TEHRAN Iran is testing Western intentions by working with the U.N. atomic watchdog to resolve a nuclear row but the opportunity for such cooperation may not be repeated, a senior Iranian official said on Thursday.
Gholamreza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, said he expected the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to stick to a technical role and not be swayed by Western pressure, Iran's Fars News Agency reported.
The IAEA and Iran agreed to a plan in August for resolving outstanding questions about Tehran's nuclear program, which the West believes is ultimately aimed at producing atomic weapons. Iran insists its aims are purely for energy.
The United States and other Western states have criticized the plan because it does not address the U.N. demand for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, a process which can be used to make fuel for power plants or, if desired, material for bombs.
"Iran has provided the agency and the West with a very important opportunity. If their intention is to cooperate and resolve the nuclear problem, Iran has expressed its readiness," Aghazadeh said, Fars reported.
"This is an exceptional opportunity and it is not clear if this will be provided (by Iran) again," he added, speaking to reporters on returning from Vienna, where the IAEA is based.
"This political decision (to cooperate with the IAEA) was taken by Iran to test the agency and the West and, definitely, our intention and decision and the country's political will is to resolve these issues. Iran will resolve them."
Speculation about military confrontation over Iran's nuclear program has gathered pace because of comments by French officials, including President Nicolas Sarkozy, saying that failure to resolve the issue diplomatically could lead to conflict.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in an interview published on Thursday that France backed talks but said "these discussions cannot go on for years".
The United States, leading efforts to isolate the Islamic Republic, has said it wants a diplomatic solution to the row but has said, if that route fails, military action is an option.
"We are expecting the agency to continue its technical work although there is a lot of pressure on the agency right now. We are hoping that without paying attention to such an atmosphere (of pressure), it will continue its technical work."
Iran has dismissed the comments by French officials about a possible conflict, saying the United States is in no position to attack when its troops are engaged in fighting an insurgency in Iraq. But it has said it would retaliate if it was bombed.
Tehran has also said it would review cooperation with the IAEA if the United Nations imposes a third round of sanctions.