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Push to Censure Iran's Nuclear Ambitions Stalls

The U.S.-led drive to bring Iran before the U.N. Security Council over Tehran's nuclear program has stalled. The European Union Thursday backed away from a proposal to immediately refer the matter to the Council. But, the issue is expected to be raised again later.

At a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, the European Union dropped a draft resolution that would have immediately referred the issue of Iran's nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council.

The United States has been spearheading the push to haul Iran before the Council, which has the power to impose economic sanctions. Britain, France, and Germany, which have represented the EU in talks with Iran, earlier this week decided to push for an immediate referral.

But that effort lost steam when at least a dozen nations on the IAEA board, including China and Russia, opposed any move to take the matter to the Security Council.

The EU circulated a new draft Thursday that says Iran is in non-compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty but omits any call for a referral to the Security Council.

In Tehran, Mohammad Saeedi, the deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, called the withdrawal of the first, harsher EU draft resolution a significant victory for Iran.

Mohammad Prehdi Akhunzadeh, Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA, said it was clear there were divisions on the matter, and called for a return to negotiations.

"The main question here was to refer the Iranian case to the U.N. Security Council. There is no consensus whatever to that effect and I believe that that is a message that if there is to be a solution that is to be through a consensus," he said.

The EU-Iran negotiations dragged on for two years as Europe tried to persuade Tehran to forsake uranium enrichment in return for trade and political concessions. But that effort collapsed last month when Iran began resuming uranium reprocessing.

Iran insists it has no nuclear weapons ambitions and only seeks nuclear power to generate electricity. But the United States believes Iran is using the push for nuclear energy as a cover to develop atomic weapons.

Kenneth Katzman, senior Middle East analyst at the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, says the debate over how to deal with Tehran will continue, even if no strong action emerges from this IAEA meeting.

"It looks like there will probably not be a referral to the Security Council at this meeting," he said. "But there is debate over a European proposal to set out standards for what might trigger a referral at the next meeting in November. And there appears to be opposition to that on the grounds that it makes it too easy to have such a referral. So it's not clear that the U.S. and the EU are going to come out with anything terribly strong at this IAEA meeting."

Russian diplomats have already voiced dissatisfaction with the second, milder EU draft resolution. Mr. Katzman says Russian and Chinese imports of Iranian oil are a key factor in their opposition to taking any forceful action against Tehran.