The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency says his probe of allegations that Iran tried to make nuclear arms is at "a dead end" because Tehran is not cooperating.
He is also critical of Iran for trying to change a plan endorsed by six world powers. That plan would delay Tehran's ability to make such weapons by committing it to ship out most of its enriched uranium and have it returned as nuclear fuel.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei spoke at the start of the IAEA's 35-nation board meeting. That gathering will likely vote on a resolution critical of Iran's nuclear defiance backed by six world powers negotiating with Iran; the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.
He rejected Iran's assertions the deal lacks guarantees it will get the fuel in the end, a stance Western powers regard as stalling and a tacit admission its LEU will not be used for electricity generation, as Tehran insists.
"In view of the degree of mutual mistrust, it has extensive built-in guarantees, consisting of the IAEA taking custody of the (LEU) until it returned to Iran in the form of fuel," he told the Board of Governors meeting, his last before he retires on Monday after 12 years in office.
In the resolution drafted by the UN nuclear watchdog, world powers are demanding that Iran immediately mothball a uranium enrichment site it hid for years, heightening fears it is secretly planning to build atom bombs. Diplomats forecast majority approval for the resolution on Thursday or Friday in what would be its first action against Iran in almost four years.
The move reflects dismay over Iran's September disclosure of a second enrichment site it had been building clandestinely for two years, and frustration at Iran's holdup of an IAEA-brokered plan to give it fuel for its nuclear medical program if it parts with enriched uranium that could be used in weapons.
The last IAEA board resolution passed against Iran was in February 2006, when governors referred Tehran's case to the UN Security Council over its refusal to suspend enrichment and open up completely to IAEA inspections and investigations.
The new measure's sponsors were the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, the sextet locked in a long standoff with Iran over its shadowy enrichment activity, alleged nuclear bomb research and restrictions on IAEA inspections.
Russian and Chinese support is significant, and expected to secure rare developing nation votes against Iran at the IAEA, since the two have often blocked a united stance against Iran in international security bodies.
But it was unclear whether Moscow and Beijing's expression of disenchantment with Iran, an important trade partner for both, would translate into readiness for harsher UN sanctions Western powers will push for if the fuel deal falls through.
A November 16 IAEA report said Iran violated a transparency statute by admitting the existence of the Fordow enrichment site only two months ago, at least two years after building began, and raised concern it could be harbouring more secret sites.
Iran had previously assured the IAEA it was not concealing nuclear activity with potential weapons applications.
Resolution could backfire
The draft resolution, a restricted copy of which was obtained by Reuters, urged Iran to immediately halt construction of the Fordow plant, clarify its original purpose, and confirm it has no more hidden atomic activity or covert plans for any.
It voiced "serious concern" – a diplomatic euphemism for alarm – over its cover-up of the Fordow project and said it was in blatant breach of UN demands for an enrichment suspension.
It also called on Iran to shelve all enrichment-related activity as demanded by Security Council resolutions since 2006, grant unfettered IAEA inspections and open up to an IAEA probe into suspicions it conducted illicit nuclear weapons research.
But IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei suggested to Reuters in an interview on Wednesday the new resolution could backfire by aggravating Iran's siege mentality, boosting nuclear hardliners.
Iran's envoy to the IAEA,Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper on Thursday that the resolution would "endanger the prevailing constructive atmosphere" and have "long-term consequences".
He was alluding to IAEA efforts to broker a compromise to salvage the nuclear fuel supply plan and Iran's stated readiness to resolve IAEA questions about the Fordow enrichment site.
"The P5+1 (six powers) will win the battle in the Board of Governors, but it will be only a simple majority, but lose the war to get Iran to be more cooperative," a senior diplomat from the bloc of developing nations said.
Tehran says the bunkered Fordow site, which is to start operations in 2011, is a backup for its much larger Natanz enrichment centre in case it is bombed by foes such as Israel.
Western nuclear analysts say Fordow's low capacity makes it unsuitable for any purpose but to enrich smaller quantities of uranium suitable for a bomb. Enrichment plants generally need tens of thousands of centrifuges to feed a nuclear power plant.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report