TEHRAN -- Iran began rolling back its nuclear program Monday as part of a landmark deal worked out last year with world powers, according to Iranian officials and the United Nations.
The Islamic Republic has started to “voluntarily suspend” 20% enrichment of uranium -- just steps away from weapons-grade material -- in compliance with the international accord, said Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s nuclear energy organization. His statement was reported by Press TV, Iran’s official English-language news service.
Monday was the first day that the temporary agreement worked out in Geneva last year was to take effect.
As part of the agreement, the official IRNA news agency reported, Iran has also commenced reducing part of its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium.
In Vienna, the Associated Press reported that the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations watchdog organization, had confirmed that Iran had halted its most sensitive nuclear enrichment efforts in line with the pact.
U.N. inspectors arrived in Tehran on Saturday to oversee implementation of the interim deal hammered out on Nov. 24 between Iran and six world powers, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.
The accord calls for Iran to put constraints on its nuclear program for six months in exchange for limited relief from international sanctions. With the interim accord in place, negotiators have begun discussing a possible permanent solution that could end a decade-long standoff about Iran’s nuclear program, widely regarded as one of the world’s most sensitive security issues.
Iran says its nuclear efforts are strictly for peaceful purposes, such as energy generation and production of medical isotopes for cancer treatment. But international suspicions that Tehran seeks to acquire a nuclear weapons capability have led to the imposition of wide-ranging economic sanctions that have battered Iran’s economy.
The Obama administration and negotiators on both sides of the Iran nuclear issue say they are hopeful that a permanent settlement could finally allay international concerns and avert a military conflict about the protracted dispute.
Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and staff writer McDonnell from Beirut.