Iran Sanctions talk may hit cooperation with IAEA

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VIENNA, Nov 23 (Reuters) Iran today accused Western nations seeking harsher UN sanctions against it of adding ''fuel to the flame'' and said this could halt its steps to clarify nuclear activity to UN inspectors.

The head of the UN nuclear watchdog said yesterday that Iran was making good progress towards resolving questions by the end of the year -- only for Western powers to say Tehran had not done enough to win trust in its atomic ambitions and the United Nations should consider biting sanctions.

The West fears Iran is secretly trying to build atom bombs. Iran says it wants only electricity from uranium enrichment, and a November 15 International Atomic Energy Agency report showed it never set out to ''weaponise'' enrichment -- though the agency says it does not know the scope of Iran's current activity.

In remarks to an IAEA board of governors meeting this week, given to reporters, Iran said Western nations especially France, Britain and Australia ''put fuel to increase the flame'' despite ''a great breakthrough'' in Iranian transparency with inspectors.

Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh said recent Iranian explanations of undeclared efforts to obtain centrifuge enrichment technology meant ''the most important issues related to our past activities is concluded and closed''.

''Therefore allegations about Iran's clandestine and non-peaceful activities are now proved to be baseless,'' he said.

''Therefore any gesture or resolution in the U.N. Security Council would have negative impact on our full collaboration and cooperation with the agency,'' he told reporters.

MORE CHECKS NEEDED However, IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei told the 35-nation gathering on Thursday that Iran remained some way from establishing confidence in its nuclear aspirations.

Iran's clarifications on centrifuge research were consistent with IAEA intelligence but had yet to be checked for completeness so the issue was not yet resolved, he said.

Moreover, he said the IAEA remained in the dark about the scope of Iran's current activity as it was blocking wide-ranging snap inspections to verify the absence of parallel, covert activity devoted to bomb-orientated enrichment.

Iran also continued to defy Security Council demands to suspend enrichment work altogether to defuse mistrust, he said.

''A wait-and-see approach is not an option,'' EU-3 powers Britain, France and Germany told IAEA governors yesterday.

They and the United States said Iran had failed a litmus test to show full disclosure and suspend enrichment by mid-November to gain a reprieve from further sanctions.

Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana will meet again on November 30.

If Solana concludes, as widely expected, that Iran remains adamant against suspending nuclear fuel production, Western powers say this will trigger drafting of broader sanctions by a six-nation group including Russia and China.

But Moscow and Beijing interpreted Iran's cooperation more positively in remarks to the IAEA board, Moscow calling it ''constructive'', and neither mentioned the idea of intensifying UN penalties, diplomats in the meeting said.

Their cautious response indicated they could keep impeding a new Security Council resolution by arguing for more time to capitalise on the IAEA and EU negotiating tracks with Iran.

ElBaradei said he hoped to settle remaining questions about Iranian nuclear work by the end of the year.

The two key issues involve 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.

Reuters RC GC1946

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