Iran agrees to give UN inspectors broader monitoring powers

Iran and United Nations atomic inspectors signed their first accord in six years, giving the monitors broader access to nuclear facilities in the Persian Gulf country.

The International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran agreed “to implement practical measures” aiding inspections, agency director Yukiya Amano said at a Tehran briefing broadcast by Iran’s Press TV. Included in the accord is access to Iran’s largest uranium mine, said Ali Akbar Salehi, who heads the Islamic republic’s atomic program.

The deal followed three days of talks in Geneva between Iran and world powers that failed to clinch a broader accord to relieve international sanctions on Iran in exchange for Iranian restrictions on its nuclear program. The IAEA’s decade-long investigation into alleged past nuclear-weapons work has underpinned international concerns about a program that has cast the specter of war and proliferation across the Middle East. Iran insists its program is peaceful.

Details of the agreement will be circulated among the Vienna-based agency’s member states later this month, Amano said. Implementation will start within three months, he said.

“This shows Iran’s readiness to demonstrate the needed flexibility to advance toward closing Iran’s nuclear file,” Salehi said.

Information Sought

He also said the agreement allows inspectors more access to a heavy-water reactor in Arak. While the IAEA has visited Arak, inspectors have sought additional design information on the incomplete project to ensure plutonium cannot be extracted for nuclear weapons.

“Access to the design information is critical to resolve outstanding questions about the intended use of the reactor,” said former IAEA inspector Robert Kelley, who led investigations in Iraq. Reactor access, combined with information about its fuel, “could serve to verify that it is not being configured to make weapons-grade plutonium.”

Concerns over Arak helped to undermine an accord in Geneva, where French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius sought a pause in construction during negotiations. Other top officials, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, had fueled speculation that an agreement was near after unexpectedly attending the discussions.

Gchine Mine

After the Swiss talks concluded, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters that the seven nations represented were “on the same wavelength” and “can build on and move forward.” Negotiations resume Nov. 20 in Geneva, giving opponents in Israel, Saudi Arabia and Washington to lobby against an agreement. A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no comment on today’s accord.

Iran’s deal with the IAEA, which already visits Iran’s 17 declared nuclear facilities, is the first since a June 2007 accord crafted by former IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei.

Iran’s Gchine uranium mine, near the Persian Gulf coast city of Bandar Abbas, has undergone expansion since that deal. Existing IAEA agreements with Iran don’t extend to mining operations.

Iran has been using about 530 tons of uranium obtained from South Africa in 1982 to fuel its declared enrichment program, centered at the Natanz plant, about 210 kilometers (130 miles) south of Tehran. IAEA inspectors have long sought to establish whether Iran has an alternative fuel source for a nuclear effort running in parallel with the declared program.

“Iran’s nuclear program has been constrained for years by a limited amount of uranium purchased abroad,” Kelley said. “Knowing domestic sources more accurately will help the IAEA draw conclusions.”

The agreement is seen as a “first step” leading to further cooperation, according to a copy posted on the IAEA website. In addition to the Gchine mine and the Arak reactor, the deal provides the agency with new information on new reactor projects and sites designated for power plants. Iran also pledged to clarify whether it plans to build new uranium- enrichment facilities and technologies.

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