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Iran angry at U.N. council move



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Condoleezza Rice

(CNN) -- Iran has reacted with anger to a move by the world's top five powers to report it to the U.N. Security Council, saying the action would close diplomatic avenues to a solution of its nuclear standoff with the West.

Meanwhile Russia and China are sending diplomats to Tehran to urge the Islamic republic to cooperate with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), according to a Russian news agency.

The Russian Information Agency reported the development ahead of Thursday's special meeting in Vienna of the International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors.

Foreign ministers from Russia, China, Britain, France and the United States -- the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- decided at a two-day meeting in London to ask the IAEA to take the case of Iran's nuclear program to the Security Council.

The agreement was something of a compromise. Russia and China had been reluctant to escalate the case, and the deal from the London talks stopped short of recommending a formal referral of Iran to the council, where it could have then faced economic sanctions.

Any decision on formal referral is now put off until after a scheduled IAEA meeting on March 6.

"A compromise was reached between the participants," a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman told Reuters.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said the development was not a "positive step."

"We view any referral or report to the (U.N.) Security Council as the end of the road for diplomacy, and this is not a positive step," said Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani.

"For the Europeans and the IAEA board, this step will not be a bright moment, and if I may say, it will be a bad move to refer a country's nuclear file for further investigation to the Security Council. And to do this with Iran's file, it will be a bad direction to take for the Europeans."

Many countries have been concerned that Iran has intended to use its nuclear program to develop weaponry. But Iran says its program is solely for peaceful purposes.

Months of talks with European nations failed to make headway in settling the issue, and talks broke off. Iran recently broke IAEA seals on its nuclear facilities, raising great concerns in the West.

This set the stage for the possibility of the U.N. Security Council considering the issue and taking action that could result in sanctions against Iran.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her counterparts had discussed Iran at a private dinner at the home of British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

In a joint statement after their late-night talks in London, the foreign ministers said they had agreed that an emergency meeting of the IAEA board on Thursday "should report to the Security Council its decision on the steps required of Iran."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair hailed the agreement to involve the council as a powerful signal to Iran.

"I hope it's sending a message that the international community is united," Blair said.

"This is going to be discussed and decided upon by the U.N. Security Council. That is a very important step. We couldn't get agreement on that before, we've got agreement on it now."

Iran has warned that any move to inform the council about its case would prompt it to curtail snap U.N. inspections of nuclear facilities and resume enriching uranium, a process used to make fuel for power stations, or bomb-grade material.

Libyan Energy Minister Fathi Omar Bin Shatwan said referral of Iran's case to the council would have a serious effect on world oil prices, already just shy of record highs.

But Iran's Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri eased concerns that the world's fourth biggest crude oil producer could curb oil exports in reprisal, as Tehran has previously hinted it may do.

"We are not mixing oil with politics," he told reporters at the start of an OPEC meeting in Vienna.

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki met his Chinese counterpart in London and called for Thursday's IAEA meeting to be cancelled, Iran's official IRNA news agency reported.

Iran can count on support at the IAEA board meeting from Venezuela and an abstention from India but the compromise agreed in London is likely to get a comfortable majority in any vote, analysts told Reuters.

Iran: More time

Iranian officials argued more time was needed for talks.

"We have asked for talks with the Europeans which shows that Iran wants to try all amicable ways to achieve peaceful nuclear technology," Larijani was quoted as saying by the semi-official ISNA students news agency.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said an extensive period of "confidence-building" was required from Iran.

This month Iran removed U.N. seals on uranium enrichment equipment at its Natanz facility in central Iran.

Javad Vaeedi, deputy head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said Iran had no intention of backing down.

"Research and development is the Iranian nation's legitimate right and is irreversible," he told state television, according to Reuters.

Russia, which is building Iran's first nuclear power reactor, backed Western calls for Iran to halt sensitive nuclear work in order to rebuild trust, as agreed at the London meeting.

Russia has strong commercial and diplomatic ties with the Islamic Republic. The Kremlin has suggested setting up a joint venture with Iran to carry out sensitive uranium enrichment on Russian soil.

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