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NUKEWARS
Time to tackle 'more difficult' issues with Iran, IAEA head says
by Staff Writers
Vienna (AFP) Jan 31, 2014


Kerry, Iran's Zarif discuss next round of nuclear talks
Munich, Germany (AFP) Feb 02, 2014 - US Secretary of State John Kerry held a rare meeting with his Iranian counterpart Sunday to discuss the next steps in resolving Western fears over Iran's contested nuclear programme.

World powers are due to hold another round of talks with Iran on February 18 after reaching an initial accord in November to curb the nuclear activities and open up them up so as to allay Western concerns Tehran is seeking nuclear weapons.

Kerry and Iran's Mohammad Javad Zarif "discussed the upcoming negotiations with the P5+1 and the EU on a comprehensive agreement that will begin in Vienna next month," a senior US State Department official said.

"Kerry reiterated the importance of both sides negotiating in good faith and Iran abiding by its commitments under the Joint Plan of Action (agreed in November)," said the official.

"He also made clear that the United States will continue to enforce existing sanctions," he added.

The official said Kerry also pressed Zarif to "work cooperatively with us" to help detained US citizens Robert Levinson, Amir Hekmati and Saeed Abedini return home.

Further details of the meeting were not immediately available.

Tehran has always insisted that its nuclear programme is for peaceful ends only. But the West, unconvinced and worried by signs of possible atomic weapons development, has imposed ever tighter sanctions hoping to stop Iran getting to a 'break-out' point.

In November, Iran agreed with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany that it would roll back the programme and open it up to wider inspections.

In return, the world powers agreed to partially lift tough sanctions that have caused immense damage to the Iranian economy.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, who has led the international nuclear talks with Iran, said Friday she had had a "really interesting" meeting with Zarif on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

"I very much look forward to working together with you then," she said of the planned talks in Vienna.

Iran receives first tranche of unfrozen funds

Last month, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, certified that Tehran had stuck to its side of the November deal, giving access to key nuclear installations and cutting back its enriched uranium stockpile.

Accordingly, the European Union and the United States began lifting some sanctions on January 20, laying the groundwork for the next, six-month stage of the negotiating process.

During this period, the United States and the EU have promised to impose no new sanctions but have also made clear that most of them will remain in force pending further progress.

The accord provides ultimately for removing all the sanctions if Iran lives up to all its commitments and the Western powers conclude it will not be able to acquire nuclear weapons.

Iran announced Saturday that it had received the first instalment of $4.2 billion to be unfrozen from foreign accounts under Western sanctions, as agreed in November.

"The first tranche of $500 million was deposited in a Swiss bank account and everything was done in accordance with the agreement," Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told the ISNA news agency.

Also on Saturday, the official IRNA news agency reported that Iran will soon receive much-needed spare parts for its civilian air fleet, again made available under the November accord.

Zarif is due to appear on a panel later Sunday at the Munich Security Conference, with the nuclear issue the main talking point.

After recent progress with Iran, it is time to tackle "more difficult" nuclear issues such as allegations of past weapons work, the head of the UN atomic watchdog told AFP in an interview.

"We started with measures that are practical and easy to implement, and then we move on to more difficult things," said Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"We certainly wish to include issues with 'possible military dimensions' in future steps ... We have already discussed it and will continue to discuss it at the next meeting" between the IAEA and Iran on February 8, he said.

A November 11 agreement with the IAEA towards improved oversight over Iran's programme included six steps such as this week's visit by IAEA inspectors to the Gachin uranium mine and to a new reactor plant at Arak in December.

But the deal, separate to an accord struck with world powers on November 24 in Geneva, made no specific mention of long-standing allegations that prior to 2003, and possibly since, Iran's nuclear work had what the IAEA calls "possible military dimensions".

Two years of talks between the IAEA and Iran over these accusations, detailed in a major and controversial IAEA report in November 2011 and consistently denied by Iran as being based on faulty intelligence, went nowhere.

But Amano, 66, told AFP that Iran has not been let off the hook, saying that the November 24 accord with world powers made clear that "all past and present issues" must be resolved.

"When we say past and present issues, naturally it includes issues of possible military dimensions," said the Japanese, head of the IAEA since 2009.

How long this takes "very much depends on Iran. It can be quick or it can be long. It really depends on their cooperation," he said.

Comprehensive agreement

Under the November 24 deal with world powers, Iran stopped for six months on January 20 enriching uranium to medium levels and began converting its stockpile of this material into a form much more difficult to process into weapons-grade.

This set the clock on Iran and the powers -- the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany -- negotiating a long-term "comprehensive" accord likely permanently reducing Iran's nuclear programme while removing UN and Western sanctions.

US President Barack Obama has said he sees the chances of such a deal as no more than 50:50, but a smiling Amano, sitting in his office on the 28th floor of IAEA headquarters in Vienna, refused to be drawn into a prediction.

"We are a technical organisation. We focus on facts, we report only facts. Foreseeing the future, speculating the future, is very difficult," he said.

"You could not have foreseen this situation six months ago. A year ago it was completely impossible. One of the things I learned in this profession is that foreseeing things does not help much."

Verification role

The IAEA has had to double its number of inspectors and increase the frequency of visits to Iran's nuclear facilities in order to verify Iran is sticking to the freeze and converting material as promised.

Amano said that the IAEA would inform member states "without delay" if Iran began to veer away from its commitments in a "significant" way. Otherwise there would be brief "regular" updates and in-depth quarterly reports as normal.

This increased verification role led Amano last week to appeal for some 5.5 million euros ($7.5 million) in extra money, and he said that "more than one dozen" countries have so far committed to contributing.

Iran gets first instalment of frozen assets: minister
Tehran (AFP) Feb 01, 2014 - Iran has received the first instalment of $4.2 billion in frozen assets as part of a nuclear deal with world powers, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told ISNA news agency Saturday.

Unblocking the funds under the landmark deal in which Iran agreed to roll back parts of its nuclear programme and halt further advances is expected to breathe new life into its crippled economy.

"The first tranche of $500 million was deposited in a Swiss bank account, and everything was done in accordance with the agreement," Araqchi said.

Iran clinched the interim deal in November with the P5+1 group -- Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany -- and began implementing the agreement on January 20.

Under the agreement, which is to last six months, Iran committed to limit its uranium enrichment to five percent, halting production of 20 percent-enriched uranium.

In return, the European Union and the United States have eased crippling economic sanctions on Iran.

A senior US administration official told AFP last month that the first $550-million (400-million-euro) instalment of $4.2 billion in frozen assets would be released from February.

"The instalment schedule starts on February 1 and the payments are evenly distributed" across 180 days, the US official said.

Iran and the P5+1 will also hold a new round of talks in Vienna on February 18 in a bid to discuss a comprehensive solution to Tehran's contested nuclear programme.

Major world powers and Israel fear that Iran is trying to develop an atomic bomb, but Tehran insists its nuclear programme is peaceful.

Also on Saturday, the official IRNA news agency quoted the head of the civil aviation authority, Alireza Jahanguirian, as saying that Iran will soon receive spare parts for its ailing civilian fleet.

Jahanguirian said the parts would arrive within two weeks as part of the sanctions relief agreed in Geneva in November.

But the November deal foresees an easing on sanctions imposed on several sectors, including Iran's car industry and petrochemical exports, as well as allowing civil aviation access to long-denied spares.

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