ElBaradei set to defend Iran progress at IAEA meet

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Vienna, Nov 22: The UN nuclear watchdog chief is set to urge full backing for an Iran transparency plan at an agency governors meeting today after Western powers said Tehran must do more to allay fears about its atomic agenda. Whether a new International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran's compliance with a pledge to clarify past secret nuclear work to the IAEA is cause for new hope or further scepticism will be debated by the agency's 35-nation Board of Governors.

It will be a matter of interpretation. Western board members will dwell on Iran's defiant campaign to enrich uranium despite the transparency plan, diplomats said, while developing nations will highlight Iranian steps towards openness and warn against rising Western pressure they feel could undo the process.

The West fears Iran is covertly trying to build atom bombs. Iran says it wants only to produce electricity from uranium enrichment.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, concerned by US-led criticism of the plan's limitations and resolve to isolate Iran with harsher sanctions, is likely to stress the plan is on track and warrants full support, a UN official said.

''He's likely to say that whatever the imperfections, the plan is proceeding according to schedule and the timeline to resolve outstanding questions by around the end of the year remains realistic,'' the official told the sources.

He said Iran had provided more information in two months, clarifying how it obtained whatever it needed to build enrichment centrifuges from a black market run by the father of Pakistan's atom bomb, than it had in two years of stonewalling.

''STICK WITH PLAN''

''I think ElBaradei wants to get across (to the West) that Iran has shown real willingness to cooperate and we are making important progress, so let's stick with it,'' the official said.

ElBaradei may also say Iran must intensify cooperation resolve even more difficult issues.

These involve explanation of traces of highly enriched -- or bomb-grade -- that uranium inspectors found at research sites.

Intelligence has also suggested links in Iran between uranium processing, explosives tests and a missile warhead design.

The IAEA report said Iran was still preventing inspector movements aimed at checking the nature and scope of its current enrichment-related activity.

Iran is also expanding enrichment towards industrial scale, the report said, defying U.N. demands to suspend the work until it can better show its declared civilian atomic energy programme is not a facade for mastering nuclear bomb technology.

Remarks to the two-day IAEA board by six world powers dealing with Iran's nuclear dossier will hint at their positions in coming deliberations about whether to seek wider sanctions soon against Tehran and how tough they should be.

The United States and key allies France, Britain and Germany were expected to commend IAEA achievements in uncovering Iran's past so far, but say Iran was not meeting a broad ''litmus test'' requiring full disclosure of present activity and a suspension.

The IAEA-Iran plan does not cover either step, but Western powers see them as urgent to defuse suspicions about Iran.

Without them, Washington, Paris and London say there is little choice but to increase U.N. Security Council sanctions.

Russia and China were likely to cast the IAEA's report in a more positive light and may say nothing should be done to discourage a successful outcome of the IAEA-Iran process.

Both have blocked tougher sanctions, calling them counterproductive, but have pressed Iran harder to come clean on all IAEA inquiries and suspend enrichment to defuse mistrust.

Reuters
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