LONDON, Jan 31 (Agencies): The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) reached surprising agreement Tuesday that Iran should be hauled before that powerful body over its disputed nuclear programme.
China and Russia, longtime allies and trading partners of Iran, signed on to a statement that calls on the UN nuclear watchdog to transfer the Iran dossier to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions or take other harsh action.
Foreign ministers from those nations, plus the United States, Britain and France, also said the Security Council should wait until March to take up the Iran case, after a formal report on Tehran's activities from the watchdog agency.
Foreign ministers from Germany and the European Union also attended the dinner and agreed to what amounted to a compromise - take the case to the Security Council but allow a short breather before the council undertakes what could be a divisive debate.
Any of the five permanent members of the Security Council, all nuclear powers themselves, can veto an action voted by the full council membership.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other foreign ministers discussed Iran at a private dinner at the home of British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
After the four-hour meeting, which spilled over into the early hours Tuesday, a joint statement called on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to report the Iran case when it meets in Vienna Thursday.
The group agreed that the IAEA "should report to the Security Council its decision on the steps required of Iran, and should also report to the Security Council all IAEA reports and resolutions as adopted relating to this issue," a statement from the group said.
The IAEA has already found Iran in violation of nuclear obligations and issued a stern warning to Tehran in September.
Thursday's vote would be the next step, one long sought by the United States.
Iran insists its nuclear programme is intended only to produce electricity.
Meanwhile, Iran said Tuesday moves to send its nuclear case to the UNSC were not legally justified and that it would not bow to demands it halt atomic research and development.
"There is no legal basis to refer Iran's case to the Security Council and the Europeans will face difficulties doing so," Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, said in an interview with the semi-official ISNA students news agency.
He was speaking after the five permanent members of the Security Council agreed on the issue.