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Iran nuclear deal to take effect on January 20

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu (not picture
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu (not picture

By Parisa Hafezi and Justyna Pawlak

ANKARA/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A deal between Iran and six major powers intended to pave the way to a solution to a long standoff over Tehran's nuclear ambitions will come into force on January 20, the Iranian Foreign Ministry and the European Union said on Sunday.

Shortly after the interim accord takes effect, an Iranian official added, Tehran and world powers will start negotiating a final settlement of their differences about activity the West suspects is aimed at obtaining a nuclear weapons capability.

Iran says its atomic energy program is aimed purely at electricity generation and other civilian purposes, although past Iranian attempts to hide sensitive nuclear activity from U.N. non-proliferation inspectors raised concerns.

The November 24 agreement appeared to halt a slide towards another, wider Middle East war over Iran's nuclear aspirations, but diplomats warn it will not be easy to carry out because of long-standing mutual mistrust.

The Iranian official, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, said the deal would allow Iran to stop complying if it saw its partners not living up to their own commitments.

"We don't trust them," he told state television, reflecting ingrained suspicions between Iran and the West that underlie what have been protracted negotiations.

In Washington, President Barack Obama said Sunday the United States and other nations would begin to give Iran "modest relief" on economic sanctions as long as the Islamic Republic lived up to its end of the agreement.

Obama said he would veto any new sanctions passed by the U.S. Congress during talks on a long-term deal with Iran, but added Washington would be prepared to increase its sanctions if Iran fails to abide by the agreement.

"The Geneva deal will be implemented from January 20," Marzieh Afkham of the Iranian Foreign Ministry told reporters in Tehran, the semi-official Mehr news agency said.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also confirmed the date, and said the sides would now ask the U.N. nuclear watchdog to verify the deal's implementation.

"We will ask the IAEA to undertake the necessary nuclear-related monitoring and verification activities," she said in a statement, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Ashton represents the six powers - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - in contacts with Iran related to its contested nuclear program.

SANCTIONS RELIEF TIMETABLE

Senior U.S. officials offered details for the first time on how the estimated $7 billion in sanctions relief envisaged in the November 24 agreement will be distributed.

The officials, who spoke to reporters on condition that they not be identified, said some sanctions relief would start on the first day of the six-month agreement's implementation - January 20 - and some will be withheld until its final day.

Among the total sanctions relief over the six months, $4.2 billion is in the form of access to currently blocked Iranian revenues held abroad.

One official said access to some of those funds depended on Iran keeping its commitment to dilute half of its 20 percent enriched uranium to no more than 5 percent enriched uranium.

Another official said the first $550 tranche would be paid on or about February 1, and the final payment, of the same amount, on or about July 20 A total of $900 million would depend on Iran diluting the enriched uranium, this official said. (ID:nL2N0KM0AY]

Senior officials from the European Union and Iran met in Geneva on Thursday and Friday to iron out remaining practical questions related to the implementation of the November 24 deal, under which Iran agreed to curb its most proliferation-sensitive nuclear activity - higher-level uranium enrichment - in return for some relief from Western economic sanctions.

Such relief would include suspension of some restrictions on trade in gold, precious metals and petrochemicals, and in the auto industry. The deal allows third-country purchases of Iranian oil to remain at current levels. Some $4.2 billion in oil revenues would be allowed to be transferred to Iran.

EU spokesman Michael Mann said on Friday that any agreements would need to be validated by the governments of Iran and the six powers.

The accord is designed to last six months and the parties hope to use the time to negotiate a final, broad settlement governing the scope of Iran's nuclear program.

Giving details about the deal, Deputy Foreign Minister Araqchi told state television that each party's commitments would be implemented "in one day".

"After the first step is taken, then in a short period of time we will again start our contacts for resumption of negotiations for the implementation of the final step."

He added: "We don't trust them. ... Each step has been designed in a way that allows us to stop carrying out our commitments if we see the other party is not fulfilling its commitments."

HIGHER-GRADE ENRICHMENT

Under the terms of the interim deal, Iran must limit its enrichment of uranium to 20 percent fissile purity for a period of six months as the price for relaxation of some sanctions.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's atomic energy organization, said on Saturday it would have no choice but to step up enrichment to the 60 percent threshold if a bill now moving through parliament is approved - even though it has no current need for such highly enriched uranium.

The bill's supporters say uranium refined to 60 percent concentration would be used to fuel nuclear-powered submarines. That would put Iran on the technical verge of 90 percent fissile purity, which is enough for the core of an atom bomb.

The measure has received expressions of support from at least 218 of parliament's 290 members and, if passed, could threaten progress toward a resolution of the nuclear dispute.

The parliament is much more hawkish than moderate President Hassan Rouhani on the nuclear issue.

But some see the proposal, put forward last month, as a response to a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate that would impose stiffer sanctions on Iran, which Western diplomats fear would shatter the nuclear diplomacy.

Sanctions supporters in the U.S. Congress say the economic penalties have brought Iran to the negotiating table and that keeping up the pressure with more sanctions is the way to ensure that Iran keeps to the November 24 accord and negotiates a comprehensive deal.

(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Ankara, Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Editing by William Maclean, Mark Heinrich, Peter Cooney and Meredith Mazzilli)

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