By ELAINE SCIOLINO
VIENNA - In a defeat for the Bush administration, the 35-country ruling board of the International Atomic Energy Agency passed a mildly worded resolution on Monday welcoming Iran's total freeze on a sensitive part of its nuclear program.
The resolution, passed by consensus without a vote, removes the possibility that the group will drag Iran before the United Nations Security Council for possible censure or even sanctions.
It also rescues an agreement reached earlier this month with Britain, France and Germany that requires Iran to suspend all its uranium enrichment activities in return for negotiations on possible rewards for Iran that will begin next month.
The Bush administration has repeatedly tried without success to persuade its fellow board members to debate Iran's case in the Security Council. But it decided to go along with the board's decision to accept the resolution, only to turn around to vent its disappointment and rage.
In a nine-page statement to the closed-door session of the board after the resolution passed, Jackie Wolcott Sanders, the head of the American delegation, accused Iran of deceit and the board of the I.A.E.A, the United Nations' nuclear monitoring organization, of irresponsibility.
She also charged that Iran's assertion that it wants to produce only nuclear energy, not bombs, is untrue, and that Iran has a clandestine nuclear weapons program that "poses a growing threat to international peace and security."
More ominously, she said that the United States could decide unilaterally to send the Iran case before the Council, a move opposed by Britain, Germany, Russia, China and other countries.
"The United States reserves all its options with respect to Security Council consideration of the Iranian nuclear weapons program," Ms. Sanders said.
The resolution on Monday is the sixth and softest dealing with Iran's nuclear program passed in the past 15 months by the board of the Vienna-based agency.
The agency board "welcomes the fact that Iran has decided to continue and extend its suspension of all enrichment related and reprocessing activities," the resolution states.
The suspension "is a voluntary confidence building measure, not a legal obligation," it adds, reflecting Iran's demand that it has no treaty or other legal obligation to freeze its uranium enrichment activities.
The resolution also notes Iran's right to develop peaceful nuclear energy programs, although it criticizes Iran for failing to cooperate fully with the agency and leaves open the possibility that Iran has an "undeclared" nuclear program that could be used to make nuclear weapons.
Throughout the complicated, confusing diplomatic brinksmanship of the past several days, the Bush administration found itself isolated, even from its European allies.
Britain, France and Germany, which led the negotiations on the resolution, were eager to salvage their hard-fought agreement.
After arduous talks, they finally persuaded the Iranians on Sunday to back off a last-minute demand to operate 20 centrifuges - sophisticated machines that can be used to enrich uranium - for research purposes.
In exchange, the Europeans succumbed to Iranian demands that the resolution be substantially watered down to reflect Iran's insistence that it was freezing its programs as a voluntary confidence-building measure, not because of outside pressure or coercion.
The face-saving solution for both sides was celebrated with Champagne last night at the residence of France's ambassador to the agency, one participant said. The Iranians drank water.
There was nothing to stop the United States, or any other agency board member, from voting against, abstaining from or adding an opposing footnote to the resolution. But unlike the Security Council, the I.A.E.A. has a long tradition of passing resolutions by consensus. .
The imbroglio over Iran's nuclear program coincides with brutal political battles at home, with Iran's presidential campaign already underway, though the election is not for another six months.
There is also deep hostility to any effort from the outside to limit what Iranians in all walks of life consider their sovereign right to develop a nuclear energy program. But the messiness of this negotiation and fluidity of Iran's position raise the possibility that there is a resistance among some factions in Iran to any agreement that may ultimately lead to improved relations with the West.
Even on Monday, Hossein Mousavian, the head of the Iranian delegation, refused to state categorically that Iran had agreed to a complete shutdown of the 20 machines, saying his country had agreed in a letter to stop all "testing." Asked by reporters whether the centrifuges would continue to spin, he said, "These are technical issues which I really don't know."
But Mohamed ElBaradei, who heads the nuclear monitoring agency, told reporters on Monday that the machines had stopped operating and had been put under camera surveillance.
That action allowed the agency to verify Monday that Iran had frozen all of its uranium enrichment, reprocessing and conversion activities, processes that are crucial both for producing nuclear energy and for making bombs, he added.
"This is clearly a first step in the right direction," Dr. ElBaradei said.
Pro-Nuclear Protest in Tehran
By The New York Times
TEHRAN - Nearly 500 members of a hard-line militia force protested Monday outside the British Embassy in Tehran, saying Britain had betrayed Iran over its nuclear activities.
The protesters, mostly bearded men in black shirts, were pushed back by nearly 100 riot police officers when they tried to attack the embassy's main gate. Protesters threw stones and firecrackers, and set a British flag afire.