verifying that Iran is living up
to its part of the accord, made clear that Iran so far is
undertaking the agreed steps to curb its nuclear program.
As a result, Iran is gradually gaining access to some previously
blocked overseas funds. Japan has made two more payments totaling $1
billion to Iran for crude imports, two sources with knowledge of the
Under the breakthrough agreement that took effect on January 20,
Iran halted some parts of its disputed nuclear program in exchange
for a limited easing of international sanctions that have battered
the major oil producer's economy.
It was designed to buy time for negotiations on a permanent
settlement of the decade-old dispute over nuclear activities that
Iran says are peaceful but the West fears may be aimed at developing
atomic bomb capability. Those talks got under way in February and
the next meeting is due on May 13 in Vienna.
The IAEA update showed that Iran had — as stipulated by the November
24 agreement with the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China
and Russia — diluted half of its higher-grade enriched uranium
reserve to a fissile content less prone to bomb proliferation. One
of the payments from Japan, of $450 million on April 15, was
contingent on Iran meeting this target.
It has also continued to convert the other half of its holding of
uranium gas refined to a 20 percent fissile purity — a relatively short technical stage below 90 percent weapons-grade
material — into oxide for making reactor fuel.
Together, Iran has in the last three months either diluted or fed
into the conversion process a total of almost 155 kg (340 pounds) of
its higher-grade uranium gas, which amounted to 209 kg when the deal
That will be seen as a positive development by Western powers as it
lengthens the time Iran would need for any effort to produce a
nuclear weapon. Iran says it is only refining uranium to fuel
nuclear reactors, not to make bombs.
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NUCLEAR FACILITY DELAY
The IAEA report also pointed to a new delay in Iran's construction
of a facility that is designed to turn low-enriched uranium gas
(LEU) into oxide powder that is not suitable for further processing
into highly-enriched bomb-grade uranium.
Iran told the IAEA last month that the plant would be commissioned
on April 9 and that operations would start once that had been
completed. But Thursday's IAEA update said the commissioning had
been delayed, without giving any reason.
However, "Iran has indicated to the agency that this will not have
an adverse impact on the implementation of Iran's undertaking" to
convert the uranium gas, it said.
The delay means that Iran's LEU stockpile — which it agreed to limit
under the November 24 agreement — is almost certainly continuing to
increase for the time being since its production of the material has
not stopped, unlike that of the 20 percent uranium gas.
Diplomats and experts said earlier this matter was of no immediate
concern since Iran's commitment concerns the size of the stockpile
towards the end of the deal, in late July, meaning it has time both
to complete the site and convert enough LEU.
But they also say that the Islamic Republic's progress in building
the conversion line will be closely watched. The longer it takes to
complete it, the more Iran will have to process to meet the target
in three months' time.
Under the interim deal, Iran will get a total of $4.2 billion in
eight installments over the January-July period if it meets its
commitments. After Japan's latest payments, it has received $2.55
billion. South Korea, another importer of Iranian oil, has made one
(Additional reporting by Aaron Sheldrick in Tokyo;
editing by Mark
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