After Saturday's IAEA decision, driven by concerns Iran may be secretly trying to build atomic bombs, Tehran announced it would stop implementing a protocol giving the UN nuclear watchdog agency increased inspection powers in the country.

"From the date of this letter, all voluntarily suspended, non-legally binding measures including the provisions of the Additional Protocol, and even beyond that, will be suspended," according to an Iranian government letter to the IAEA released by the UN nuclear watchdog group on Monday.

"All Agency containment and surveillance measures which were in place beyond the Agency's normal safeguards measures should be removed by mid-February 2006," the Iranian government wrote in the letter dated 5 February.

The letter to the IAEA Secretariat said Iran would limit future cooperation with UN inspectors to its basic obligations under the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Iranian officials have said they want the IAEA to remove some surveillance cameras from some nuclear sites and will no longer grant inspectors access to military facilities.

Bomb-grade material

Earlier in the day Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani announced IAEA inspectors would be arriving in Iran shortly to oversee the resumption of uranium enrichment - a process that can be used to make bomb-grade material.

"In a letter to the agency (IAEA) we announced the date (for resuming enrichment) and the inspectors will come to Iran for it in the next few days," Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, told reporters.

"If they could do something against us, they would not have wasted time to prepare the stage".

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,
Iranian president

He did not specify a date for starting enrichment.

EU officials have warned that Iran's enrichment resumption after a freeze of over two years, and curbing of inspections in retaliation for the vote, will exacerbate its nuclear case and heighten the prospect of UN sanctions against Tehran.

Iran says it only wants to enrich uranium to a low grade for use in nuclear power reactors, not to the high grade needed for atomic weapons, which it denies seeking.

Atomic ambitions

But Iran's concealment of fuel research and enrichment work from the IAEA for 18 years until 2003 and what diplomats call efforts to delay or evade UN probes since has raised Western suspicions about the Islamic Republic's atomic ambitions.

Iran's nuclear programme enjoys broad support in the country although some reformist politicians have urged the government to adopt a less confrontational approach to the issue.

An opinion poll carried by the state-run Iran newspaper on Monday found that 74.3% of 1019 people questioned thought Iran should press ahead with the atomic programme.

European Union, Chinese and Russian officials have urged Iran to use the month before the next IAEA board meeting on 6 March to answer the agency's outstanding concerns about its nuclear ambitions and return to the negotiating table.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan also called for more diplomacy and urged Iran to help create mutual trust.

"Both the Iranians and the other parties negotiating have indicated that this is not the end of the road," he said in Dubai when asked about Iran's referral to the Security Council.

Defiant tone

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once again struck a defiant tone in a speech on Monday.

"They (Western countries) are very angry with us, but it's not important to us because they cannot do anything and we are not scared of anything," the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted him as saying.

UN chief Anan (L) called for more
diplomacy

"If they could do something against us, they would not have wasted time to prepare the stage," he added.

Mounting tension over Iran's nuclear case sent oil prices more than 70 cents higher on Monday. The Tehran Stock Exchange's main index fell a further 0.4% after dropping below the psychological 10,000-point threshold on Sunday.

Fitch Ratings (UK) Limited cut its credit rating outlook for Iran to negative from stable, citing growing political risk surrounding the dispute over its atomic programme.