The United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency censured Iran on Wednesday for 18 years of secrecy, issuing a resolution that its director said gave him more muscle in policing the country for evidence of nuclear weapons ambitions.
Warning Tehran to stay in line, Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, said the measure sent an "ominous message that failures in the future will not be tolerated."
"This is a good day for peace ... and nonproliferation," ElBaradei told reporters, saying the resolution "strengthens my hand in ensuring that Iran's program is for peaceful purposes."
The resolution, adopted by consensus by the 35-nation IAEA board of governors, did not confront Iran with a direct threat of U.N. sanctions as the United States initially had sought. Key European powers opposed a direct threat, worried that Tehran would retaliate by ending its cooperation.
The final resolution was a compromise, with a more implicit threat. It says that if "further serious Iranian failures" arise, the IAEA board will meet to consider actions allowed by its statute -- which include U.N. Security Council action. If the IAEA turned to the council, the body probably would move to impose sanctions against Iran.
A senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Washington was "pretty happy" with the compromise text. The source added that the U.S. was skeptical that Iran had stopped the covert nuclear weapons program Washington alleges exists.
Despite the lack of a direct threat in the resolution, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said that "there is no doubt ... further failures" by Iran would result in Security Council involvement.
Although welcoming Iran's "offer of active cooperation and openness," the measure calls for a "particularly robust verification system" to test Tehran's honesty.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called the resolution "an important step forward."