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Iran is close to clinching a deal to clandestinely import 1,350 tons of purified uranium ore from Kazakhstan, according to an intelligence report obtained by the Associated Press on Tuesday.

Such imports are banned by the UN Security Council, and diplomats said the assessment was heightening international concern about Tehran's nuclear activities.

Such a purified uranium ore deal would be significant because Tehran appears to be running out of the material, which it needs to feed its uranium enrichment program.

A summary of the report obtained by the Associated Press on Tuesday said the deal could be completed within weeks. It said Tehran was willing to pay $450 million, or close to 315 million euros, for the shipment.

The report was drawn up by a member nation of the International Atomic energy agency and provided to the AP on condition that the country not be identified because of the confidential nature of the information.

Iran is under three sets of UN Security Council sanctions for refusing to freeze its enrichment program and related activities that could be used to make nuclear weapons.

Tehran denies such aspirations, saying it wants to enrich only to fuel an envisaged network of power reactors.

A senior UN official said the agency was aware of the intelligence report's assessment but could not yet draw conclusions. He demanded anonymity for discussing confidential information.

A Western diplomat from a member of the IAEA's 35-nation board said the report was causing concern among countries that have seen it and generating intelligence chatter. The diplomat also requested anonymity for discussing intelligence information.

The price is high because of the secret nature of the deal and due to Iran's commitment to keep secret the elements supplying the material, said the summary.

An official of the country that drew up the report said elements referred to state employees acting on their own without approval of the Kazakh government.

After-hours calls put in to offices of Kazatomprom, the Kazak state uranium company, in Kazakhstan and Moscow, were not answered Tuesday. Iranian nuclear officials also did not pick up their telephones.

Purified ore, or uranium oxide, is processed into a uranium gas, which is then spun and re-spun to varying degrees of enrichment. Low enriched uranium is used for nuclear fuel, and upper-end high enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.

Iran rejects world powers' deadline

Meanwhile, Iran again rejected a deadline for the end of this year set by the world powers on a uranium enrichment deal.

"Actually we have a deadline and our deadline is that if no proper response is received [from the world powers] on the deal, then we will go on with further uranium enrichment for our Tehran medical reactor," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters.

The United States and the four other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - Britain, China, France and Russia - as well as Germany, have threatened Iran with new punitive measures if it did not accept a compromise deal by the end of this year.

According to a plan brokered in October by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran's low enriched uranium was to be exported to Russia and France for further enrichment of up to 20 percent and processing into fuel for the Tehran reactor.

"We can no longer wait and if they do not agree with the purchase or exchange, then we will do the 20 percent enrichment process by ourselves," Mottaki said.

Uranium, enriched to a higher degree of up to 90 per cent, can be used to make nuclear weapons. The West fears that Iran is pursuing a clandestine nuclear weapons programme under the guise of its civilian activities.

Mottaki reiterated that Tehran would be ready to either buy the processed uranium, produce it itself or exchange it in several phases on Iranian soil as a guarantee that the deal was valid.

The world powers and the IAEA have rejected the swap being made in Iran.