VIENNA Non-aligned nations on Tuesday rejected "interference" in Iran's nuclear transparency deal with U.N. 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 includes Iran itself, endorsed the deal at a gathering of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) 35-nation board of governors.
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.
The United States and its major European allies said the deal diverted attention from U.N. 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 program is aimed solely at electricity production.
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 honored 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, said several diplomats who were present.
"The EU statement was short-sighted..., overly hardline and not helpful," said a Vienna diplomat working on the Iran file. "It's harmful for the IAEA as an institution."
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 jeopardize 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 for refusing to halt nuclear fuel work. Iran's agreement with the IAEA has delayed a fresh set of tougher sanctions meant to deter Tehran from pursuing 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.
There are 115 nations in the NAM, 15 of them 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.
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.