UNITED NATIONS – As a deadline for Iran to prove it is not building atomic weapons expired Friday, the head of the U.N. nuclear agency said Tehran appears to be moving "in the right direction." But in Iran, thousands of hard-liners protested their country's conciliatory moves.
Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (search), told The Associated Press the fact that the dossier Iran handed over last week on its past nuclear activities "has a lot of details ... is positive in itself."
His comments came as hard-liners rallied in several cities in Iran to protest a government decision allowing inspection of its nuclear facilities and suspending uranium enrichment.
"Death to compromisers!" the demonstrators chanted. Some wore white shrouds to symbolize their readiness to die for their cause.
The protests were larger than hard-line demonstrations held in the capital a week ago.
ElBaradei said he was informed that the Iranian government will send him a letter next week saying it will sign an additional protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (search) giving IAEA inspectors unfettered access to its nuclear facilities.
"When this happens, it will be a very positive step forward, particularly in terms of enabling us to effectively regulate all future nuclear activities in Iran," ElBaradei said in a statement.
He told AP that Iran's commitment to suspend enrichment of uranium "as a confidence-building measure" in response to the IAEA board's resolution and in agreement with the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany was another "positive" step.
"So I think we are moving in the right direction and I hope we'll continue to make progress," ElBaradei said.
But while the Iranians have assured the IAEA that the declaration they handed over last week is "complete and accurate," ElBaradei said his inspectors must make their own determination.
Iran has been under intense pressure to fulfill the demand of the IAEA's board of governors and prove by Friday that its nuclear activities are geared only toward generating electricity -- and not toward building a weapons arsenal, as the United States contends.
Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's representative to the IAEA, said Iran's cooperation was unrelated to the Friday deadline.
"Iran has cooperated ... only on the basis of the growing trend of bilateral cooperation," state-run Tehran radio quoted Salehi as saying.
At a Tehran mosque, hard-line cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati (search) told worshippers Iran would not respect the commitments it made unless Britain, France and Germany keep promises to offer greater cooperation on nuclear energy and nonmilitary technology.
The United States accuses Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons and has pressed for the IAEA to declare Iran in violation of the nonproliferation treaty. Washington, though, does not believe Iran has yet made nuclear weapons, citing a lack of fissile material -- either enriched uranium or plutonium.
But IAEA experts have found traces of highly enriched weapons-grade uranium on equipment at Iranian sites, a discovery ElBaradei has called the most troubling aspect of Tehran's nuclear activities.
Iran insists the traces, found in environmental samples, were inadvertently imported on equipment meant to generate electricity and says it does not know where the equipment originated because it was purchased through third parties.
"Our inspectors are currently in Iran visiting sites, interviewing key personnel and taking samples with a view to verifying the accuracy and completeness of this declaration," ElBaradei said.
IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky added: "We're using satellite imagery -- all with a view to coming up with our own independent conclusion on the accuracy of their declaration."
ElBaradei said he will issue a report about the verification process to the IAEA Board of Governors sometime in mid-November.
If the IAEA board finds that suspicions remain about a possible weapons program, it could find Iran in violation of the nonproliferation treaty. That would mean U.N. Security Council involvement and possible international sanctions.