Iran, Six World Powers Launch New Round of Nuclear Negotiations

Iran is moving to comply with terms of interim agreement over disputed nuclear program, UN atomic watchdog says.

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Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) sits with High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy Catherine Ashton in UN Headquarters, New York, Sept. 19, 2014.Credit: Reuters

Iran is taking further action to comply with the terms of an extended interim agreement with six world powers over its disputed atomic activities, a UN nuclear watchdog report obtained by Reuters on Friday showed.

The findings in a monthly update by the International Atomic Energy Agency - though no major surprise - may be seen as positive by the West as negotiations resumed in New York this week on ending the decade-old nuclear stand-off.

The IAEA document made clear that Iran is continuing to meet its commitments under the preliminary accord that it reached with the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia late last year and that took effect in January.

In addition, as agreed when the deal was extended by four months in July, it is using some of its higher-grade enriched uranium in oxide form to produce fuel - a step that experts say would make it more difficult to use the material for any bombs.

The IAEA is tasked with checking that Iran is living up to its part of the temporary agreement, which was designed to buy time for the current talks on a comprehensive settlement of the dispute that would dispel fears of a new Middle East war.

Fresh round of talks

With little more than two months to deadline, Iran and six world powers on Friday launched a fresh effort at narrowing stubborn differences on what nuclear concessions Tehran must agree to in exchange for full sanctions relief.

But this time, the talks are taking place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. That means U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his counterparts will likely join in, adding their diplomatic muscle to the meeting.

Ahead of the opening round Friday, chief U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman acknowledged that the sides "remain far apart on other core issues, including the size and scope of Iran's uranium enrichment capacity." Depending on its level, enriched uranium can be used as reactor fuel or the fissile core of a nuclear warhead.

Iranian demands that it be allowed to keep its program at its present size and output are not acceptable and will not give Iran what it wants - an end to nuclear-related sanctions choking its economy, she told reporters.

"We must be confident that any effort by Tehran to break out of its obligations will be so visible and time-consuming that the attempt would have no chance of success," she said of Washington's push for deep, long-lasting cuts to prevent any quick move to a nuclear weapon-making mode.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif questioned sanctions, however, as effective in pressuring his country on its nuclear program, nothing it has greatly expanded over the past decades. "The United States is obsessed with sanctions," he said.

Other issues separating the sides are what to do with an underground enrichment plant near the village of Fordo and with a reactor under construction near the city of Arak. The U.S wants the Fordo facility converted to non-enrichment use because it's heavily fortified against underground attack. And it wants the reactor converted to reduce to a minimum its production of plutonium, an alternate pathway to nuclear arms.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Aug. 11, 2014Credit: AP