Iran's heavy water nuclear reactor near the city of Arak.
Iran's heavy water nuclear reactor near the city of Arak. Photo by AP
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Iran and the six world powers have "virtually agreed" on a proposal to settle the dispute over the Arak heavy water nuclear reactor, a top Iranian official said on Saturday.

The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, was interviewed on Iran's El-Alam television channel, which broadcasts in Arabic.

The fate of the Arak reactor is one of the central issues being discussed by Iran and the P5+1 nations – The U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - as they attempt to hammer out a long-term agreement on Iran's nuclear program. 

The P5+1 nations – and Israel – fear that Iran will make use of plutonium manufactured at the Arak reactor to generate nuclear arms. Delegations on behalf of the sides have met three times since February in Vienna in an attempt to reach an agreement. American and Iranian diplomats have said that the next round of talks will focus on the formulation of a draft agreement. The weeklong session will commence on May 13.

Salehi, who was foreign minister under Iran's previous president Mahmoud Ahmedinjad, is not a part of Iran's negotiating delegation, which is led by Iran's Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif and his deputy Abbas Araghchi. But several of Salehi's advisors are on the team, and he is well informed of the negotiations' progress.

The Iranian proposal calls for a series of technical modifications to be made to the facility, Salehi said in the interview. According to the plan, the amount of plutonium produced at the reactor will be lowered to a fifth of its capability.

The P5+1 delegations, said Salahi, welcomed the Iranian proposal.

He added that the powers had earlier proposed converting the heavy water reactor into a light-water facility which would produce electricity.

According to the proposal, Salehi said, Iran would maintain 20,000 centrifuges - rather than the 18,000 it does today - for a period of 4-5 years. During this time,  Iran will produce 30 tons of nuclear fuel to power its nuclear facility at Bushehr. This part of the proposal, said Salahi, has not yet been resolved, and is still being discussed.

A few days ago, the IAEA issued a new report on the Iranian nuclear program. According to the report, Tehran is fulfilling the obligations it agreed upon in the interim deal, and downgrading the enriched uranium it holds from 20% levels 5% levels. Three-quarters of Iran's uranium have already been enriched to 20% levels, but over the past three months Iran has downgraded or diluted 155 kilos out of its 209 kilo stockpile.