The move by the International Atomic Energy Agency still has to be approved by the agency's 35-nation board at a meeting next month. But with the agency empowered by the UN Security Council to freeze any aid to Iran that could be misused for nuclear weapons, the board was likely to back the recommendations drawn up by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei.
As ElBaradei issued the confidential report - obtained by The Associated Press - to board member nations on Friday, confusion reigned about plans by Iran's chief nuclear negotiator to attend a meeting with senior European leaders in Munich, on the sidelines of a security conference in the German city.
Organizers of the Munich conference initially said negotiator Ali Larijani canceled because of an unspecified illness but later reversed themselves, saying he had promised to show up after all. IAEA officials said earlier Larijani had pulled out of a Vienna meeting with ElBaradei for technical reasons.
Larijani's planned meetings in Munich with German Foreign Minister
Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Javier Solana, the chief foreign policy envoy for the European Union, will be the first with senior Western officials since negotiations with Solana collapsed last year over Tehran's refusal to suspend enrichment, a potential pathway to nuclear arms.
One diplomat in Vienna who is familiar with the Iranian file suggested that Larijani's prevarication could have been due to the refusal of other major European nations, like France or Britain, to meet with Larijani because of his country's continued nuclear defiance.
Another noted that with Iran installing hundreds of centrifuges in recent days at an underground site with the ultimate aim of having 54,000 of the machines churning out enriched uranium, there might be indecision on the part of the Tehran leadership as to what signal Larijani's attendance at Munich would send about their determination to forge ahead with the program. Both demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The Vienna-based IAEA had already suspended aid to Iran in five instances last month in line with Security Council sanctions calling for an end to assistance for programs that could be misused to make an atomic weapon. On Friday, the agency fully or partially suspended another 18 projects that it deemed could be misused.
While the programs are not big ticket items in terms of money, a senior UN official familiar with Iran's IAEA dossier noted that the suspensions carry symbolic significance because they are part of the sanctions mandated by the Security Council in December to punish Tehran for its defiance of a council ultimatum to suspend enrichment.
Additionally, only North Korea - which also defied international pressure on its nuclear program to develop atomic arms - and Saddam's Iraq, which was suspected of trying to make such weapons, had previously been hit with such suspensions.
Iran gets IAEA technical aid for 15 projects and 40 more that involve it and other countries. In the case of programs involving other countries, the suspensions affected only Iran.
A diplomat familiar with the issue said the United States - along with key allies - had been looking to have up to half of the projects involving only Iran canceled, restricted or more closely monitored.
A U.S. official said Washington's position on what projects should be affected was very similar to that of the European powers, Britain, France and Germany.
The United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany all want Iran to stop its enrichment program and have acted as a group in trying to engage Tehran on the issue. But their approaches and priorities have differed over the past year - resulting in often visible strains in what is meant to be a joint initiative.
Russian and Chinese reluctance to slap harsh sanctions on Tehran - as
initially demanded by Washington - have created the greatest pressures. Both nations share economic and strategic interests with Iran.
Differences over how severely to punish Tehran for its refusal to suspend
enrichment led to months of disputes before agreement was reached in December on a Security Council resolution imposing limited sanctions that fell short of the harsher measures the Americans had pushed for.
The sanctions include a review of technical aid to Iran - programs meant to bolster the peaceful use of nuclear energy in medicine, agriculture, waste management, management training or power generation - and the suspensions outlined in Friday's report were in line with that specification.
A list appended to the report described the projects in vague, technical
One, which was suspended, said the program meant to strengthen the owner's capacities for successful impelemntation of the approved national program for provision of safe and reliable nuclear power generation capacities in the future.
IAEA technical aid is provided to dozens of countries, most of them developing nations, but none of them suspected of trying to develop nuclear arms - as is the case for Iran.
In November, the board of the agency indefinitely suspended an IAEA project that would have helped Iran put safety measures in place for a heavy water reactor that, once completed, will produce plutonium. Most of the projects frozen on Friday, however, were for programs that have less obvious potential weapons applications.
The March meeting also will hear a separate report from ElBaradei expected to confirm that Iran has expanded its enrichment efforts instead of mothballing them - a development that would empower the Security Council to impose stricter sanctions.