Iran has halted its most sensitive nuclear activity under a deal with world powers, the UN atomic agency confirmed yesterday, paving the way for the easing of some Western sanctions.
White House press secretary Jay Carney hailed Iran's actions and said the world powers would soon begin providing relief to Iran.
The European Union announced that it, too, was suspending some of the sanctions.
Iranian state TV said authorities halted enrichment of uranium to 20 per cent by disconnecting the cascades of centrifuges enriching uranium at the facility. The broadcast said international inspectors were on hand to witness the stoppage.
"In line with the implementation of the Geneva joint plan of action, Iran suspended the production of 20 per cent enriched uranium in the presence of UN nuclear watchdog inspectors at Natanz and Fordo sites," Mohammad Amiri, director general for safeguards at Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, told the official IRNA news agency.
The mutual concessions are scheduled to last six months, during which time six powers - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - aim to negotiate a final accord defining the permissible scope of Iran's nuclear activity.
Western governments want such an agreement to lay to rest their concerns that Iran could produce an atomic weapon and ease the risk of a new war in the Middle East.
The interim accord, struck on November 24 after years of on-off diplomacy, marks the first time in a decade that Tehran has limited its nuclear work, which it says has no military goals, and the first time the West has eased economic pressure on Iran.
Tehran is expecting to be able to retrieve US$4.2 billion in oil revenues frozen overseas, and resume trade in petrochemicals, gold and other precious metals.
"The iceberg of sanctions against Iran is melting," the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, Ali Akbar Salehi, said.
Iran's hardliners have called the deal a "poisoned chalice", highlighting the difficult task President Hassan Rowhani faces in selling the accord to sceptics.
Vatan-e-Emrooz printed in black yesterday instead of its usual colours, a sign of sorrow and mourning. It declared the deal a "nuclear holocaust" and called it a gift to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Reuters, Associated PressAgence France-Presse