VIENNA, Nov 22 (Reuters) The U.N. nuclear watchdog chief said today Iran was clarifying its atomic work on schedule but must intensify cooperation to resolve remaining questions this year.
Mohamed ElBaradei summarised findings of an International Atomic Energy Agency report as he opened a meeting of the agency's governing board, where differences simmered over whether Iran's improved transparency was cause for new hope or more scepticism.
Western states on the 35-nation board were expected to dwell on Iran's defiant campaign to enrich uranium despite agreeing to a plan for transparency, while developing nations would 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 to get electricity from uranium enrichment.
Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said today he would meet EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana on Nov. 30.
The outcome could decide whether Iran will face wider sanctions soon for pursuing nuclear power.
ElBaradei, who diplomats say is concerned by US-led criticism of the transparency plan's limitations and resolve to isolate Iran with harsher sanctions, said the plan was on track -- after some diplomats suggested Iran was dragging its heels.
''It is proceeding according to schedule ... There has been good progress,'' he said, in getting Iran to own up about secret 1980s and '90s efforts to acquire centrifuge enrichment technology from nuclear smugglers.
IRANIAN COOPERATION MUST BE SWIFTER ''Our progress over the past two months has been made possible by an increased level of Iranian cooperation.
''However I would urge Iran to be more proactive in providing information and accelerating the pace of cooperation so the agency will be able to clarify all major remaining outstanding issues by the end of the year,'' ElBaradei said.
That call reflected the fact that the next issues to resolve will be more difficult due to possible military involvement.
The IAEA wants credible explanations for traces of highly enriched -- or bomb-grade -- uranium that inspectors found at research sites, and intelligence on links between uranium processing, explosives tests and a missile warhead design.
Iran has said the IAEA report showed it had been truthful about its nuclear course and any further sanctions steps would be ''illegal'' and undermine its rapprochement with the IAEA.
ElBaradei addressed Western criticism that the plan neglects U.N. demands on Iran to allow wider-ranging inspections to verify Iran is not ''weaponising'' enrichment at undeclared sites, and to suspend nuclear activity to defuse mistrust.
He urged Iran to reinstate an IAEA protocol permitting broader inspections because the agency ''needs to have maximum clarity not only about Iran's past programme but equally, or more important, about the present''.
He also stressed Iran's obligation under UN resolutions to suspend enrichment, now being expanded towards industrial scale.
ElBaradei's remarks appeared carefully balanced to incorporate Western concerns while suggesting the Iran-IAEA process deserves patience to help bring it to fruition.
Remarks to the two-day IAEA board by six world powers dealing with Iran's nuclear dossier will hint at their positions in pending deliberations about whether to seek wider sanctions soon against Tehran and how tough they should be.
Washington and key allies France, Britain and Germany were expected to commend IAEA progress in illuminating Iran's past, but say Iran was not meeting a broad ''litmus test'' requiring full disclosure of present activity and a suspension.
Russia and China were likely to cast the IAEA's report in a more positive light and warn against disrupting it. Both have blocked tougher sanctions, calling them counterproductive, but have pressed Iran harder to be open and halt enrichment.
REUTERS PD ND1758