European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (3rd L) delivers a statement in Geneva.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (3rd L) delivers a statement in Geneva. Photo by Reuters
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The U.S. said Wednesday that Iran can undertake some construction work at a key nuclear facility as long as fuel isn't produced and advances aren't made on a planned heavy water reactor.

The Arak site was among the thorniest issues negotiators sought to resolve in last weekend's nuclear agreement in Geneva.

The White House said afterward Iran wouldn't advance its "activities" at Arak or progress toward plutonium production. It spelled out several more constraints.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Wednesday while his country was honoring the deal, construction on building projects would continue.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said she isn't sure what work Zarif meant. She said road or building work might be allowable. But nuclear fuel production, reactor work, testing, control systems advances and other activities aren't permissible.

Psaki also told reporters that the six-month interim agreement reached with Iran in Geneva regarding its nuclear program has not yet started.

The next step is “a continuation of technical discussions at a working level so that we can essentially tee up the implementation of the agreement,” she said, speaking to the press three days after the interim deal was signed.

It’s not clear when the agreement will come into force, but in the meantime Psaki said the United States is “respecting the spirit of the agreement in pressing for sanctions not to be put in place” and expects that the same is coming from Iran’s end.

Earlier Wednesday, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, told Iran’s Parliament  that the Islamic Republic would continue to build the Arak heavy water plant in contravention of the announced agreement.

The uncompleted heavy-water research reactor emerged as one of several crucial issues in negotiations in Geneva last week, when Iran agreed with six world powers to curb Tehran's nuclear program for six months in return for limited sanctions relief.

Iran said it would not make "any further advances of its activities" on the Arak reactor, according to text of the agreement.

"The capacity at the Arak site is not going to increase. It means no new nuclear fuel will be produced and no new installations will be installed, but construction will continue there," Zarif told parliament in translated comments broadcast on Iran's Press TV.

But experts have said an apparent gap in the text could allow Tehran to build components off-site to install later in the nuclear reactor. It was not immediately clear if Zarif was referring to this or other construction activity.

On Tuesday, Iran said that the United States had not distributed an accurate account of the agreement.