In the first step of the interim accord, Iranian state TV said authorities disconnected cascades of centrifuges producing 20-percent enriched uranium at the Natanz facility in central Iran. The broadcast said international inspectors were on hand to witness the stoppage before leaving to monitor suspension of enrichment at Fordo, another site in central Iran.
Iran also started Monday to convert part of its stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium to oxide, which can be used to produce nuclear fuel but is difficult to reconvert for weapons use, the official IRNA news agency said.
After receiving independent confirmation of the steps from the United Nations watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, EU foreign ministers in Brussels approved the partial sanctions suspension.
The White House also announced the suspension of some American sanctions on Iran."These actions represent the first time in nearly a decade that Iran has verifiably enacted measures to halt progress on its nuclear program, and roll it back in key respects," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement. He said Iran is also providing U.N. inspectors with increased transparency, including more frequent and intrusive inspections. "Taken together, these concrete actions represent an important step forward," he said. Under the deal reached in November in Geneva, Iran agreed to halt its 20 percent enrichment program but continue enrichment up to 5 percent. Iranian Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi said his country has a total of 196 kilograms (432 pounds) of 20 percent enriched uranium and will convert half of it to oxide over a period of six months. The remaining half will be diluted to a level below 5 percent level within three months. Uranium enriched to a high degree a¿¿ above 90 percent a¿¿ can be used to build a nuclear warhead. Enriched below 5 percent, it can power an electricity-generating reactor, and at 20 percent it can power reactors used to produce medical isotopes. The enrichment is done by spinning the uranium in a series of centrifuges.