Filed at 2:25 p.m. ET
VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran has asked to be allowed to exclude some research and development work usable in nuclear bomb-making from a freeze on sensitive atomic projects, but EU negotiators rejected the request, diplomats said on Wednesday.
One Western diplomat said the request amounted to Iranian ``chutzpah'' before a meeting on Thursday of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is investigating whether Iran has a secret nuclear arms program.
Another said it was a clear message that Tehran had no intention of ending work on producing fuel, an activity that the United States believes will enable Iran to make nuclear arms.
The request followed an Iranian pledge to France, Britain and Germany last week that it would suspend its entire uranium enrichment program and all related activities in a bid to avoid possible economic sanctions by the U.N. Security Council.
``The Iranians asked to be allowed to continue conducting research and development with centrifuges during the freeze, but the Europeans told them, 'No','' a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
``Iran has asked to be allowed to test centrifuge rotors during the freeze,'' said another diplomat, adding this would require permission to operate several dozen centrifuges.
The freeze, which includes all centrifuge work, took effect on Monday, though Iranian officials said it would be short. Centrifuges purify uranium to fuel power plants or weapons by spinning at supersonic speeds.
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Iran's delegation to the IAEA was unavailable for comment.
The United States accuses Iran of having a secret nuclear weapons program and has threatened to press for U.N. Security Council sanctions. Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear program is only for power generation.
Last Friday, diplomats said Iran was producing large amounts of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas, the form of uranium fed into centrifuges during the enrichment process.
The report, denied by Tehran but confirmed by the IAEA, prompted European Union diplomats to question Iran's intentions.
One diplomat said intelligence reports said Iran hoped to make it through Thursday's meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) 35-member board and later announce plans for a cascade of centrifuges to produce bomb-grade uranium.
``They already have the parts for 1,100 to 1,200 centrifuges,'' said the diplomat, adding this number could purify enough uranium for a bomb within two years.
With nearly five months until a March session of the board, Iran could make much progress before an immediate threat of U.N. sanctions returned, he said.
France, Britain and Germany have circulated a draft IAEA resolution to be submitted to Thursday's meeting that appears to be unacceptable to most board members outside the EU.
Washington is unhappy at the lack of a ``trigger'' clause that would refer Iran's case to the U.N. Security Council if Tehran resumed any enrichment-related work.
Iran rejects what it sees as an indirect trigger in the text. The draft says it is ``essential'' Iran keep all parts of its enrichment program suspended if its case is to be resolved ``within the framework of the Agency.''
While not a direct threat of referral to the U.N. Security Council this wording hinted it could be considered, making it troublesome for some board members and Iran, diplomats said.
But Iran played down the disputes. ``Such discussions are quite normal in such a stage,'' Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told reporters in Tehran.
To shouts of ``No compromise,'' tens of thousands of Iran's Basij militia staged a show of strength before the IAEA meeting.
Wearing military fatigues and some armed with Kalashnikov rifles, members of the voluntary organization described by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as ``Iran's atomic bomb,'' also shouted ``Death to America, Death to Israel.''