Controversial plans by Iran to restart its nuclear fuel cycle programme have reportedly been delayed by a few days as international pressure mounts on the Islamic republic.

Iran had threatened to break UN seals and resume work on 1 August.

France, Britain and Germany have formally warned Iran that they would pursue punitive action and abandon talks if Iran carried out its threat, issued last week, to resume nuclear work within 24 hours if an offer from the EU was not forthcoming. With two years of talks in the balance, Europe has asked Iran to wait until a package of incentives that include economic, security, political and technological measures could be presented to persuade Iran to abandon the programme. The alternative, they say, is to be dragged before the UN Security Council and face possible sanctions.

”Were Iran to resume currently suspended activities, our negotiations would be brought to an end, and we would have no other option but to pursue other courses of action,” the foreign ministers of the three countries said in a letter to Hassan Rowhani, the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. ”We therefore call upon Iran not to resume suspended activities or take other unilateral steps.”

Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency has agreed to Iran’s request to install surveillance cameras at its Isfahan nuclear facility that will allow it to resume uranium enrichment under international safeguards. The IAEA, though, has urged Iran not to resume its frozen nuclear work until an international inspection system is in place and has apparently made it clear that it will take a week to get surveillance equipment in place.

With its new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, due to take over the reigns of power this week, Iran is upping the stakes, possibly in a bid to negotiate further concessions from Europe.

American intelligence agencies have reportedly concluded that Iran is determined to build nuclear weapons but is not expected to possess such weapons until the early or middle years of the next decade. Iran insists that its nuclear programme is for peaceful energy purposes and as such refuses to abandon its legitimate rights to exploit nuclear technology.

In related news, Russia’s Atomstroyexport which is building the Bushehr nuclear plant in Iran is accelerating its programme in order to eliminate a three month delay in construction and open the first reactor at the facility on schedule, due in the fourth quarter of 2006.