The United States has asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to adopt a resolution declaring Iran in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. But it is having trouble rounding up the support it needs, a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
The debate on the issue began Wednesday, but board members won't reveal their decision until after the IAEA session ends later this week.
It is not clear whether the United States will win passage of the resolution, though it could get a statement from the board's chairman urging Iran, in strong language, to comply with more stringent international inspections.
"It's unlikely (the United States) will get a resolution, but they'll get all they need," the diplomat said. "Iran is under no misunderstanding as to how serious the situation is."
Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's ambassador to the U.N. nuclear agency, insisted Tehran had attempted to act in good faith to keep its obligations under the nonproliferation treaty.
"Iran considers the acquiring, development and use of nuclear weapons inhuman, immoral, illegal and against its very principles," he said. "They have no place in Iran's defensive doctrine."
Iran insists its nuclear program is intended to produce electricity that it will need as its oil supplies decline.
It has said it would agree to providing more access and information to inspectors, but only in exchange for more advanced nuclear technology. Tehran also has accused the U.S. government of preventing its acquisition of more advanced technology.
Malaysia, representing the Nonaligned Movement, was scheduled to speak first on Wednesday, followed by the European Union and Iran.
At least 18 countries including the United States, Cuba and Japan were participating in the debate, which was closed to media. The head of the U.N. nuclear agency pushed Iran on Monday to allow more intrusive inspections of its nuclear-related facilities to ease concerns that it is developing atomic weapons.
IAEA Secretary-General Mohamed ElBaradei has asked Iran to accept a new protocol that will give the agency a chance to "provide credible assurances regarding the peaceful nature of its nuclear activities."
ElBaradei also asked Iran to permit monitors to take environmental samples at a location where it has allegedly enriched uranium — a step in producing nuclear weapons.
Inspectors were turned away from a site at Kalaye, west Tehran, last week after they came to take environmental samples. The Iranians have allegedly tested centrifuges, which are used in the enrichment of uranium, at the Kalaye site.
Suspicions about the program prompted ElBaradei to visit Iran in February. The agency later issued a report that revealed Iran was building a heavy water production plant. Heavy water is used in nuclear power plants and can be used to produce plutonium for weapons.
It also indicated that Iran failed to declare the importation of a small amount of nuclear material and its subsequent processing to a point short of that needed for an explosive device.
The nuclear dispute is just one area of recent tension between Iran and the United States.
Since the end of the war in neighboring Iraq, the U.S. has accused Iran of stoking anti-American sentiment among Iraqi Shiites. Iran insisted that Iraqis determine their future without U.S. interference.
Long considered a state sponsor of terrorism for its support of Hezbollah and other groups, Iran was accused last month of harboring al Qaeda members linked to the deadly bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Tehran denied that it was providing shelter to al Qaeda operatives.
Some advisers to the Bush administration want the U.S. to adopt a policy of seeking regime change in Iran, possibly supporting internal dissidents to accomplish it.
For the past two weeks, students have protested against the ruling theocracy in Tehran, clashing violently with hard-line vigilantes. The U.S. government has signaled solidarity with the students.