A diplomat said a European Union-sponsored resolution directed at increasing pressure on Iran to improve its co-operation with an International Atomic Energy Agency investigation of its nuclear programme was passed by the 35-nation IAEA board on Saturday.
But the resolution, passed by 27-3, puts off any UN action against Iran for at least a month, to give time for diplomacy to work before the next meeting in Vienna in March of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
European nations earlier on Saturday formally submitted a new draft to the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency on referring Iran to the UN Security Council, but only after a US compromise on wording.
The move came after Washington compromised on a US-Egyptian dispute over linking fears about Tehran's atomic programme to a Middle East nuclear-free zone, and so indirectly to Israel.
They said that the Americans and other Western nations had accepted mention of such a zone in the draft late in the night.
Diplomats familiar with the issue said France, Britain and Germany, the three European nations formally submitting the US-backed draft resolution calling for referral, had mediated between Cairo and Washington.
The diplomats, who demanded anonymity in exchange for discussing the negotiations, said Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, and Ahmed Aboul Gheit, her Egyptian counterpart, had also been involved in trying to find language acceptable to both sides.
They said the Americans finally accepted a paragraph stressing the importance of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East early on Saturday morning.
No significant opposition
Only three nations, Cuba, Syria and Venezuela, voted against.
Five others, Algeria, Belarus, Indonesia, Libya and South Africa, abstained.
Among those backing referral was India, a nation with great weight in the developing world whose stance on referral was unclear until the vote.
Tehran's reaction was quick, saying it would immediately stop UN inspections of its nuclear plants and pursue full-scale uranium enrichment.
Javad Vaeedi, the deputy Iranian nuclear negotiator, told reporters after the vote: "After this decision, Iran has to immediately bring into force its parliamentary law to suspend voluntary implementation of [the watchdog agency's] Additional Protocol [on snap inspections] and [pursue] commercial-scale enrichment which until today was under full suspension."
Vaeedi said the IAEA decision also raised questions whether there was any point to talks on Russia's proposal to defuse Iran's standoff with the West by taking in Iranian uranium for enrichment, in theory preventing diversions to bomb-making.
"In this context, we think we have to see how we can consider the Russian proposal. Now it's not clear for us," said Vaeedi, who on the eve of the vote said engaging the Security Council would "kill" talks on Moscow's offer.
"This resolution is politically motivated since it is not based on legal or technical grounds."