TEHRAN Iran would be ready to grant the U.N. atomic watchdog "full supervision" of its nuclear activities for five years if U.N. sanctions were lifted, a senior official was quoted as saying on Monday, an offer the West may greet with scepticism.
Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, did not spell out whether he meant unrestricted access for the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in its probe into Tehran's nuclear programme.
Since talks between global powers and Iran foundered in January, Russia has advocated a phased plan in which Tehran would address concerns that it may be seeking nuclear weapons, and be rewarded with an easing of sanctions.
But Abbasi-Davani made clear Iran has no intention of suspending its uranium enrichment programme, a condition enshrined in a series of United Nations sanctions resolutions passed against Tehran since 2006.
Western nations suspect Iran is trying to use its nuclear programme to develop atomic weapons. The Islamic Republic has denied the charge, saying it wants to produce nuclear energy.
The IAEA, which in a report last week said it was "increasingly concerned" about possible nuclear weapons development work in Iran, has long complained of a lack of Iranian cooperation with agency inspectors.
It has called on Tehran to implement the IAEA's so-called Additional Protocol, which would give the U.N. agency unfettered access to Iranian sites, even those not declared to be nuclear-related, at short notice.
While granting inspectors regular access to its declared nuclear facilities, including the Natanz enrichment site, the Islamic state has so far refused to allow the Vienna-based agency wider inspection powers.
Some analysts believe the West may have to accept some continued enrichment in Iran for any chance of an end to the standoff over Tehran's nuclear aims. In return, Iran would have to accept much more intrusive inspections.
Iran has recently sought to demonstrate increased openness about its nuclear programme, allowing a senior IAEA official rare access to a research and development facility last month.
But Western diplomats have dismissed this as a "charm offensive" and an apparent manoeuvre by Iran to ease world pressure on the country, while forging ahead with an enrichment drive that can have both civilian and military purposes.
"By lifting the U.N. sanctions ... the International Atomic Energy Agency can have full supervision over Iran's nuclear work for five years," Abbasi-Davani told ISNA.
He said the IAEA's allegation of possible military-linked nuclear work was "fabricated and baseless".
In a comment making clear Tehran has no intention of halting its activities to refine uranium, he said Iran planned to increase the number of enrichment machines in its nuclear facilities over the next six months.
"We also plan to set up new production lines to produce new generation of centrifuges," Abbasi-Davani said.
For years, Tehran has been seeking to replace the breakdown-prone 1970s vintage model of centrifuge it now uses to refine uranium, but the changeover has been hampered by sanctions restricting access to vital components, analysts say.
Abbasi-Davani said Iran was not yet ready to mass-produce the new centrifuges.
(Writing by Ramin Mostafavi; Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Vienna; Editing by Mark Heinrich)