Iran begins to halt uranium enrichment as landmark nuclear deal goes into effect
(CNN) — Iran started suspending high levels of uranium enrichment Monday as an interim deal struck with six world powers went into effect, state media reported, making way for more talks and less financial sanctions.
The nation stopped enrichment of uranium to the 20% purity level and disconnected cascades of centrifuges enriching uranium in Natanz, a top nuclear official told Press TV.
A centrifuge is a mechanism used to enrich uranium.
"From now on, the centrifuges which were used for producing 20% enriched uranium will be used for enriching uranium to the 5% purity level," said Mohammad Amiri, a director in the nation's nuclear agency.
International inspectors were present when Iran started implementing the historic deal, Press TV said.
The action is part of a six-month interim agreement that gives Iran and six other countries -- the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany -- more time to negotiate a permanent solution.
Iran struck the deal with the nations on November 24 in exchange for lighter sanctions.
As part of the agreement, it must eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium, dismantle some infrastructure that makes enrichment possible and allow broader and more intrusive inspections of its programs.
The six nations and the European Union are reviewing a report by the U.N. watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which provided details of the nuclear activities on the first day of the deal, according to the U.S. State Department.
"This is an important day in our pursuit of ensuring that Iran has an exclusively peaceful nuclear program," said Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief.
She said she's optimistic a new round of negotiations could come soon.
"Depending on how things work out today, I hope that we will start talks in the next few weeks," Ashton said.
If all conditions are met, Iran will get sanctions relief totaling about $7 billion, including access to $4.2 billion in frozen assets, during the six months the interim deal is in effect.
For years, Iran and Western powers have left negotiating tables in disagreement, frustration and open animosity.
The diplomatic tone changed last year when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani won elections.
And the deal appeared to be on the right track Monday.
As part of the deal, Iran was required to dilute its stockpile of uranium that had been enriched to 20%.
While uranium isn't bomb-grade until it's enriched to 90% purity, "once you're at 20%, you're about 80% of the way there," said Mark Hibbs, a nuclear policy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The deal also mandates Iran halt all enrichment above 5% and dismantle the technical equipment required to do that.
Iran consistently says it's enriching uranium and building nuclear reactors for peaceful civilian energy needs. Nuclear power plants use uranium that is enriched to 5%. It's the fuel that the plants use to generate electricity.
World leaders applauded the interim deal after years of a stalemate.
"For the first time in nearly a decade, we have halted the progress of the Iranian nuclear program," U.S. President Barack Obama said when the deal was announced in November.