By Fredrik Dahl
The U.N. nuclear watchdog will probably need more money to help it verify that Iran honours a deal with world powers to curb its nuclear programme, the agency’s chief said on Thursday, and it would take some time to prepare for the task.
Yukiya Amano also said Iran had invited the agency to visit the Arak heavy-water production plant on Dec. 8, the first concrete step under a new cooperation pact aimed at clarifying concerns about the Islamic Republic’s atomic activities.
Both agreements indicate how Iran is acting quickly to address fears about its nuclear project after the election in June of a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, as new president on a platform to smooth its troubled relations with the world.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will expand monitoring of Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities and other sites under the Nov. 24 breakthrough deal reached after marathon talks in Geneva between Iran and the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain.
The IAEA can mobilise expertise and staff from within the organisation for an increased workload in checking whether Iran is complying with the interim accord, agency Director General Amano told a news conference.
But its budget is very tight, he added: “Naturally this requires a significant amount of money and manpower … I don’t think we can cover everything by our own budget.”
The Arak facility produces heavy water intended for use in a nearby research reactor that is under construction. The West is concerned that the reactor, which Iran has said could start up next year, could yield plutonium as fuel for atomic bombs once operational. Iran says it will make medical isotopes only.
As part of its agreement with the powers, Iran is to halt installation work at the reactor and stop making fuel for it.
The IAEA is studying how to put into practice the Geneva deal with respect to U.N. inspectors’ role in verifying compliance and this would take some time, Amano said, adding it was a complicated task that needed preparations.
“I cannot tell when we will be ready,” he said on the sidelines of a regular meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors. “We would like to do the job properly.”
About 10 percent of its annual 121-million-euro ($164 million) budget for inspections is already devoted to Iran. The agency has two to four staff in Iran virtually every day of the year, with some 20 dedicated to inspector activity there.
Under the Geneva interim accord, there will be much “extra work and they will require extra resources to do it,” a Western envoy said, with “the extremely complex and difficult implementation” expected to start in January.
The U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, Joseph Macmanus, said “there will be costs” but he expressed confidence that member states would provide the funding needed.
“DEVIL IN THE DETAIL”
The agreement between Iran and the powers is designed to halt any further advances in Iran’s nuclear campaign and buy time for talks on a final settlement of the decade-old dispute.
After years of confrontation, relations between Iran and the West have improved somewhat since the election of Rouhani on a pledge to end Tehran’s isolation and win relief from sanctions that have battered the oil producer’s economy.
But Western officials and experts caution that finding a permanent solution to the Iranian nuclear issue will probably prove an uphill struggle, with the two sides still far apart on the final scope and capacity of the Iranian nuclear programme.
The Islamic Republic says it is a peaceful energy programme but the United States and its allies suspect it has been aimed at developing the capability to produce nuclear weapons.
Iran agreed on Sunday to stop its must sensitive nuclear work – uranium enrichment to a higher fissile concentration of 20 percent – and cap other parts of its activities in exchange for limited sanctions relief.
Refined uranium can fuel nuclear power plants but also the fissile core of a bomb if processed to a high degree.
“The IAEA inspectors are able to give an early warning if Iran does not comply at these locations with its undertakings,” former IAEA chief inspector Olli Heinonen said. “In verification work, the devil is in the detail.”
The IAEA’s visit in about 10 days’ time to the heavy water production plant near the town of Arak is part of a separate agreement signed this month between the U.N. agency and Iran.
Inspectors have not been there since August 2011, despite repeated requests. But Iran agreed on Nov. 11 to grant access to this site and to a uranium mine within three months.