Iran warned Friday it no longer would consider a Kremlin proposal to move its uranium enrichment program to Russia if it is referred to the U.N. Security Council over suspicions it might be seeking nuclear weapons.
If Iran's nuclear file goes to the Security Council, "there will be no way we can continue with the Russian proposal," said Javad Vaeidi, deputy head of the powerful National Security Council and a top nuclear negotiator.
He was referring to attempts to persuade Iran to shift its uranium enrichment program to Russia to prevent its misuse for nuclear arms. The 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the world body's nuclear watchdog, is considering whether to refer Iran to the Security Council over the disputed program.
But Russia's chief IAEA delegate, Grigory Berdennikov, denied any threat to the proposal.
"Our offer is still on the table and the negotiations will continue," he said Friday.
Officials in Tehran have previously suggested referral could endanger the proposal. But Vaeidi's comments were the first to state outright that Iran would stop considering the plan, which has broad international backing from nations concerned about Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Iran maintains its nuclear program is peaceful and aimed only at generating electricity.
Diplomats finished fine-tuning a resolution calling for Iran's referral to the Security Council by Friday evening and awaited final approval from their governments before submitting it to the 35-nation board.
The board was expected to approve the resolution Saturday, with no more than about 10 members expected to abstain or vote against it, the diplomats said on condition of anonymity in exchange for discussing the state of efforts to report Iran to the council.
Vaeidi acknowledged that referral seemed unavoidable, telling reporters: "This is an adopted draft.
"It means that the U.S. and the EU-3 are intending to kill two issues, first to stop diplomacy and second to kill the Russian proposal," he said, alluding to France, Britain and Germany, the countries proposing referral in a resolution before the board.
Iranian officials are expected in Moscow on Feb. 16 for talks on the proposal to enrich uranium for Iran's nuclear program on Russian soil. The offer, backed by the United States and the European Union, is intended to make it more difficult for Tehran to develop weapons.
Iranian officials have welcomed the proposal but say it needs work, leading to suspicions they are stalling.
Vaeidi reiterated earlier threats that Iran will resume full-scale work on uranium enrichment and stop honoring an agreement giving IAEA inspectors broad powers to conduct short-notice inspections of his country's nuclear program.
"I advise them not to make a historical mistake," he said, alluding to nations actively backing referral.
Support for Iran at the Vienna meeting appeared to be limited Friday. Cuba, Venezuela, Syria and a few other countries remained opposed, while India was said to be leaning toward supporting referral.
Egypt, one senior diplomat said, was insisting on a mention of a nuclear-free Middle East zone — an allusion to demands that Israel disarm.
Still, a draft made available to The Associated Press showed only minimal changes to the one submitted Wednesday and the key demand — referral of Iran to the council — remained.
Diplomats said backing for Iran had shrunk since Russia and China swung their support behind referral at an overnight meeting with the United States, France and Britain — the other three permanent council members.
In New York, China's U.N. ambassador said Beijing would never support sanctions against Iran "as a matter of principle," instead preferring a low-key approach in confronting Tehran. Wang Guangya said he did not want the Security Council to pressure Iran but instead support IAEA efforts to defuse the standoff.
Chief U.S. IAEA delegate Gregory L. Schulte said there was a "solid majority in support of a resolution that reports Iran to the Security Council — and that majority is growing."
In Tehran, former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, now leader of the powerful Expediency Council, said taking Iran before the Security Council would be a "black page" in history.
"There can't be cruelty clearer than this," he told tens of thousands of worshippers gathered for Friday prayers at Tehran University.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has stressed that even if the issue is referred, the Security Council would not take up the issue before next month — a condition attached by Russia and China in exchange for their support.
Washington has waited years for international suspicions over Iran's nuclear ambitions to translate into support among IAEA board members.
Only a simple majority is needed to approve the text, but the United States and its backers have held off pushing for earlier referral in hopes of building consensus. Support has grown since Jan. 10, when Iran stripped IAEA seals from enrichment equipment and announced it would restart the program.