Vienna, Austria The head of the U.N. atomic watchdog agency said Monday a deal on Iran's suspect nuclear program could be only a few days away, making U.N. Security Council action unneeded.
International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei did not elaborate. But his optimism was believed to be linked to a confidential Russian proposal to allow Iran to enrich some uranium domestically, diplomats said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to divulge details of the plan.
"I am still very much hopeful that in the next week, an agreement could be reached," ElBaradei told reporters, without elaborating.
However, the plan - which Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov planned to discuss with officials in Washington - was expected to meet strong U.S. resistance over fears it could be misused to make nuclear weapons.
The Russian proposal would allow Tehran to conduct small-scale enrichment and ask the IAEA to set the parameters of such activity to minimize the chances of abuse. In return, the diplomats said Iran would be asked to recommit to in-depth IAEA probes of its program on short notice - something Tehran canceled last month after the agency's 35-nation board voted Feb. 4 to alert the Security Council by passing on Iran's nuclear dossier resulting from almost three years of agency investigations.
Diplomats said negotiations continued on the sidelines of a board meeting of the IAEA, which began Monday and will focus on Iran later in the week.