VIENNA (Reuters) - The U.N. atomic agency asked member countries on Friday for more money to fund its work checking Iran complies with a deal aimed at easing a decade-long stand-off over its nuclear activities.
The International Atomic Energy Agency will nearly double the number of people it has working on Iran as a result of the six-month accord, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano told an extraordinary meeting of the U.N. body's 35-nation governing board.
Amano said the interim agreement - which took effect on Monday and under which Iran will get relief from some economic sanctions - was an "important step forward towards achieving a comprehensive solution" to the nuclear dispute.
But, he added: "there is still a long way to go".
"We will need to nearly double the staff resources devoted to verification in Iran," Amano said. "We will need to significantly increase the frequency of the verification activities which we are currently conducting."
In the deal with the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia, Iran agreed to suspend its most sensitive nuclear activity in exchange for a limited easing of sanctions that are battering its oil-dependent economy.
After years of increasing economic isolation, Iran, under new President Hassan Rouhani, is seeking "constructive engagement" with the world, including the United States which Iranian politicians regularly refer to as the "Great Satan".
The agreement hammered out in Geneva in November is designed to buy time for negotiations on a final settlement of the dispute over an Iranian nuclear programme Tehran says is peaceful but the West fears may have military aims.
In a confidential report to member states last week, the IAEA estimated the increased workload would cost around 6 million euros ($8.2 million).
The board unanimously endorsed the agency's plan, officials said. One diplomat said 10-15 countries had told the board they would be ready to contribute, but with most not giving a figure. Finland said it was prepared to help with 300,000 euros and Sweden with about 115,000 euros. "There won't be any problem in financing this," the envoy said.
The U.S. envoy to the IAEA, Joseph Macmanus, told reporters the United States would provide a substantial contribution.
The United States "is committed to working with the board and member states to provide the agency the resources it needs for carrying out this work," he told the board.
The IAEA already inspects Iranian nuclear facilities regularly to make sure there is no diversion of material for military purposes. But the inspections will now increase.
"Our inspectors will need access to additional locations. We will have to acquire and install more safeguards equipment and analyse more samples. And the volume of analytical work and reporting will increase," Amano said.
Until now, the IAEA has had one-to-two teams of two inspectors each on the ground in Iran most of the time as well as experts working on the Iran file at its Vienna headquarters.
The agency's regular budget for 2014 is 344 million euros. Roughly a third is for nuclear safeguards inspections, with those in Iran already among the agency's costliest undertakings.
Talks on a comprehensive deal - expected to start in February - are likely to be more difficult than last year's negotiations, diplomats say, as the West is likely to seek a significant scaling back of Iran's uranium enrichment activity.
Refined uranium can provide fuel for nuclear power plants, Iran's stated aim, or provide weapons material if processed much further, which Western states fear may be the real goal.
"We will look to begin the critical work of pursuing a long-term comprehensive solution that provides confidence that Iran's nuclear programme is exclusively peaceful," Macmanus told the board.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)