The International Atomic Energy Agency has made a number of key demands that Iran should satisfy before a 31 October deadline.

Al-Baradai will call on Iran to “provide accelerated cooperation and full transparency to allow the agency" to give its member states assurances that the Islamic Republic is not secretly developing nuclear weapons.

The IAEA will also demand that Iran should suspend uranium enrichment, and stop bringing nuclear material into Natanz, a fuel-making facility 250km south of Tehran and where IAEA inspectors have discovered traces of highly enriched uranium that could be weapons-grade.

The inspectors have also found traces of highly enriched uranium at the Kalaye Electrical Company near Tehran, a site where the United States says centrifuges were tested to produce the nuclear material.

'Civilian purposes'

Iran says these particles came along with equipment it imported and that it is not producing weapons-grade material, but merely trying to develop nuclear power for civilian purposes. The IAEA is asking Iran to provide "a full declaration of all imported material and components relative to the enrichment program" and for "third countries to cooperate closely and fully" on clarifying these questions about imports.

The IAEA also wants "unrestricted access, including environmental sampling, for the agency to whatever locations the agency deems necessary for the purposes of verification."

Finally, the IAEA wants Iran to sign an additional protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that would allow its inspectors to make unannounced visits to suspect sites.

The goal of the Tehran talks is to enable Al-Baradai to submit a report in November on how far the IAEA board of governors resolution of 12 September has been met.

If Al-Baradai declares Iran in non-compliance with the safeguards process, the IAEA board would automatically take the issue to the UN Security Council, which could impose punishing sanctions on Tehran.

An overt military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities would be "self-defeating," but covert operations, "if properly done ... might help slow these programmes down" and force Iran's leaders to end them

Henry Sokolski,
Nonproliferation Policy Education Centre report for the Pentagon

Covert ops

Meanwhile, a report prepared for the Pentagon said Iran was likely to be able to make a nuclear weapon within two years and Washington should consider a deal giving Tehran security, diplomatic and economic benefits to persuade it to abandon its nuclear arms programmes.

The report, by a weapons expert with close ties to Bush administration hard-liners, recommended UN measures to stop Iran importing technology that could be used in nuclear arms and said covert operations should be considered against Iranian nuclear facilities.

The report, released by Henry Sokolski of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Centre this week, coincided with Iranian defiance in the face of international pressure for more supervision of its nuclear programme, which Iran says is just to produce energy.

Sokolski did not go into what he meant by covert operations against Iranian facilities.

UN sanctions

He said only that an overt military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities would be "self-defeating," but covert operations, "if properly done ... might help slow these programmes down" and force Iran's leaders to end them.

The report said the UN nuclear watchdog - the International Atomic Energy Agency - and the UN Security Council should first find Iran in violation of international nonproliferation obligations and impose sanctions.

After that, "the major powers should offer security guarantees, economic assistance and normalized diplomatic relations with Tehran, but only in exchange for Iran first dismantling all of its nuclear facilities, ending all terrorist ties and opening up to unhindered IAEA inspections" of its nuclear facilities, it said.