"Have we seen any proof of a weapons programme (in Iran)? Have we seen undeclared (uranium) enrichment? ... Obviously until today there is none of that," International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Muhammad al-Baradai told reporters before entering a closed-door session of the IAEA board of governors.

 

"But are we in a position to say that everything is peaceful? Obviously we are not at this stage," he said, summing up a two-year IAEA investigation of Tehran's atomic programme.

 

Although al-Baradai's inspectors have uncovered many potentially arms-related activities in Iran, it has found no "smoking gun" to back US charges of a covert bomb programme.

 

One of the main items on the board's agenda this week is a resolution on Iran's nuclear programme drafted by Germany, France and Britain calling for the IAEA board to make a "final determination" about Iran in November.

 

Washington hopes this will lead to a UN Security Council report and possibly economic sanctions, while Iran hopes it will bring an acquittal and an end to the UN inspection process.

 

Al-Baradai hopes the resolution will prod not only Iran, but other countries like Pakistan and Israel to improve cooperation with the IAEA.

 

"It is important to acknowledge progress and say that we would like to see accelerated cooperation by Iran (and) by the countries that have been involved," he said, suggesting a reference to Pakistan.

Showdown

Most IAEA  board members reject
the US proposal of sanctions

Al-Baradai said there was no guarantee he will be able to complete his investigation by November.

But the Iranians made it clear that they would like to see an end to his probe of their nuclear programme, which they say is entirely peaceful.

 

Iran's chief delegate at this week's IAEA meeting, Husain Mousavian, said that Tehran wanted to bring the standoff over its nuclear programme to a head in November.

 

"We have nothing against serious dialogue aimed at providing assurances that Iran's nuclear programme will never, never be diverted to military purposes," Mousavian said in an interview.

 

Mousavian was confident Iran would be cleared of the US charges, which carry with them the threat of UN sanctions.


US pressure

The United States, meanwhile, is trying to persuade the Europeans that it is fruitless to negotiate with the Iranians, who Washington believes are simply stalling for time as they quietly race to get a nuclear weapon.

 

While most IAEA board members oppose the sanctions trigger suggested by Washington, one diplomat said US negotiators could be "very persuasive" and had made numerous attempts at including a trigger mechanism to send Iran to the security council.

T
he Europeans however resist the idea of an automatic trigger that would lock them into a specific course of action, but they have been convinced by US diplomats to include a 31 October deadline for Iran to dispel doubts about its nuclear programme, diplomats said.


No 'smoking gun'

The US has convinced the EU to set
a 31 October deadline for Iran

The United Nations has been probing Iran's nuclear programme for two years. While it has uncovered many "potentially" weapons-related activities it has found no "smoking gun".

 

Iran has been negotiating with France, Britain and Germany since October 2003, when Tehran promised to suspend its uranium enrichment programme in exchange for a wide range of "carrots", including non-military nuclear and other technology and a guarantee that it could keep a peaceful atomic programme.

 

But Iran never fully suspended the programme, and Mousavian took a defiant public stance against the European trio on Monday, saying Tehran would begin enriching uranium very soon.

 

However, diplomats said Iran and the EU trio were quietly negotiating behind the scenes and would soon announce a more comprehensive suspension of Iran's enrichment programme that would include not just enrichment, but the production, assembly and testing of centrifuges used in the enrichment process.