The United Nations nuclear watchdog has approved a resolution that criticises Iran for withholding sensitive atomic information from the agency.
But in a meeting in Vienna on Saturday, the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) 35-nation Board of Governors stopped short of referring Tehran to the UN Security Council.
Iran's recent suspension of nuclear inspections for six weeks has heightened tensions at the IAEA, where members have been debating for days how to censure Iran over its failure to declare all its nuclear secrets.
Non-aligned nations wanted to temper the Iran resolution, while western nations that insist Iran has been seeking nuclear arms were pushing for harsher language.
While the 13-nation non-aligned group had dropped most of its objections, they pushed through changed wording that effectively defers the threat of Security Council action against Iran until the board meets again in June.
Still, much of the language was critical, reflecting shared concerns by most board members about Iran's nuclear activities and its uneven record of cooperation with the IAEA.
The resolution "recognises" that the IAEA considers Iran to be cooperating with its probe. And it "welcomes" that Iran has signed an agreement opening its activities to pervasive inspection.
But it "deplores" recent discoveries of uranium enrichment equipment by the inspectors and other suspicious activities not voluntarily revealed by Iran.
It also notes "with concern" that Iran and Libya appeared to have been supplied by the same black market network, and that "a number of questions," remain unresolved on technologies possessed by Iran that can be used to make nuclear weapons.
Moreover, it notes "with serious concern" that the board still does not have "the complete and final picture of Iran's past and present nuclear programme", needed by the IAEA to dispel suspicions the Islamic Republic had a weapons agenda.
Meanwhile, diplomats said Iran's move to freeze inspections would be a huge obstacle to the agency's efforts to deliver a judgment by June on the nature of Tehran's nuclear past and present.
"If they really have nothing to hide, it is further against their interests" to raise questions about why it is placing their nuclear activities off limits to outside perusal, said a diplomat.
The diplomat said Iran's decision was either a result of fear that IAEA inspectors would find new incriminating evidence, or was an attempt to flex "political muscle" at the ongoing meeting.
Iran, which insists its nuclear intentions are peaceful, has threatened repeatedly to cut back its cooperation with the UN agency if the board of governors comes down hard on the Islamic republic.
Iranian representatives played down the freeze on inspections, saying they were postponed because they conflicted with next week's celebration of the Iranian New Year.
They said that authorities had made a mistake in originally scheduling the inspections for that time.
The inspectors were to have been in Iran next week as part of the UN agency's examination of Iran's nuclear programme.
David Albright, who runs Washington's Institute for Science and International Security, said Iran would be violating the Nonproliferation Treaty if it refused to let the IAEA in.
"If Iran doesn't let the inspectors in, it will have to go before the (UN) Security Council," he said.
An IAEA report last month accused Iran of hiding evidence of nuclear experiments and noted the discovery of traces of radioactive polonium, which can be used in nuclear weapons.
The report also expressed concern about the discovery of a previously undisclosed advanced P-2 centrifuge system for enriching uranium.
According Reuters, The U.N. atomic agency praised Iran Saturday for increased nuclear openness but criticized it for continuing to hide some suspect activities.
The resolution, cited by The Associated Press, "recognizes," that the IAEA considers Iran to be cooperating with its probe; "welcomes" that Iran has signed an agreement opening its activities to pervasive inspection. But it "deplores" recent discoveries of uranium enrichment equipment by the inspectors and other suspicious activities not voluntarily revealed by Iran.
On his part, Iranian representative to the meeting of board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Amir Hossien Zamaninia said on Saturday the resolution on Iran was being imposed by a single country through few associates.
He said in his statement to the IAEA that the report of director general Mohamed Elbaradei illustrates the positive trend of active cooperation by Iran and also of a process of resolving issues that is gaining pace exponentially.
"In more than eleven different paragraphs, the agency underlines that it is either analyzing information provided by Iran or is waiting for the results of swipe sampling.
Issues are either resolved or are on the verge of being resolved," he said, according to IRNA. "Even an elementary review of the resolution reveals that it is nothing but a tool to serve a narrow minded, increasingly isolated conviction, by no means shared by the report," Zamaninia said.
"The draft resolution, on the other hand, intends to clearly portray a rather benign progressive situation as a condition of high alert. Despite its limited modifications, owing to the principled position of many countries, it is still a set back, a serious set back," Zamaninia deplored.