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IAEA inspectors arrive in Tehran

Iran has said the Arak heavy-water production plant is for energy production.

Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images/file 2006

Iran has said the Arak heavy-water production plant is for energy production.

TEHRAN, Iran — Atomic experts representing the U.N. nuclear watchdog landed in Tehran on Saturday to inspect a plant recently opened to them, after access was denied for years.

The team from the International Atomic Energy Agency 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 has not yet been finished.

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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.

The state Islamic Republic News Agency confirmed the inspectors’ arrival and said that Iran had provided research data on its new, higher-capacity enrichment centrifuges.

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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 Barack 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 it could not produce a nuclear weapon.

But he said there was no guarantee that 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, “but we have to try.”

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.

On Saturday, in an apparent effort to promote the agreement at home, President Hassan Rouhani told students in Tehran that Iran’s uranium enrichment centrifuges “would never stop spinning.” But in an apparent reference to the lifting of international sanctions, which have severely damaged Iran’s economy, he added that the “people’s economic lives should also continue to spin.”

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