VIENNA, Nov 20: Iran must be cited for violating nuclear non-proliferation agreements, but credit must be given for its cooperation with international inspectors, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog said on Thursday.

Mohamed ElBaradei was speaking to reporters as a meeting opened in Vienna of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s 35-nation board of governors to consider how to react to two decades of covert nuclear activities by Iran.

The United States accuses that Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons. It wants the IAEA to declare Tehran in non-compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which would bring the issue before the United Nations Security Council that would impose sanctions.

Britain, France and Germany, however, want to avoid confrontation with Iran in order to get it to cooperate with international inspectors.

Mr ElBaradei said he expected the board “to respond to the bad news and the good news.

“The bad news is that there have been failures and breaches (in Iran’s respecting the nuclear NPT). The good news is their cooperation, a new chapter in our cooperation with Iraq,” he said.

Iran has pledged to sign an additional protocol to the NPT to allow for wider, unannounced inspections. Mr ElBaradei said Iran was already allowing such probes, “acting as if the protocol were in force”.

He said the IAEA was also talking to Iran on how to verify Tehran’s suspension of uranium enrichment, which the agency had requested.

The IAEA chief said he was sure the board would “respond adequately” to a report he filed last week that listed Iranian breaches in compliance during 18 years of hidden nuclear activities, including making small amounts of plutonium and enriched uranium.

But Mr ElBaradei had said in the report there was no proof yet that Iran was secretly trying to make nuclear weapons.

The United States and key European countries were holding last-minute talks on trying to reach a compromise even as the board meeting opened.

“They are moving but moving in the right direction, which will be to strengthen the hand of the agency (in dealing with Iran) to make sure non-proliferation is respected,” Mr ElBaradei said.—AFP