Iran agrees on modalities to resolve nuke standoff

Iran and the UN nuclear watchdog have reached agreement on how to conduct negotiations over Tehran’s contentious nuclear programme and will continue talks in search for a final settlement, both sides said.The International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran have “reached an agreement on the modality for resolving the remaining outstanding issues” regarding Tehran’s nuclear programme, said IAEA chief of delegation Olli Heinonen after two days of talks in Tehran with his Iranian counterpart.

Asked whether the IAEA expected a quick settlement of the issue, Heinonen said: “If this cooperation continues, we expect that this will not be sorted out tomorrow, but in a reasonable [time in the] future.” Javad Vaeedi, who headed the Iranian team as Iran’s deputy nuclear negotiator, called the discussions “constructive” and said the three round of talks made “good progress”. He said the talks had progressed much beyond the preparatory discussions on resolving the nuclear standoff.

“We specifically reached an agreement on the modality for resolving the remaining issues,” Vaeedi told reporters.

This “modality” includes a negotiations framework between Iran and the IAEA, said Iranian officials close to the talks. They said Thursday’s talks had largely focused on a so-called “transparency plan” proposed by Tehran to address the IAEA’s remaining questions about Iran’s nuclear programme. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of ongoing negotiations.

Iran’s negotiator and his IAEA counterpart did not elaborate on what exactly were the modalities agreed upon.

However, Heinonen said the parties had “agreed on four, five steps.” “We will continue our dialogue within the next few weeks so that we can tackle all outstanding issues,” he told a joint press conference.

Talks between the five-person IAEA delegation and Iran began on Wednesday, hours after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad again stated that the West should not expect Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment.

The talks come as IAEA chief Mohammad Al Baradei said earlier this week that Iran has scaled back its uranium enrichment programme — suggesting there was a new willingness from the government to resolve the international deadlock over its nuclear stance.

Members of the UN Security Council are preparing to debate a third set of sanctions against the Islamic republic in response to Tehran’s refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, which can produce fuel for civilian energy or fissile material for a bomb.

Iran has rejected two UN Security Council resolutions requiring it to halt its uranium enrichment programme.

The United States and some of its allies fear Tehran is using its civilian nuclear programme as a cover to produce atomic weapons. Iran denies the charge, saying its programme is solely geared towards generating electricity.

Iran says it is too late to stop its nuclear programme because it has already achieved proficiency in the cycle of nuclear fuel — from extracting uranium ore to enriching it.

It has vowed it will never give up its right to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

In a report to the IAEA board last month, Baradei said Iran had assembled just under 2,000 centrifuges in links or cascades of 164 machines each — the configuration needed to enrich. Diplomats subsequently told the Associated Press that the Iranian technicians were linking up one cascade every two weeks and running their assemblies at their underground facility in Natanz to produce minute quantities of low-enriched uranium, suitable for generating power.

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