VIENNA (Reuters) -- Developing nations at the UN nuclear watchdog are backing Iran in its push for a ban on military attacks targeting nuclear facilities, a letter to the Vienna-based agency showed.
Israel, which along with Western powers fears Iran's declared civilian nuclear energy program is a front for bomb-making, has not ruled out military action to prevent Tehran acquiring atom bombs and threatening the Jewish state.
The Iranian proposal would require a simple majority for passage. Iran will propose the ban at the annual meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's 150 member nations next month.
Iran says it is enriching uranium only for electricity and has refused to halt the program or lift all restrictions on IAEA inspections despite three rounds of UN sanctions.
In a letter to IAEA chief Muhammad El-Baradei, Egypt said Iran had the backing of the 118 nations in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), a bloc which emphasizes Iran's right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to develop a civilian atomic program.
Iran is a member of NAM.
IAEA member states have passed several resolutions, the latest in 1990 and also proposed by Iran, which ban "any armed attack on and threat against [peaceful] nuclear facilities."
But Iran says a legally binding resolution is now needed because Israel had broken such bans in the past.
Fourth Round Of Sanctions?
In 1981, an Israeli air strike destroyed Iraq's only nuclear reactor. Two years ago, Israel bombed a site in Syria that U.S. intelligence officials said was a North Korean-designed nuclear reactor under construction. Syria denies this.
Western diplomats said Iran's initiative grew from a wish to turn the spotlight away from its nuclear activities, rather than a genuine concern about safety and security of nuclear sites.
They fear it will trigger long and heated debates at the General Conference and overshadow more pressing issues.
But a senior NAM diplomat said the proposal was well-intentioned in principle because it would promote nuclear safety and security in the Middle East.
"But of course the fact Iran proposed it stirs suspicions. It would have been different if Egypt or a Western country had done so," the diplomat said. "The Western group of course will try to block this initiative."
The IAEA is set to report later this week that the Islamic Republic has slowed the expansion of its uranium enrichment program and is cooperating more with the agency ahead of talks by major powers on a possible fourth round of sanctions.