Vienna, Sep 11: Non-aligned nations today rejected ''interference'' in Iran's nuclear transparency deal with UN inspectors, countering Western criticism the pact eases pressure on Tehran not to seek technology with bomb potential.
The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) of developing nations, which include Iran itself, endorsed the deal at a gathering of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) 35-nation board of governors.
The United States and its major European allies said the deal diverted attention from UN Security Council demands that Iran suspend uranium enrichment and grant broader inspections to defuse mistrust over its nuclear intentions.
The West fears Iran wants to make nuclear bombs while Tehran insists its programme is aimed solely at electricity production.
The August 21 ''work plan'' commits Iran to answer five-year-old IAEA questions one by one over a rough timeline of a few months, while leaving untouched Tehran's expanding enrichment work.
A European Union statement to the board focused on demanding Iran comply with Security Council resolutions and suggested that its pledge to answer questions about past, hidden nuclear work, while welcome, was worth little unless Tehran honoured it.
The EU ''took note'' of the ''work plan'', which in diplomatic terms means reserving judgment, short of approval. IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei walked out of the meeting after the EU statement, diplomats said.
Ambassador Norma Goicochea Estenoz of Cuba, speaking as current chairman of NAM, said it ''strongly rejects any undue pressure or interference in the agency's activities ... which could jeopardise its efficiency and credibility''.
She was alluding to suggestions by Washington and some allies that Iran bulldozed inspectors into a flawed deal.
The United Nations has imposed two sets of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme. Iran's agreement with the IAEA has delayed a fresh set of tougher sanctions without Iran having to halt enrichment.
''NAM believes this work plan is a significant step forward, as (ElBaradei) said himself,'' Goicochea said. ''NAM believes it will facilitate negotiations between Iran and other concerned parties toward a peaceful settlement of Iran's nuclear issues.'' ''NAM also expects all concerned parties to avoid taking any measures which put at risk the recent constructive process between Iran and the Agency,'' she said.
The 115-nation NAM groups most developing countries and has about a dozen members on the IAEA's board, which makes decisions based on consensus.
Iran has few staunch allies in NAM -- Cuba, Syria, Bolivia and Venezuela, all foes of Washington. Many members are disenchanted with Iranian intransigence, diplomats say.
But many also resent what they see as efforts by some Western powers on the board to isolate rather than negotiate with Iran to head off a slide into conflict.
Initially sharp US criticism of the Iran-IAEA deal has softened to avoid a damaging split on the board and lend weight to Iranian arguments that it is being bullied by a few big powers seeking confrontation.
Ambassador Joachim Duarte of Portugal, current chairman of the EU, said the bloc appreciated ''impartial efforts'' by the IAEA to uncover Iran's nuclear history, but also called for regular status reports to board governors.
Some Western diplomats have suggested IAEA inspectors should have consulted governors before sealing the deal.
Duarte said the EU remained open to negotiations on trade benefits for Iran if it shelved enrichment activity first. Iran has rejected that precondition as undermining its sovereignty.