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Iran prepares for start of landmark nuclear deal

By The Associated Press
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Ahead of the start of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, an official in the Islamic Republic called limiting uranium enrichment and diluting its stockpile the country's "most important commitments," state radio reported Sunday.

The comments by Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman of Iran's atomic department, show how the government of moderate President Hassan Rouhani welcomes the deal, which begins Monday. International inspectors also already have arrived in Tehran, preparing for the government opening its facilities to them.

"Implementation of mutual commitments in the framework of the Geneva deal will begin from tomorrow," Kamalvandi said. "Under the agreement, suspension of 20-percent enrichment of uranium - and the diluting of the current stockpile of enriched uranium - are the most important commitments of our country."

Iran struck the deal in November with the so-called P5+1 countries - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. Negotiators agreed to final terms of the deal Jan. 13.

Under the agreement, Iran will limit its uranium enrichment to 5 percent - the grade commonly used to power reactors. The deal also commits Iran to stop producing 20 percent enriched uranium - which is only a technical step away from weapons-grade material - and to neutralize its 20 percent stockpile over the six months.

In exchange, economic sanctions Iran faces would be eased for six months. Senior officials in U.S. President Barack Obama's administration have put the total relief figure at some $7 billion.

During the six months, negotiations between Iran and the world powers would continue in hopes of reaching a permanent deal.

The West fears Iran's nuclear program could allow it to build an atomic weapon. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, like power generation and medical research.

On Saturday a team of international inspectors arrived in Tehran in preparation of beginning their inspections. They will visit Fordo, where Iran enriches its 20 percent uranium, as well as its Natanz facility, which produces 5 percent enriched uranium, to ensure the country complies with the deal.

Kamalvandi said Sunday that Iran will use centrifuges now producing 20 percent enriched uranium to instead produce 5 percent enriched uranium to comply with the agreement.

But suspicions remain high in both Tehran and Washington after decades of hostility dating back to the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran that ousted the U.S.-backed shah dynasty. Rouhani, Iran's new reformist president, has reached out to the West, but must depend on support from Iran's top decision-maker, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for his initiatives amid criticism from hard-line factions.

Hard-liners in Iran have already called the deal a "poison chalice" and are threatening legislation to increase uranium enrichment. Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers have threatened to pass new sanctions legislation against Iran that would take effect if Tehran violates the interim nuclear deal or lets it expire without a follow-up accord.

Writing a post on his Facebook page Sunday, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reassured the world that the deal will begin on time.

"I am hopeful that implementation of the first phase will have positive results for the country and peace and stability in the region and the world while preparing the ground for essential talks on a final solution," Zarif wrote.
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