Looking relaxed and confident after returning from a UN summit in New York, Ahmadinejad on Sunday argued that his offer to allow foreign participation in the Islamic republic's nuclear energy drive was enough to dispel suspicions the nation is seeking the bomb.

"During these past two years, the Islamic Republic of Iran has made various proposals to prove its goodwill and this is the last time Iran submits a proposal whereby we allow the private sectors of other countries to participate," he told reporters.

In his address to the UN General Assembly on Saturday, Ahmadinejad attacked what he said was "nuclear apartheid" and refused to surrender what he asserted was Iran's right to enrich uranium, which makes reactor fuel but which could be diverted to military uses.

Instead, he outlined four proposals, including an offer to open the programme to foreign firms and governments. He said this amounted to "a kind of guarantee that is in fact general and international supervision".

IAEA to meet

The International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) 35-nation board of governors will from Monday meet in Vienna to consider a push by the United States and European Union to haul Tehran before the UN Security Council for ending a suspension of sensitive fuel cycle work.

Sanctions would cause problems,
says Russia's President Putin (L)

But Ahmadinejad warned in New York that if the IAEA "resorts to a language of force and threat with Iran, we will reconsider our entire approach to the nuclear issue".

"We want the fuel cycle. It is the right of all countries, including Iran, and we want it under the framework of the regulations that apply to all nations," the president repeated after his Iran Air jumbo touched down at Tehran airport.

In New York, top EU and US officials were considering the Iranian proposals, which effectively leave the two sides at greater odds than before.

Disappointing

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the BBC that Ahmadinejad's diplomatic debut at the UN was "disappointing and unhelpful".

"What I heard today makes me say the option of referral ... to the UN Security Council remains on the agenda," said French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy.

France's foreign minister is open
to Security Council referral

A senior US State Department official said it was a "very aggressive speech", while Israel accused Iran of trying to "buy time to overcome their technical difficulties" in making weapons.

But Russia, China and a number of members of the Non-Aligned Movement oppose Security Council referral.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Fox News television that Iran was cooperating "sufficiently" with the IAEA and said sanctions would be "tough" and cause "more problems".

Security Council

European Union diplomats said the EU's three biggest powers began drafting a resolution on Sunday urging the UN nuclear watchdog to report Tehran to the Security Council for possible sanctions.

Disappointed at Ahmadinejad's stand, French, British and German officials decided to ask the IAEA to refer Iran to the UN Security Council, which could consider economic sanctions, diplomats said.

"The drafting of a resolution sending Iran to the Security Council has begun," a diplomat from one of the three EU countries, known as the EU3, said.

Iran resumed uranium conversion
at Isfahan in August

"Tonight the [EU3] political directors will meet to discuss the key elements of the resolution."

Iran had agreed to suspend sensitive uranium enrichment activities last November under the so-called Paris agreement.

However, in August Tehran resumed uranium conversion work, a precursor to the ultra-sensitive process of uranium enrichment, after angrily rejecting the latest offer by the EU3.

In Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi warned of a "radicalisation" in the standoff if the matter went to the Security Council.

"We do not want the IAEA to act rashly, unilaterally and in an extreme way," Asefi told reporters. "If they act politically instead of dealing with the issue in a technical way, there will be a radicalisation of the atmosphere."

Iran has played on fears that if the crisis worsens, it would simply stop allowing nuclear inspectors into the country and that the Middle East could be wracked by yet another conflict that sends oil prices even higher.