Inspectors from the UN's nuclear watchdog have found that Iran has halted most sensitive uranium-enrichment activities. This paved the way for EU foreign ministers and the US to approve the suspension of some sanctions.
On Monday, news agencies reported that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had confirmed that Iran had taken the first steps to curtail its nuclear program as required under a preliminary deal that would see some sanctions against the country suspended in return.
The DPA news agency cited unnamed diplomatic sources at the Vienna headquarters of the UN's nuclear watchog, and Reuters reported that it had obtained a copy of the confidential IAEA report.
The news came as EU foreign ministers gathered in Brussels suspended a range of sanctions against Tehran in response to Iran's compliance.
"As part of the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action agreed by Iran and the E3/EU+, which enters into force today, the Council today suspended certain EU restrictive measures against Iran for a period of six months," a statement said.
The term "E3/EU+3" refers to what in the United States and Russia is more commonly known as "P5+1" : the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain - and Germany.
Among other things, the decision will ease restrictions on trade in petrochemicals and precious metals and on the provision of insurance for oil shipments.
The White House has said the US will also begin easing some economic sanctions on Iran as a result of reports on Tehran's compliance with the deal. However, spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement that Washington would continue to aggressively enforce sanctions that remain in effect.
Preliminary nuclear deal
The temporary easing of sanctions is meant to give the two sides time during which they are meant to continue talks to turn the preliminary agreement reached on November 24 into a final accord outlining what Iran can and cannot do as part of its nuclear program.
The preliminary accord was welcomed as a breakthrough after years of talks between Iran and the P5+1 group aimed at allaying international fears about Iran's nuclear ambitions.
The United States and its allies in particular have long feared that Iran is seeking to use its nuclear program to develop the capability of producing weapons. Iran insists that the enrichment is for peaceful purposes only.
pfd/kms (Reuters, AFP, dpa)