The chief of the UN nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, said Monday that a deal over Iran's nuclear program could be just days away while the United States insisted it expect the UN Security Council to discuss Tehran's nuclear issue.
"I am still very much hopeful that in the next week or so an agreement could be reached," ElBaradei told reporters at the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna.
ElBaradei did not elaborate. But diplomats in Vienna believe he might be referring to a deal between Russia and Iran on Moscow's proposal that Iran might be allowed to retain small-scale uranium enrichment under strict IAEA surveillance while industrial-scale enrichment is transferred to Russian soil.
The United States on Monday ruled out the possibility that Iran might be allowed to continue small-scale nuclear enrichment and predicted the UN Security Council will take up Iran's case.
"We certainly expect and anticipate a detailed discussion of this issue to take place in the Security Council, and we'll use all diplomatic tools at our disposal to deal with this situation," State Department acting spokesman Tom Casey said at a briefing.
"I certainly would expect that the Security Council would respond to this in a way that reinforces the diplomacy that's already taken place at the IAEA," Casey said.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said at a press briefing on Monday that the international community should continue to make efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
"It is important for the international community to continue to act and make sure that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapons capability," he said.
McClellan said that the United States will talk with the board of the IAEA as well as members of the UN Security Council about the way forward.
There are also reports that Washington is seeking a 30-60 day deadline for Tehran to halt its nuclear program and cooperate with international inspectors.
Iran has been unwavering in retaining the right to nuclear fuel research and has said it would never submit to outside pressure against its nuclear program.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday that tough measures taken by Western countries would just run counterproductive, according to the official IRNA news agency.
"Pressure will have no effect on Iran's process of decision making," Ahmadinejad said.
"If the nuclear dossier is referred to the UN Security Council, Iran will have to resume (industrial-scale) uranium enrichment," Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani told reporters in Tehran on Sunday.
"Going to the Security Council will certainly not make Iran go back on research and development," said Larijani.
Tehran has conducted two rounds of negotiations with Russia since the IAEA board meeting on Feb. 4 decided to report Iran to the UN Security Council. Iran started uranium enrichment experiments following the IAEA decision.
Iran, which had previously refused to discuss Moscow's proposal for the shifting of uranium enrichment to Russian soil, changed its position in mid-February.
Iran also held talks with the trio of the European Union -- Britain, France and Germany -- in Vienna last Friday in a last-ditch effort prior to this week's meeting.
But the talks in both Moscow and Vienna failed to reach an agreement on uranium enrichment, a critical step in the nuclear fuel cycle. Highly enriched uranium can be used for power generation and the making of atomic bombs.
On Tuesday, the IAEA board will consider ElBaradei's latest report before it is sent to the UN Security Council, which might eventually consider sanctions if diplomacy fails.
The report, which began to circulate among the IAEA board last week, said ambiguities on the scope and nature of Iran's nuclear program had not been clarified after three years of investigations, partly due to insufficient information provided by Iran.
The report, a copy of which was made available to Xinhua, indicates that Iran seems to be accelerating uranium enrichment, saying Tehran plans to install 3,000 centrifuges in Natanz by the fourth quarter of the year.
Although the report stopped short of stating that Iran has engaged in nuclear weapons development, it said the IAEA could not draw a clear-cut conclusion that there were no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran.