IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei said that the referral was a "new phase of diplomacy" and called on Western and Iranian leaders to "lower the rhetoric" in the standoff over Iran's nuclear research.
On Tuesday Vice President Dick Cheney warned Iran to expect the Security Council to "impose meaningful consequences" if it continues a program that the United States, France, Britain and Germany fear is aimed toward creating nuclear weapons.
"For our part, the United States is keeping all options on the table in addressing the irresponsible conduct of the regime," said Cheney at a meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. "And we join other nations in sending that regime a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon."
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad maintains that Iran has a right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and that the program is for generating electricity, not military use.
Iran defied an IAEA resolution last month to suspend all nuclear fuel enrichment activity by breaking internationally monitored seals on its nuclear enrichment plants and restarting efforts to make atomic fuel.
In a statement delivered to the IAEA on Wednesday, the Iranian delegation said, "The United States may have the power to cause harm and pain but it is also susceptible to harm and pain. So if the United States wishes to choose that path, let the ball roll."
The statement did not elaborate on what Iran meant by "harm and pain."
The 35-member IAEA board concluded its meeting Wednesday by agreeing to refer Iran's nuclear activities to the Security Council.
It is unclear how the 15-member Security Council will react when it considers the issue early next week. It could impose political and economic sanctions but diplomats expect the council to issue a statement calling for Iran to cooperate with the West. A formal resolution would require a vote and may be difficult to pass.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dismissed an immediate call for economic or political sanctions that could prompt the second-largest oil producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to retaliate by cutting production.
Russia and China, both political and economic allies with Iran and permanent Security Council members with veto power, currently oppose any resolution that would force sanctions. After the IAEA meeting concluded on Wednesday, Russia's foreign minister said sanctions would be ineffective and ruled out military action as a solution.
On Tuesday, American and European negotiators dismissed a Russian proposal that would allow Iran to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel on Russian soil while still permitting some atomic research because they said it would not have prevented Iran from perfecting nuclear weapons.