TEHRAN 22 Feb. (IPS) Mr. Mohammad el-Bradeh’i, the Head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the Iranian authorities did not agreed to sign a protocol authorising international inspectors to visit Iranian nuclear installations "at will and without prior clearance".

But Mr. Qolamreza Aqazadeh, the Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation assured immediately that a comprehensive plan has been drawn up to provide the "utmost cooperation" between Iran and the IAEA.

"Doors are open for the IAEA experts to visit Iran's

nuclear sites and all Iranian programmes on the issue are quite transparent", he added during a joint press conference with Mr. el-Bradeh’i, who, for his part, said Tehran would cooperate to the full with the IAEA.

According to the official Iranian news agency IRNA, during his meeting with Mr. Khatami, the IAEA Chief said that Iran had every right to a peaceful nuclear industry.

Concern over Tehran's nuclear programme rose this month after the lamed Khatami announced Iran had begun mining uranium and constructing processing facilities.

''Usage of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and economic and social developments is among any country's national sovereignty rights'', IRNA quoted el-Barade’i as having observed, assuring that his organisation will have closer cooperation with Tehran in future.

Iran plans to generate 6000 MW of electricity from atomic power plants by 2022 to meet the growing energy demand of its 65 million population.

But opponents to the scheme, including Iranian experts, do not understand why a country which has the world’s largest natural gas deposits after Russia should go after nuclear powered electricity plants, using unsophisticated, ageing Russian technology?

Iran's extensive oil and gas deposits make an expensive nuclear power programme unnecessary, they argue, as both the United States and Israel are of the opinion that the plants would ultimately serve to help the Islamic Republic building an atomic bomb.

They have also expressed scepticism about the IAEA's ability to effectively police Iran's nuclear ambitions.

''They are trying to draw the IAEA and international attention off on what they declared hoping we'll miss what they haven't declared'', a senior U.S. official said on Thursday.

But Russian Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev played down U.S. concerns on Friday.

''At this moment in time, Iran does not have the capacity to build nuclear weapons,'' he told reporters.

''We are giving them only technology that is monitored and authorised by the IAEA'', he said.

A 1000 Megawatts nuclear powered electricity station is near completion in the port of Booshehr, on the Persian Gulf, with the help of Moscow, at a cost of one billion US Dollars.

But Mr. Khatami said the U.S.-Israeli accusations were based on ''misunderstandings'', repeating that not only Iran’s nuclear policies were "totally peaceful", but also the Islamic Republic was open to IAEA inspections.

"Iran is a pioneer in fighting weapons of mass destruction and supports a (Middle East) region void of such weapons. Iran has signed a treaty banning all nuclear testing and we have no restriction for holding more negotiations in different fields'', Khatami told el-Bradeh’i.

However, Mr. el-Barade’i urged him to sign the IAEA's Additional Protocol which would allow inspectors to visit undeclared sites and make inspections virtually without prior notice.

On Friday, the IAEA chief had visited Iranian nuclear facility in Natanz, about 320 km (200 miles) south of Tehran and was due to go to other facilities built recently in Arak, in central Iran, but he ended his visit abruptly, invoking an "overloaded programme".

In the joint press conference, ElBaradei said what he had

observed during his inspection of Iran's nuclear projects was nothing unexpected.

Commenting on the Iraqi issue, he said there are still hopes o prevent a devastating war in the region and these hopes would get realised if Iraq would cooperate with the United Nations arms inspectors.

According to Mr. el-Bradeh’I, war with Iraq is "not inevitable" and said all means should be tried as a way to avoid war in the region. ENDS IAEA INSPECTING IRAN 22203