Diplomats say Iran considering keeping its freeze of suspect nuclear activities

Iran is considering backing away from its threat to immediately resume activities that can be part of the process of making nuclear weapons, in an apparent attempt to defuse a showdown with key European nations, diplomats said Thursday.

One of the diplomats told The Associated Press that Iranian government officials in Tehran were discussing maintaining their freeze on uranium conversion because of a warning from key European countries that such a move would result in "consequences ... that would only be negative for Iran" - diplomatic code for likely action by the U.N Security Council.

The last-minute move left officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency - the U.N. watchdog monitoring Iran's nuclear activities - guessing about Iran's intentions.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, one diplomat close to the agency earlier said the IAEA had expected formal notification that conversion activities would restart on Thursday. And Sirous Nasseri, a senior Iranian envoy confirmed hours after arriving in Vienna on Wednesday that he was carrying a letter from his government to the IAEA.

While he declined to disclose the contents of his letter, diplomats who follow both Iran's nuclear dossier and the IAEA's work said it likely contained word of Iran's intention to resume conversion as part of a process whose end result is uranium hexafluoride - a substance that can be turned into either energy producing uranium or more highly enriched weapons grade material.

A well-connected diplomat said Nasseri met with the IAEA official in charge of monitoring Iran's freeze late Wednesday but did not deliver the letter, describing the encounter as a "social call."

Any formal notification of resumption of conversion will torpedo Iran's talks with France, Germany and Britain. Those talks are intended to ease suspicions about Tehran's ultimate nuclear aims. The United States says Iran wants to make a nuclear bomb, but Iran insists it is interested only in a source of energy.

GEORGE JAHN, Associated Press Writer

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