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U.S. presses case against Tehran as Iranian v.p. arrives to gather support

VIENNA, Austria — The United States on Wednesday pressed its case to have Iran hauled before the U.N. Security Council for its nuclear activities, urging fellow members of the International Atomic Energy Agency board to vote for such action in the next few days.

Iranian Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh flew to Vienna to try to build support for Tehran among the 35 nations on the IAEA's board. He said that despite displeasure over the Security Council push, his country would stick to its nuclear nonproliferation commitments whatever the board decided.

Aghazadeh spoke to reporters after meeting with representatives of Russia, China and the Nonaligned Movement — all of them opposed to a U.S.-European push for referral being prepared at an IAEA board meeting.

A European Union draft resolution, made available to The Associated Press, demands Iran's referral for alleged "failures and breaches of its obligations to comply" with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

But it avoids any mention of U.N. sanctions in recognition that council members Russia and China would veto such a push. Instead, the draft proposes the council consider "making clear to Iran" that the crisis can "best be resolved" by cooperating with IAEA investigators.

In Moscow, the Foreign Ministry criticized a move by the United States and European countries to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear program as "counterproductive," the Interfax news agency reported.

"This will not contribute to the search for a solution to the Iranian problem through political and diplomatic means," Interfax quoted a Foreign Ministry statement as saying.

The chief U.S. representative, meanwhile, pushed for support of referral — formally a European Union initiative but being orchestrated in close consultation with Washington and backed by Australia, Japan, Canada and others at the meeting.

"We agree with the European Union and a growing majority of the board that the time has come to report Iran's (nuclear) noncompliance to the Security Council," U.S. delegation head Gregory Schulte told the meeting. "It is now time for the board to do our duty."

Meeting participants, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing events at a closed conference, said the European Union, Australia, Canada and Japan also demanded referral before the session was adjourned until Thursday.

Some EU countries were leaning toward delaying any vote until after this IAEA session, the diplomats said, chiefly out of deference to resistance from Russia, which has veto power in the Security Council and is strategically and economically key to the European Union. But diplomats said Wednesday that a vote was increasingly likely, and efforts were now focusing on getting Moscow to abstain instead of casting an opposing ballot.

Washington insists that Iran is in breach of the treaty. Schulte argued that North Korea set an example for Iran, telling delegates that "the board complied with its obligation ... to report North Korea's noncompliance" after it abrogated its commitment to that same accord two years ago.

But Iran insists its nuclear activities have not breached the treaty, and Aghazadeh, the head of his country's nuclear program, said in Vienna that "leaving the NPT is not on the agenda of Iran."

Aghazadeh had been expected to attend the IAEA's general conference, scheduled for next week, but his appearance at the agency's board meeting appeared to be arranged on short notice. Diplomats suggested that reflected the importance Iran attached to trying to deflect the chances of being hauled before the Security Council over international apprehensions about its nuclear agenda.

Asked about his meeting — part of Iran's lobbying efforts — he said only: "I think this will have an impact on the outcome of the board."

Tehran insists its nuclear program is solely for energy production, despite concerns of the United States and Europe Union that it can be used for nuclear weapons.

Tehran has warned the IAEA that referral to the Security Council could lead it to start uranium enrichment — a possible pathway to nuclear arms — and on Tuesday, it said it could stop allowing unfettered inspections of its nuclear facilities and programs if the agency's board votes for Security Council involvement.

Aghazadeh repeated those warnings during Wednesday's closed meeting, said a diplomat familiar with the substance of the discussions. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the information is confidential.

Aghazadeh, in Moscow on Monday, said Iran would welcome other nations in its talks with European negotiators, and that his new government wants to increase its cooperation with Russia, whose cooperation in building a nuclear reactor in Iran has added to U.S. concerns.