"There's not much happening on the nuclear file," he said then. But he made clear that the IAEA had learned much about Iran's programs over the years. "Iran tried to cover up many of their activities, and they learned the hard way."
Aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said ElBaradei is expected to report to the board that Iran is honoring a suspension of its nuclear-related activities, as it committed to do in a deal it signed last year with European powers. But he also plans to chide the Islamic Republic for breaking the spirit of the accord. Since it was signed in November, Iran has carried out limited uranium-conversion work, quality control tests and maintenance on some equipment, and is constructing tunnels near a nuclear facility for storing materials in case of an attack.
Iran says it was offered nuclear parts by associates of Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.
Beyond monitoring the suspension, the IAEA's investigation into the black market network that supplied Libya and Iran has led to several new lines of inquiry on Iran's program.
Inspectors began pursuing the 1987 information in November. Several details have since come to light, but inspectors still lack a coherent picture.
Diplomats believe the Dubai meeting was attended by as many as three Iranian officials, a Sri Lankan businessman named Mohamed Farouq who was friendly with Pakistan's Khan, and a German named Heinz Mebus, who was one of Khan's original suppliers. Mebus is deceased and Farouq's whereabouts are unknown.
Khan's network of nuclear manufacturers and suppliers stretched across more than 30 countries and sold goods to Iran, Libya and North Korea. He was put out of business in 2003, mostly as a result of the Iran investigation and the exposure of Libya's now-dismantled weapons program.
Farouq's nephew, B.S. Tahir, is in jail in Malaysia for his role in the network and its sales to Libya. Tahir was recently questioned by IAEA officials and by the CIA, U.S. and foreign diplomats involved in the Khan investigations said.
Khan, who often sold his products through friends and intermediaries while he ran Pakistan's nuclear program, did not attend the meeting. He and several associates are under house arrest in Pakistan and are off-limits to U.S. and foreign interrogators.
But the IAEA learned enough about the meeting to prod Iran again about the offer, and last month Iranian official produced a copy for inspectors.
Two Western diplomats familiar with its contents described it as a five-point, phased plan in which the network offered to supply Iran with drawings for Pakistani centrifuges and then a starter kit of one or two centrifuges. Phase three included as many as 2,000 centrifuges, which could be used to enrich bomb-grade uranium. Auxiliary items for the centrifuges and enrichment process would have been delivered afterward, followed by reconversion and casting equipment for building the core of a bomb.
Khan and his associates stood to gain millions from the sales, but the agency believes Iran outsmarted the dealers by buying much of the equipment and technology at lower prices from European, Russian and Chinese competitors during the early 1990s. The equipment was used for programs that could develop nuclear energy, and there is no evidence the materials were assembled in a manner consistent with bomb-building.
"Iran had its own procurement network and bought a lot of stuff themselves," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, who has monitored the Iran and the Khan investigations. "But this offer would also show that even this early on, Pakistan was willing to go the extra mile to help Iran get the bomb. Maybe Iran didn't take the offer, maybe Pakistan wanted too much money, but what's new is that Iran got a guide, and if you have a guide it's a lot easier to do."