Javad Vaeedi, the leader of Iran's delegation to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said on Wednesday: "So if the United States wishes to choose that path, let the ball roll."

Iran and the United States clashed at a meeting of the IAEA's governing board in Vienna on Wednesday.

After two-and-a half-years of US pressure on the IAEA to refer the matter to the Security Council, the board removed the last remaining obstacles to that step after Iran rejected proposals by Western powers for a compromise solution.

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Javad Vaeedi: If the US wishes
this path, let the ball roll

Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA director, was emailed to the council later in the day, the agency said, and will form part of the basis for any UN action over Iran's nuclear programme.

Diplomats said the council would probably start debating Iran next week.

The IAEA board decided a month ago to send Iran's nuclear dossier to the Security Council, as long as it deferred any steps until after ElBaradei's findings were presented.

Russia: Sanctions ineffective

The Security Council may take punitive action such as imposing sanctions, but it is not clear all permanent members would back such moves.

Russia said on Wednesday that imposing sanctions on Iran would be ineffective in convincing Tehran to curb its nuclear ambitions.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, also told reporters after meeting Kofi Annan, the UN secretary-general, that he opposed military action and questioned any measures the West might propose in the Council.

"The United States may have the power to cause harm and pain but it is also susceptible to harm and pain"

Javad Vaeedi, leader of Iran's delegation to the IAEA

Iran, the world's No 4 oil provider, also said it would review its oil export policy should the council tackle its case, which EU powers said was now inevitable as Tehran had flouted demands to prove it was not secretly seeking atom bombs.

Vaeedi said: "The United States may have the power to cause harm and pain but it is also susceptible to harm and pain."

Iran has previously said it can create problems for Washington in the Middle East.

Asked whether it would use an "oil weapon", Vaeedi said: "We will not [do so now], but if the situation changes, we will have to review our oil policies."

He said Iran remained open to a negotiated deal but would continue with nuclear research activities "based on our right".

Tehran says it wants only nuclear-generated electricity but hid atomic work from UN inspectors for 18 years. Its recent calls for Israel's destruction have stoked alarm in the West.

But the EU troika of Germany, France and Britain said "this is not the end of diplomacy".