IAEA Board Inches Toward Referring Iran to UN

VIENNA -- International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei warned Thursday that the dispute over Iran's nuclear program was "reaching a critical phase" as his organization moved toward almost certain referral of Tehran to the UN Security Council.

A two-day meeting of the IAEA's board of governors adjourned mid-afternoon Thursday, without voting on a European draft resolution calling for Iran to be referred to the Security Council. The meeting was expected to resume Friday afternoon.

Iran remained defiant. In a last-minute warning, Tehran's chief nuclear negotiator told ElBaradei that his country would severely curtail agency inspections of Tehran's atomic program and resume uranium enrichment if reported to the council.

Ali Larijani, in a letter made available to The Associated Press, said such a move would leave his country no choice but "to suspend all the voluntary measures and extra cooperation" with the IAEA -- shorthand for reducing IAEA monitoring authority over its nuclear activities to a minimum.

Furthermore, "all the peaceful nuclear activities being under voluntary suspension would be resumed without any restriction," said the letter.

Diplomats at the IAEA meeting said adoption of the resolution was certain, but Washington and the European Union, the key backers of referral, wanted to build as much support as possible. Protracted back-room negotiations were being held to achieve the broadest consensus possible.

Grigory Berdennikov, Russia's chief IAEA delegate, reinforced Moscow's position outside the meeting, telling reporters that referral to the Security Council would send Iran "a serious signal."

While a broad majority of member nations support referral, a handful of countries that have major policy disputes with the Americans remain opposed -- among them Cuba, Venezuela, Syria and Belarus.