Iran has suspended its enrichment of uranium and has accepted additional inspections of its nuclear facilities, a senior official said today.
“I officially announce that we are giving the International Atomic Energy Agency a letter agreeing with the additional protocol today,” Hasan Rowhani, the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said in Moscow before talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“From today, we are temporarily suspending our process of uranium enrichment.”
Rowhani’s statements were aimed at eliminating suspicions that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.
The protocol appended to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty would allow IAEA inspectors to perform snap inspections and otherwise extend their probe of Iranian nuclear activities that had previously been off-limits.
Enriching uranium is a process that increases the concentration of fissionable isotopes, to make it usable in nuclear reactors or, at a higher concentration, in nuclear weapons. Tehran says it has enriched uranium only to non-weapons levels, as part of purely peaceful nuclear programmes meant to produce power as its oil stocks decline.
Iran had pledged in recent weeks to allow unfettered inspections and suspend enrichment, but the time frame was unclear.
The United States accuses Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons and has pressed for the IAEA to declare Iran in violation of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
Washington has urged Moscow to freeze its £500m (€728m) deal to help build Iran’s first nuclear power reactor, saying it could help Iran develop nuclear weapons.
The Kremlin has said it shares some of the US concerns and prodded Tehran to accept tighter controls by the IAEA.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov praised today’s Iranian announcement as paving the way for even further co-operation.
“It will open up additional possibilities for Russian and Iranian cooperation in many spheres, including nuclear,” Ivanov said.
Rowhani added that Iran already had a project in mind. ”In the nearest future we will carry out discussions with Russia about building a second reactor at the Bushehr power plant,” he said, after talks with Ivanov.
Moscow has insisted that all spent fuel be returned to Russia. Ivanov said that during his meeting with Putin, Rowhani had affirmed Iran’s intention to conclude an agreement stipulating the spent fuel’s return,.
Putin indicated Moscow was satisfied with Rowhani’s pledges.
“With regard to the enrichment of uranium, Iran has a right to carry out these kinds of activities but we are pleased to note that Iran has itself resolved to limit itself,” Putin said.
“I do not see any obstacles to co-operating with Iran in the nuclear sphere.”
Rowhani noted that while Iran is taking the additional measures to reassure the international community, Tehran still considers it the country’s “legal right” to pursue peaceful nuclear technologies.
Before travelling to Moscow, Rowhani met the head of the IAEA, Mohamed El Baradei, who is currently preparing a report on Tehran’s nuclear activities.
The IAEA board will consider ElBaradei’s report on November 20. If it decides that the report justifies declaring Tehran in violation of the Non-proliferation Treaty, it will ask the UN Security Council to get involved. The council, in turn, could impose sanctions.