( Reuters ) - The U.N. nuclear watchdog chief said on Thursday Iran was clarifying atomic work on schedule, countering Western doubts, but Tehran must intensify cooperation to resolve remaining questions this year.
Mohamed ElBaradei summarized findings of an International Atomic Energy Agency report on Iran at a debate of the IAEA's governing board, where differences simmered over whether Iran's improved transparency is cause for hope or further skepticism.
The West fears Iran is secretly trying to build atom bombs. Iran says it wants to get electricity from uranium enrichment.
Western states on the 35-nation board were expected to dwell on Iran's defiant campaign to enrich uranium despite agreeing to a plan for transparency. Developing nations were likely to highlight Iranian steps towards openness and warn against rising Western pressure they feel could lead to dangerous conflict.
ElBaradei, believed to be concerned by U.S.-led criticism of the transparency plan's limitations and resolve to isolate Iran with harsher sanctions, said the plan was on track -- after some Western powers suggested Iran was dragging its heels.
"It is proceeding according to schedule ... There has been good progress," he said, in getting Iran to own up after years of stonewalling about secret 1980s and '90s efforts to acquire centrifuge enrichment technology from nuclear smugglers.
"Our progress over the past two months has been made possible by an increased level of Iranian cooperation.
"However I would urge Iran to be more proactive in providing information and accelerating the pace of cooperation so the agency will be able to clarify all major remaining outstanding issues by the end of the year," ElBaradei said.
That call reflected the fact that the next issues to resolve will be more difficult due to possible military involvement.
The IAEA wants credible explanations for traces of highly enriched -- or bomb-grade -- uranium that inspectors found at research sites, and intelligence on links between uranium processing, explosives tests and a missile warhead design.
Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said on Thursday he would meet EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana on November 30. The outcome could decide whether Iran will face wider sanctions soon for pursuing sensitive nuclear capability.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's envoy to the IAEA, told reporters the agency's report showed Iran had been truthful about its nuclear course but warned against further sanctions.
"We will continue the mood of cooperation provided that ... peace-loving countries prevent the United States or others from making noise and creating problems and jeopardizing this constructive approach by any measure in the U.N. Security Council," he said.
ElBaradei's remarks to the board appeared carefully balanced to incorporate Western concerns while suggesting the Iran-IAEA process deserves patience to help bring it to fruition.
He addressed Western criticism that the plan neglects U.N. demands on Iran to allow wider-ranging inspections to verify Iran is not "weapon zing" enrichment at undeclared sites.
Iran should reinstate an IAEA protocol permitting broader inspections, ElBaradei urged, because the agency "needs to have maximum clarity not only about Iran's past program but equally, or more important, about the present."
He also stressed Iran's obligation under U.N. resolutions to suspend enrichment, now being expanded towards industrial scale.
Remarks to the two-day IAEA board by six world powers dealing with Iran's nuclear dossier will hint at their positions in pending deliberations about whether to seek wider sanctions soon against Tehran and how tough they should be.
Washington and key allies France, Britain and Germany were expected to commend IAEA progress in illuminating Iran's past, but say Iran was not meeting a broad "litmus test" requiring full disclosure of present activity and a suspension.
Russia and China were likely to cast the IAEA's report in a more positive light and warn against disrupting it. Both have blocked tougher sanctions, calling them counterproductive, but have pressed Iran harder to be open and halt enrichment.