VIENNA (AFP/Reuters) - The head of the UN atomic agency has approved the creation of a special “task force” to better monitor Iran’s controversial nuclear programme, an internal IAEA document seen by AFP on Wednesday showed.

The new International Atomic Energy Agency team, revealed by diplomats last week, will include experts from several fields to pool the Vienna-based watchdog’s limited resources more efficiently.

The short IAEA document said the task force “will perform functions related to the implementation of the Agreement between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Agency for the Application of Safeguards in Connection with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the relevant provisions of resolutions of the (IAEA) Board of Governors and the United Nations Security Council.”

Iran says its nuclear work is for nuclear power and producing medical isotopes but Western nations, Israel and many others in the international community suspect its real aim is to develop the atomic bomb.

Because the IAEA has repeatedly said that it is “unable” to conclude that Iran’s activities are peaceful, the UN Security Council has called on Iran to cease all uranium enrichment, imposing four rounds of sanctions. Enriched uranium can be used for peaceful purposes but also, at highly concentrated purities, for nuclear weapons.

The IAEA’s latest quarterly report, expected later this week, is expected to reassert this assessment, as well as to say that Iran has continued to expand its activities despite the UN resolutions, increased sanctions and threats of war.

Not only is the IAEA tasked with keeping tabs on Iran’s current activities, it is also attempting to probe suspicions that until 2003, and possibly since, Iran had a structured programme of research into developing nuclear weapons. The latest in a series of attempts to persuade Iran to give the IAEA access to documents, scientists and sites involved in this alleged drive to get the bomb failed on Friday.

So far Iran has flatly rejected the claims, set out in a major IAEA report last November, and says it will only give the agency the desired access as part of a broader agreement governing its future relations with the watchdog. In particular the IAEA wants to be able to visit the Parchin military base near Tehran where it believes Iran conducted explosives tests for nuclear warhead designs. Western nations accuse Iran of “sanitizing” the site to remove evidence.

 Meanwhile, Western envoys are urging Arab states not to berate Israel over its assumed nuclear arsenal at the UN atomic agency’s annual conference, fearing this could imperil wider efforts for a nuclear weapons-free Middle East, diplomats say.

A senior diplomat said Arab countries would criticise Israel but were divided over whether to submit a resolution on the issue to next month’s annual General Conference of the United Nations’ 154-nation International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In a surprise move at last year’s IAEA gathering, the Arab group refrained from singling out Israel in this way in what was called a “goodwill gesture” ahead of planned talks in 2012 on creating a zone without nuclear arms in the Middle East.

Israel welcomed this as a “positive” move, in a rare conciliatory exchange in an otherwise heated debate that underlined deep Arab-Israeli divisions on nuclear issues.