TEHRAN, Iran — Experts representing the U.N. nuclear-watchdog agency landed in Tehran on Saturday to inspect a plant recently opened to them.
The team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is to inspect the Arak heavy-water production plant Sunday, after a November agreement between Iran and the agency that allowed for expanded monitoring. The plant produces heavy water for a plutonium reactor that is not complete.
Iran has said the Arak plant is for energy production; if it became operational, however, it would produce plutonium that could be used in a nuclear weapon.
In the November accord, Iran agreed not to produce fuel for the plant, install additional reactor components there or put the plant into operation.
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The state Islamic Republic News Agency confirmed the inspectors’ arrival and said Iran had provided research data on its new, higher-capacity enrichment centrifuges.
In the November agreement, Iran committed to freezing parts of its nuclear program for six months in exchange for sanctions relief. The pause is intended to allow negotiators time to produce a more lasting agreement.
On Saturday, President Obama said he could envision a final agreement that would let Iran enrich nuclear material for power production with enough restrictions and oversight to assure the United States, Israel and the rest of the world that Iran could not produce a nuclear weapon.
But he said there was no guarantee such a deal would emerge.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s more than 50-50,” Obama said at a forum at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, part of the Brookings Institution, in Washington, D.C., “but we have to try.”
His reply pointed to the difficult talks that await as the U.S. and its negotiating partners — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — work toward a final pact next year. The goal is to eliminate the possibility of Iran assembling a nuclear arsenal, even if any deal might let Iran continue enriching uranium at lower levels not easily convertible into weapons-grade material.
Obama said the six-month interim agreement provides time to see if the crisis can be averted through negotiation. “What we do have to test is the possibility we can resolve this issue diplomatically,” he said.
“If at the end of six months, it turns out we can’t make a deal,” Obama said, “we are no worse off.” U.S. sanctions against Iran will be fully reinstated and even tightened if Iran fails to uphold the agreement, he pledged.
Iran has continued to claim the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes; the agreement did not limit its ability to enrich uranium to low levels suitable for producing electricity.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.