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Iran sticking to nuclear deal, says UN watchdog

IAEA report says Iran has stuck to agreed low levels of uranium enrichment, but Tehran complains economic investment slow to arrive
IAEA inspectors have been able to verify that Iran is complying with the nuclear accord (AFP)

Iran is complying with a landmark nuclear deal secured with major powers last July, according to a report from the UN atomic watchdog seen by AFP on Friday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report, a second quarterly assessment since the accord came into force on 16 January, showed that Iran "has not pursued the construction of the existing Arak heavy water research reactor" and has "not enriched uranium" above low levels.

Iran's stockpile of low-enriched uranium, which is used for peaceful purposes but could be technically be processed to create a nuclear weapon, has not risen above an agreed level of 300 kilograms.

The level of so-called heavy water has not exceeded a permitted level of 130 tonnes, which it did briefly during a previous reporting period. Verification by the IAEA has continued as agreed.

The IAEA added that "all stored centrifuges and associated infrastructure have remained in storage under continuous agency monitoring" and no enriched uranium has been accumulated through research and development activities.

The steps taken by Iran under the 2015 deal extend to at least a year the length of time Tehran would need to make one nuclear bomb's worth of fissile material.

These measures have included slashing its uranium centrifuges by two-thirds, cutting its stockpile of uranium - several tonnes before the deal, enough for several bombs - and removing the core of the Arak reactor which could have given Iran weapons-grade plutonium.

Centrifuges are machines that "enrich" uranium by increasing the proportion of a fissile isotope, rendering it suitable for other purposes.

Throughout a 12-year standoff that preceded the deal, Iran always denied that it wanted or was preparing to build nuclear weapons, saying its activities were exclusively for peaceful purposes such as power generation.

In return for the scaling down of its nuclear activities, painful UN and Western sanctions were lifted on the Islamic republic, including on its economic lifeblood of oil exports.

Iran, however, has complained that major powers have been slow to implement their side of the bargain, with badly needed foreign investment into the country arriving slower than hoped.

The US has maintained its sanctions targeting Tehran's alleged sponsorship of armed movements in the Middle East and its ballistic missile programme.

European banks, which often have subsidiaries on US soil, have therefore been slow to resume business with Iran, fearing prosecution in the US.

Earlier this month, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called on Washington to take "more serious and concrete actions" to alleviate the situation.