By Louis Charbonneau
VIENNA - The U.N. nuclear watchdog has held up a new report on inspections in Iran while Tehran and the EU's "big three" try to break a deadlock in talks aimed at freezing Iran's uranium enrichment programme, diplomats say.
France, Britain and Germany had urged Iran to announce the suspension by Thursday for it to be included in the new report. However, no announcement was made and it was unclear if Iran was ready to halt its enrichment programme, which could be used to make fissile uranium for atomic weapons.
Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, still one of Iran's most influential officials, told worshippers at Friday prayers in Tehran the negotiations were moving ahead "step by step" though the Iranians were not yet satisfied.
"If the Europeans are fair, I think the door is open for a solution and we can reach an agreement," he said.
The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had originally hoped to distribute the new report to the 35 members of the agency's board of governors by Friday, but diplomats said this was unlikely.
Several diplomats said they suspected the IAEA has delayed previous reports to give Iran time to hand over late information.
"I know for a fact that the people responsible for the report had all they have to say (ready) a few days ago," a Western diplomat in Vienna who follows the IAEA told Reuters.
He said what was missing was a paragraph stating that Iran had agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment programme as demanded by an IAEA resolution passed in September.
Confirmation of the suspension would prevent Iran from being reported to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose economic sanctions, when the IAEA board meets on November 25. This is what Washington has demanded of the IAEA.
The United States says Iran is using its nuclear power programme as a front to develop weapons. Tehran denies this.
Some diplomats were confident Iran would announce the enrichment suspension later on Friday though others were more sceptical. "I'll believe it when I see it," one diplomat said.