By Stephen Fidler in London
Iran appears to have ceased all sensitive nuclear operations ahead of a crucial meeting later this week of the board of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, according to western diplomats.
The apparent suspension of activities follows an agreement last week with Britain, France and Germany designed to stave off US efforts to report Iran to the United Nations Security Council, a move that could result in UN sanctions.
Diplomats said the three had been alarmed by evidence that, after agreeing the suspension, Iran had produced significant quantities of uranium hexafluoride (UF6). They said it had raised further questions about its good faith.
UF6 is spun in centrifuges to produce an enriched form of uranium usable in nuclear power plants or an atomic weapon, and officials reported that Iran had produced, for the first time, about two tonnes of the material at a plant in Isfahan. That plant now appears to have halted production. Iran denies US accusations that it has a nuclear weapons programme.
IAEA inspectors have not had time to verify that all aspects of the country's uranium enrichment programme had been shut down, but they were hopeful that verification could take place before the IAEA board convened on Thursday, officials said.
"I think pretty much everything has come to a halt right now," Mohamed ElBaradei, IAEA director-general, told reporters in Vienna.
Iran has said its suspension would not last long, but the European governments hope to offer Iran incentives to make the suspension permanent. "I think it's in Iran's interest to maintain the suspension peaceful purposes," Mr ElBaradei said.
The US is pushing for strong language in the board resolution that would insert a trigger clause that would result in Iran being automatically referred to the Security Council if it breached its commitment to the European governments. Scott Mcclellan, White House spokesman, said yesterday "the recent reports . . . have underscored our concerns about Iran and its intentions to continue to pursue nuclear weapons. We always said that the proof of the agreement they reached with the Europeans would be in the implementation. And so we look forward to seeing what's reported at the board meeting later this week."
A report this month to the board concluded that Iran had not diverted material from its known nuclear activities to any weapons programme, but it said it could not verify yet whether there was any nuclear programme that Iran had not declared.