AFP: The UN atomic agency has asked to visit one of Iran's main military sites, Parchin near Tehran, but the Iranians have not agreed to the visit, diplomats said Friday, as an Iranian resistance group said Tehran planned to build a nuclear bomb by next year. AFP

VIENNA - The UN atomic agency has asked to visit one of Iran's main military sites, Parchin near Tehran, but the Iranians have not agreed to the visit, diplomats said Friday, as an Iranian resistance group said Tehran planned to build a nuclear bomb by next year.

The visit would be part of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) investigation of Iran's nuclear program on US charges that Tehran is secretly developing nuclear weapons.

Parchin, 30 kilometres (18 miles) southwest of Tehran, is a site for a variety of defense projects, including Defense Industries Organizationwork in chemical explosives, but the IAEA is wondering if Tehran is possibly doing nuclear weapons work there.

Iran says its nuclear program is strictly civilian and peaceful and that it is not developing atomic weapons.

A diplomat close to the IAEA confirmed that the agency had requested to send inspectors to Parchin but said this was not included in an IAEA report on Iran published September 1 since "whenever you are in the negotiating process, you should not mention what you are negotiating."

The IAEA's 35-nation board of governors is to meet next Monday to review the Iran file, with the United States saying Iran should be taken to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.

The IAEA did write in the report: "It is important for Iran to support the agency's efforts to provide access to locations, personnel and information relevant to safeguards implementation in response to agency requests."

A US official said from Washington that the IAEA had, according to verbal accounts, dropped the mention of Parchin in the written repport, as well as a reference to concern about Iran's work with beryllium.

Beryllium has civilian applications but can also be used in combination with polonium to make a neutron initiator that is effectively a trigger for a nuclear bomb.

The official said the concern about Parchin was that the Iranians may be working on testing "high-explosive shaped charges with an inert core of depleted uranium" as a sort of dry test for how a bomb with fissile material would work.

A non-American diplomat confirmed the US assertion.

An IAEA spokesman refused to comment.

Exiled Iranian opposition officials meanwhile claimed in Paris Friday that the Tehran regime plans to have its first nuclear bomb built by the middle of next year.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran said Tehran has allocated some 16 billion dollars (13 billion euros) to the program.

"The Iranian regime is trying every means to avoid a decision by the IAEA's Board of Governors next week to refer Iran's case to the UN Security Council," the group said, citing "accurate information" from opposition inside Iran.

European countries which have sought to remain engaged with Tehran are resisting calls to send Iran before the Security Council.

The NCRI claimed that Tehran "is engaged in yet another deceptive attempt to prevent a decisive decision by the international community ... This would give (Iran) enough time to advance their plans for developing a nuclear bomb."

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei "has ordered the relevant apparatus of the regime to produce the first nuclear bomb by mid 2005," the resistance group said.

They said Khamenei had added another two billion dollars to this project "which brings the total spending for the regime's nuclear projects to 16 billion dollars."

In order to meet the deadline set by Khamenei, various sites including Natanz, Isfahan, and Arak are very active and engineers are working extended hours and during holidays, it claimed.

A leading Iranian hardliner warned the international community Friday not delude itself that the Islamic regime could be persuaded to abandon its nuclear programme, saying it had been approved at the highest level of Iranian leadership.

"They should know that the Iranian nation has taken its decision and that the supreme leader is firmly behind the notion of acquiring nuclear technology," Ayatollah Ahmad Janati said.