VIENNA  - The UN atomic agency focused on Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons drive Thursday, a day after Tehran declared it would continue to defy UN Security Council resolutions and expand its programme.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, used his opening speech at an agency meeting in Vienna to call for “all of us to work with a sense of urgency and seize the opportunity for a diplomatic solution.”

Western countries were expected to refrain from seeking a censure motion from the 35-nation IAEA board against Iran during the meeting, in part to give renewed efforts a chance to resolve the long-running crisis.

The IAEA’s latest report on November 16 said Iran is ready to double production at its Fordo facility, a key site dug into a mountain, enriching uranium to purities of 20 percent, close to the level needed for bomb.

The IAEA also said that Fordo’s final machinery has been installed but was not yet ready to be put into operation. Once it is, Iran will be able to triple its current monthly output of 20-percent enriched uranium to some 45 kilos (100 pounds).

Israel’s “red line” for military action is thought to be when Iran has produced around 250 kilos. That would be enough, if further enriched - although such a move would be quickly detected by the IAEA - for one nuclear weapon.

Supporting however Iran’s argument that its programme is for peaceful means is the IAEA’s finding that of the around 230 kilos of enriched uranium produced so far, 95 kilos have been converted for use as fuel for a reactor producing nuclear medicines. The rate of conversion has however slowed dramatically, indicating possible technical problems, and once Fordo is fully up and running, Iran will be producing far more material than its civilian facilities need, experts say. As a result, multiple UN Security Council resolutions have called on it to suspend key parts of its programme.

Iran’s nuclear chief Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, who in September alleged the IAEA was infiltrated by saboteurs and “terrorists”, said Wednesday Iran would continue “with force” to install more centrifuges and increase enrichment.

This was in spite of the four rounds of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council, which in combination with additional Western restrictions have began to cause real problems for the Iranian economy this year.

He also said Iran would “soon test” its new heavy water nuclear reactor at Arak, which Western nations fear could produce weapons-grade plutonium. His comments came as renewed diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis gather pace following a hiatus of several months caused in part by the lengthy US presidential election campaign won by Barack Obama on November 6.

The P5+1 powers - the US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany - held a meeting in Brussels last week and said afterwards they want talks with Iran “as soon as possible.” This may happen as soon as in December. Parallel diplomatic efforts between the IAEA and Iran, focused on what the agency calls “overall, credible” evidence of past weapons research work, are meanwhile set to resume on December 13 in Tehran.

The IAEA’s report also said that Iran, the only country with an operating nuclear reactor that does not adhere to the post-Chernobyl Convention on Nuclear Safety, has unloaded fuel at the Bushehr plant, shutting down Iran’s only functioning nuclear power station.

Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told AFP that the move at Iran’s only operating nuclear power plant was a “normal technical procedure” but Western diplomats said it raised fresh questions about safety there.

Abbasi Davani was quoted Wednesday by the INSA news agency as saying that the fuel has been reinserted, and a Vienna diplomat told AFP that IAEA staff were present when this occurred.