"The resolution was adopted," an IAEA spokeswoman said on Saturday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) governing board approved it despite Iranian threats to begin enriching uranium if the resolution, drafted by the EU's three biggest powers and backed by the US, was passed.

Saturday's move could lead to UN Security Council sanctions against Tehran.

Tehran immediatedly criticised the decision.

"This resolution has no legal basis and is unacceptable," Iranian Foreign Minister spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told the Iranian Student's News Agency.

"Iran's answer will be announced after the return of the Iranian team from Vienna and the necessary reviews," he added.

Vote

Rather than adopt the resolution by consensus as it prefers
to do, the board voted on the text.

With 22 votes for the resolution, 12 abstentions and only one vote against, the outcome highlighted the split between rich Western nations and poorer developing nations led by Russia, China and South Africa, which disagree with Washington and Europe on how to deal with Iran.

Iran says its nuclear activities
are for peaceful energy needs

In what EU diplomats said was a victory for Western efforts to raise the pressure on Tehran, China and Russia, which had strongly opposed the EU's proposed resolution, abstained. Venezuela was the only country to vote against it.

India, which had opposed the EU resolution, voted for it.

Iran denies seeking atomic bombs and says its nuclear programme is only for generating electricity. However, it concealed its atomic fuel programme from the IAEA for 18 years.

Russia, which is building a $1 billion nuclear reactor at Bushehr in Iran and has much to gain from Iran's plans to develop atomic energy, has long been an opponent of referring Iran's programme to the Security Council.

China, which needs Iran's vast energy resources for its own booming economy, also opposes the Western drive against Iran.

Both countries fear a UN referral will cause the standoff over Iran's programme to escalate into an international crisis.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy offered hopes of dialogue.

"France remains, for its part, keen to pursue all avenues of dialogue in order to reach a satisfactory solution.

"This resolution shows the international community's concern about Iran's non-cooperation regarding the non-proliferation
rules.

"At the same time, the text keeps open the possibility of negotiations which we must take advantage of, without delay, in order to put forward proposals which could re-establish trust." 

Watered down

The EU resolution requires Tehran to be reported to the Security Council, but at an unspecified date - watering down an earlier demand from the Europeans for an immediate referral.

Russia, which had opposed the
resolution, abstained from voting

This means Iran would most likely not be referred to the council until the IAEA board meets in November, diplomats say.

The resolution, which diplomats said was prepared in close  consultation with Washington, says Iran's "many failures and breaches" of its nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Safeguards Agreement "constitute non-compliance" with the pact.

It added there was an "absence of confidence" that Iran's atomic programme was exclusively peaceful and this gave rise to questions "within the competence of the Security Council".

For two years, the EU's three biggest powers - France, Britain and Germany - have tried to persuade Iran that it needed to abandon its enriched uranium fuel programme to convince the world that its atomic ambitions were peaceful.

Last month, the talks collapsed after Tehran resumed uranium processing and rejected an EU offer of economic and political incentives if it scrapped its uranium enrichment programme, prompting the EU trio to join Washington in calling for the case to be sent to the Security Council.

Tehran's response

Iran has told IAEA chief ElBaradei 
it may begin enriching uranium

Tehran has threatened to retaliate.

On Friday, diplomats said the Iranian delegation had been showing some board members and IAEA general director Mohamed ElBaradei two unsigned letters informing the IAEA what would happen if the EU resolution was approved.

One letter said Iran would begin enriching uranium, a process that produces fuel for atomic power plants or weapons, at an underground facility at Natanz.

The second said Tehran would end short-notice inspections under a special NPT protocol.

Arab states' demand

Also on Saturday, Iran's delegate at the IAEA annual conference delivered a speech on behalf of Arab League states demanding the agency take up the case of Israel's reputed nuclear arsenal, which, the states said, threatens peace in the Middle East.

The Arab states said Israel's nuclear weaponry opens the doors for a race to develop nuclear arsenals in the region.