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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Throws Wrench Into EU's Iran Plans

VIENNA -- A European Union drive to haul Iran before the UN Security Council over its nuclear plans was in jeopardy on Wednesday following stiff opposition from Russia, which warned against escalating the standoff with Tehran.

The EU has circulated a draft resolution calling on the International Atomic Energy Agency governing board to report Iran's secretive nuclear program to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions on Tehran.

But Russia, which as a permanent, veto-wielding member of the council can block any action, warned against antagonizing Iran, which Western countries suspect is developing atomic weapons under cover of a civilian nuclear energy program.

"While Iran is cooperating with the IAEA, while it is not enriching uranium and observing a moratorium, while IAEA inspectors are working in the country, it would be counterproductive to report this question to the UN Security Council," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

"It will lead to an unnecessary politicizing of the situation. Iran is not violating its obligations and its actions do not threaten the nonproliferation regime," he said in a speech in San Francisco reported by RIA-Novosti.

Russia is building a $1 billion nuclear reactor for Iran and sees it as a key ally in the Middle East.

"The Russians are blocking the resolution," said a diplomat from one of the EU "big three" countries -- France, Britain and Germany. "If we don't get them on board, or at least to abstain, I don't think our resolution will be voted on."

At a meeting of foreign ministers of the Group of Eight countries on Monday, the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada all tried to convince Russia of the need to take Iran to the Security Council for hiding its nuclear fuel program from the IAEA for 18 years.

But Moscow refused to budge.

"The Russians say that it's seven against one and they don't care," an EU diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Iran, which says its nuclear program is not for making weapons, as suspected by Washington and the EU, but for generating power, has angered the EU's three biggest powers by resuming uranium-processing work at a plant in Isfahan. That move led EU officials to threaten the council referral.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator reacted angrily to the EU draft resolution, warning on Tuesday that Tehran might pull out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and resume uranium enrichment, which can produce fuel for energy or bombs, if it is approved and Tehran goes to the Security Council.

But Gholamreza Aghazadeh, Iran's vice president and head of the country's atomic energy organization, told reporters on the sidelines of the IAEA meeting that Iran was not considering withdrawing from the treaty.

"Leaving the NPT is not on the agenda," he said.

However, Aghazadeh confirmed that Iran had told nonaligned board members Russia and China that it might restart its uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and would end short-notice inspections under the IAEA's Additional Protocol if reported.

Diplomats on the IAEA board, which held its quarterly meeting this week, said the EU draft resolution had been informally distributed to the 35 IAEA board members and could be officially submitted to the board as early as Wednesday.