By ELAINE SCIOLINO
PARIS - Iran appears to have frozen major nuclear activities in an effort to persuade the world that it does not intend to build nuclear bombs, the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency said Monday.
"I think pretty much everything has come to a halt right now, so we are just trying to make sure that everything has been stopped," Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters in Vienna.
He added that operations at the Isfahan uranium conversion facility in Iran had now ended, and that the agency was in the process of applying seals to shut down operations at the country's facilities.
Dr. ElBaradei also said the atomic energy agency "hopefully" would be able to verify that Iran was honoring its commitments to freeze its uranium enrichment activities by the time the agency's 35-nation governing board begins meetings with Iran in Vienna on Thursday about how to deal with the nuclear program.
If Iran has indeed suspended those activities, it may make it harder for the United States to win a tough United Nations resolution that would perhaps entail an automatic referral of Iran to the Security Council for censure or even sanctions.
A draft resolution circulating in Vienna for consideration by the governing board calls only for Iran to be reported immediately to the International Atomic Energy Agency if it does not fully carry out the suspension or if it prevents the agency from monitoring its activities.
But Dr. ElBaradei also disclosed Monday that Iran had recently produced two tons of uranium hexafluoride, a gas whose production is a crucial step in making fuel for atom bombs and civilian nuclear reactors.
The agency uncovered evidence last week that Iran had mastered the technique of making the gas and apparently had sped up production at its vast uranium conversion facility in Isfahan. But Dr. ElBaradei's disclosure was the first public confirmation that it had produced large quantities of the gas.
The production of uranium hexafluoride does not violate an agreement Iran reached Nov. 15 with France, Germany, Britain and the European Union to suspend its uranium enrichment activities in exchange for potential rewards. That is because the deadline Iran set for carrying out the deal, known as the Paris Agreement because it was negotiated here, came into effect only on Monday.
But the disclosure was unsettling. The Bush administration, which has threatened to refer Iran to the Security Council for possible censure or sanctions because of its nuclear program, seized on it as an indication that Iran could not be trusted.
At a foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on Monday, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of Britain said the Iran issue might still be referred to the Security Council for possible punitive action if Tehran reneged on the deal. "If there is a failure by Iran to meet its obligations, then Britain, and also Germany and France reserve our collective right to refer the matter to the Security Council," Mr. Straw said.
Other European officials suggested that Iran, which was reluctant to agree to the freeze on activities it insists are for peaceful purposes, was determined to prove to the world its technological mastery. Despite claims last week by Iranian leaders, including President Mohammad Khatami, that the agreement was a "great success," it has been harshly criticized at home by hard-line members of Parliament and in newspaper editorials as a sign of Iranian capitulation to the West.
Hussein Mousavian, the chief Iranian negotiator in the Paris talks, tried to quell the criticism by saying last week that the agreement was approved by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's spiritual leader and most powerful official.
In Tehran on Monday, there was only a brief report on state-run radio and television announcing that Iran had suspended uranium enrichment and all related activities. "To build confidence, and in line with implementing the Paris Agreement, Iran suspended uranium enrichment," the radio report said.
After the meetings this week, the Europeans are to begin negotiations spelled out in the agreement for possible incentives to Iran if it continues to suspend its enrichment activities.
Dr. ElBaradei was also asked Monday about accusations last week by an Iranian opposition group that Iran was running a secret uranium enrichment program at a Defense Ministry site in the Lavizan district of Tehran. The accusations were made by the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the political front of the People's Mujahedeen, an opposition group labeled as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.
Dr. ElBaradei made no effort to hide his impatience with such reports. "We follow every credible source of information," he said. "There's a big difference between doing robust verification and harassing a country."
Bringing U.S. and Iran Together
By The New York Times
SHARM EL SHEIK, Egypt, Nov. 22 - In a bit of diplomatic gamesmanship apparently aimed at opening a dinner-table dialogue between the United States and Iran, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi of Iran were seated next to each other Monday night at the opening dinner of an international conference here.
But the seating, arranged by the Egyptian hosts, did not appear to break much ice. According to a senior State Department official, the two engaged in "polite dinner conversation" only, with no indication of discussion of differences over Iraq and Iran's nuclear program.