But on the other hand, he did not specify whether Iran would satisfy an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ultimatum to allow unlimited access to its sites. Observers say a collision with the Security Council seems likely.

“This question must not be sent to the Security Council. This must be prevented,” said Kamal Kharazi on Wednesday on the eve of a crucial visit by IAEA inspectors.

He promised “greater cooperation” with UN inspectors probing Iran's nuclear energy programme. But Kharazi remained circumspect on demands the country sign an additional protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) allowing unlimited and surprise visits to suspect sites.

Aside from urging Iran to unconditionally sign and implement the additional protocol, the IAEA has set 31 October as a deadline for Iran to prove it is not developing nuclear weapons.

Tehran fiercely denies such allegations, and says it is merely exercising its right to develop peaceful nuclear power.

On Tuesday, IAEA Director General Mohamed al-Baradai urged Iran to provide “full disclosure” of its nuclear programme and described the impending visit of inspectors as “decisive”.

Collision course

Observers say they can see Iran's case being taken before Security Council, where the Islamic Republic would face economic and diplomatic sanctions.

“At the moment it looks like they're on a collision course with the Security Council,” said one European diplomat in Tehran. “You can't rule it out, but I can't see them pulling a surprise and meeting our demands before the deadline.”

“We should neutralise the propaganda against Iran's peaceful nuclear activities”

Muhsin Aminzadeh,
deputy foreign minister

Angered by the IAEA call for it to clear up remaining questions and halt uranium enrichment, Iran says it will only give inspectors limited access to nuclear sites. 

Enriched uranium can be used as fuel for power plants, or as bomb material if highly enriched.
 
Iran says arms-grade enriched uranium traces found at two Iranian plants by IAEA inspectors this year were caused by contamination from imported centrifuge enrichment parts.

But to the dismay of the IAEA, diplomats say, Iran still refuses to say where the imported parts came from. “They just don't show any sign of changing their pattern of very grudging and limited cooperation,” a diplomat said.

Iranians divided

Hardliners, who control the main levers of power in Iran and tend to have the final say on security matters, argue Tehran must not bow to international pressure.

“Pulling out of the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) is the most logical path to adopt,” said Hussain Shariatmadari, influential editor of the hardline Kayhan newspaper, in an editorial on Tuesday.
 
But members of Iran's reformist government reject following North Korea's example of pulling out of the NPT. Some urge signing up to tougher nuclear inspections to head off concerns expressed by the European Union, Russia and Japan as well as the United States.
 
“We should neutralise the propaganda against Iran's peaceful nuclear activities,” Deputy Foreign Minister Muhsin Aminzadeh said last week. “If we fail, global public opinion will remain suspicious about our peaceful activities and will block them.”