Hamid Reza Asefi, the foreign ministry spokesman, told a weekly news conference on Sunday that his country was ready to resume research on Monday.

"We will remove the seals and we have announced that we are ready to start research from tomorrow," Asefi said.

It would be the second time in five months that Iran, which says that its nuclear programme is peaceful, removed some seals put in place by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

"It depends on the IAEA to announce its readiness as this will take place under the agency's supervision," Asefi said.

Iran has not publicly disclosed what activities it plans to resume on Monday.

Uranium enrichment

Diplomats and analysts say atomic research and development could involve some laboratory tests of uranium enrichment and the assembly of enrichment centrifuges.

Uranium enrichment is the most sensitive part of the nuclear fuel cycle since it can be used to produce bomb-grade material as well as nuclear reactor fuel.

"We will remove the seals and we have announced that we are ready to start research from tomorrow"

Hamid Reza Asefi, the Foreign Ministry spokesman

European Union and US officials have said the move, which follows Iran's resumption of uranium processing at its Isfahan plant in August, will jeopardise efforts to find a diplomatic solution to Iran's atomic ambitions.

They have also said that the move could accelerate calls for Iran's case to be sent to the UN Security Council.

On Saturday, Javad Vaeedi, the deputy head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, told state television that it would not be in the West's interest to refer Iran's case to the UN Security Council, where sanctions could be imposed on Tehran.
   
He noted that Iran's parliament approved a bill late last year whereby, should Iran's case be sent to the Security Council, Tehran would resume enrichment and scale back co-operation with IAEA inspectors.

Russian proposal

Washington and the EU want Iran to agree to a proposal, put forward by Moscow, that Iran transfer all its uranium enrichment activities to a joint venture in Russia. 
    

Iran said it would study only ideas
that allow it to enrich on its soil

Russian and Iranian officials met in Tehran over the weekend to discuss the plan but Iran has made it clear it will consider only ideas that allow it to enrich on its own soil.
   
"We have a positive view regarding these talks, as do the Russians," Asefi said.

"These talks can discuss different plans but the main issue is respecting and accepting Iran's legitimate rights."

A resumption of atomic research and development would mean that all of Iran's nuclear programme, much of which was put on hold as part of negotiations with the EU that started in late 2003, was active once again apart from the actual enrichment of uranium at its unfinished Natanz facility.