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. Iran agrees timetable to clarify nuclear drive
TEHRAN, Aug 21 (AFP) Aug 22, 2007
Iran and the UN atomic energy agency on Tuesday agreed on a timetable for Tehran to answer outstanding concerns about its contested nuclear programme, amid Western threats of further sanctions.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) deputy director general Olli Heinonen and top Iranian national security official Javad Vaeedi announced the agreement after two days of talks in Tehran.

"We have now in front of us an agreed working plan, how to implement it and we have a timeline for the implementation. We talked about the details and the steps to be taken," said Heinonen.

The agreement means that Tehran will have to answer specific questions about its nuclear programme -- which the United States claims is aimed at making atomic weapons -- in line with the agreed timetable over the coming weeks.

"We had progress between us and the IAEA and we came up with a working plan on how to address the outstanding issues," said Vaeedi.

The United States, which has been leading worldwide pressure on Iran over the contested programme, judged the agreement was "potentially encouraging" but "not sufficient," a White House official in Washington said.

The IAEA has been investigating the Iranian nuclear programme for more than four years, but is still unable to make any firm conclusion over its nature.

Neither Heinonen nor Vaeedi gave concrete details of the timetable, but the former said these would be revealed in an IAEA report on the programme that is due to be released in two weeks.

"This is a potentially encouraging development -- we look forward to seeing the (IAEA) director general's report," the White House official said in Washington.

"But this alone is not sufficient and does not fulfill Iran's obligations to comply fully with (UN Security Council) resolutions and suspend enrichment and reprocessing activities."

Vaeedi said issues tackled included the handling of future inspections of Iran's nuclear sites, including the heavy water facility in Arak and the Natanz uranium enrichment plant.

"All the issues that are important for the agency ... have been incorporated," he said.

Iran hopes the agreed timetable will encourage Western powers to drop their threats of a third set of UN sanctions over its nuclear programme.

But Washington said it would press ahead.

"We will continue to pursue a third resolution, working with our P5+1 partners," the White House official said, referring to the group of key powers pressuring Iran on the issue.

World powers also warned Iran on Tuesday that just talking to the IAEA would not help it escape punishment for failing to heed UN demands to suspend sensitive uranium enrichment operations -- the key sticking point in the crisis.

Enrichment is used to make the nuclear fuel for power stations, but in highly enriched form the uranium can be used to make the explosive warhead of a nuclear bomb.

US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns complained that Iran hopes to stave off another resolution by having a "dalliance" with the IAEA.

"That should not turn off the third Security Council resolution that we believe should be passed in September," he said in a debate in Washington organised by Radio Free Europe.

France said that due to Iran's failure to halt enrichment as demanded by the previous resolutions, the Security Council should discuss a "substantial" third sanctions resolution against Tehran, according to a French foreign ministry official.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani warned that the future of such discussions and Iran's cooperation with the agency would be in danger if sanctions were imposed.

"If they (world powers) take an irrational move, then Iran's cooperation with the agency as well as the talks will be sterile," Larijani said late on Monday, according to the official IRNA news agency.

The United States accuses Iran -- OPEC's number two oil producer and owner of the second largest proven gas reserves in the world -- of seeking to make nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian energy drive.

Iran insists the programme is entirely peaceful and its growing population needs electricity from atomic energy, especially when the fossil fuels start to run dry.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad indicated there was no chance of Iran backing down over its nuclear drive in line with the Security Council's demands.

"We have established our nuclear activities in coordination with the agency and we will not back down in our principled stance," he said.

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