The European Union and United States backpedaled Thursday in their drive to have Iran referred to the U.N. Security Council for nuclear treaty violations, following strong opposition from other countries on the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear monitoring group.
Russia, China and members of the 115-nation Non-Aligned Movement said during a closed board meeting that they opposed a draft E.U. resolution backed by the United States to escalate pressure on Iran through a Security Council referral.
That prompted the E.U. to float a second, somewhat softer resolution, but it, too, quickly came under fire. E.U. diplomats were scrambling Thursday night to gauge which of the two resolutions had greater support and whether to force a potentially divisive vote before the board meeting's scheduled end on Friday.
The E.U. and United States contend Iran engaged in a covert, 18-year program to develop nuclear technologies, including nuclear weapons, and should be reported to the Security Council. That body could impose sanctions or otherwise try to force Iran to fully disclose and curtail its illicit activities.
Iran responds that it is working only toward developing peaceful nuclear energy, and notes that independent inspections have found no evidence of nuclear weapons development. Iranian officials say the E.U. and U.S. allegations are politically motivated.
At a meeting this week of the IAEA's 35-member board, the opposing sides launched intense lobbying campaigns. The E.U. and United States argue that doing nothing against Iran will undermine efforts to stem nuclear proliferation. Backing down now could hurt their credibility, diplomats and analysts here said.
At Thursday's meeting, the representative from Russia, which is helping Iran build a $1 billion nuclear reactor, was "adamant" against referring Iran to the Security Council, according to a diplomat who attended the closed-door meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity. A Russian reportedly called such a move "counterproductive."
Russia also opposed -- and thus seemed to doom -- the E.U.'s second draft resolution. The Reuters news agency said that resolution proposed finding Iran in "non-compliance" with its nuclear obligations but delaying any referral to the Security Council.
China's representative on the board advocated settling the issue by "diplomatic means" and "continued dialogue." Both China and Russia hold Security Council vetoes.
A statement by the Malaysian ambassador, Rajmah Hussain, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, a Cold War-era grouping whose members avoided taking sides with the superpowers, completely dismissed the E.U.'s arguments against Iran, which is also a member of the movement.
Diplomats here said many countries in the movement were sympathetic to Iran's claim that it was being subjected to "nuclear apartheid" by big powers that want to keep developing countries from acquiring nuclear technology.
Individually, however, some members of the movement delivered more measured statements, diplomats said. Many called on Iran to suspend its recent resumption of uranium conversion. India and South Africa said in their statements that the board should seek a consensus, a signal that the E.U. should not force an up or down vote on the matter, but work out a compromise.