* Iran, Egypt wanted language on nuclear disarmament
* Recognised nuclear weapon states, others opposed this
* Debate highlighted divisions on key IAEA activity
By Fredrik Dahl
VIENNA, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Western states defeated an Iranian proposal at the U.N. nuclear agency's annual assembly on Saturday to amend their draft resolution on a policy area central to its work in preventing the spread of atom bombs.
The draft text was adopted in a vote shortly after midnight after days of closed-door negotiations failed to achieve the traditional consensus, with divisions between a small number of countries led by Iran and a much larger Western-dominated group.
Diplomats said Iran and Egypt had wanted to include language in the resolution suggesting the U.N. agency should have a role also in nuclear disarmament, apparently reflecting frustration on their part at the lack of faster progress on this issue.
This was opposed by a large majority including the United States, Britain, France and Russia - four officially recognised nuclear weapon states - which believe the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is not the right forum for this, they said.
The West accuses Iran of trying to develop a nuclear weapons capability in secret. The Islamic Republic denies the charge.
Tehran often hits out at the United States over its atomic arsenal, and also criticises Iran's arch foe, Israel, and that country's assumed nuclear weapons.
The annual General Conference of the 155 IAEA member states traditionally adopts several resolutions, setting out general and often vaguely worded policy aspirations and guidelines, during a week-long meeting in Vienna.
As in 2011, the most contentious issue was a text regarding the IAEA's activities in seeking to make sure nuclear material is not diverted for non-peaceful purposes, a crucial task for the U.N. agency under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Last year, the gathering failed to agree the resolution on "strengthening the effectiveness and improving the efficiency of the safeguards system" submitted by some 30 Western states.
Safeguards refer to measures undertaken by U.N. inspectors to discover any attempt by non-nuclear weapons states to use atomic technology or material for developing weapons - for example regular visits and camera surveillance of sites.
This year, Iran said a paragraph saying IAEA "safeguards are a fundamental component of nuclear non-proliferation" should be amended to add "and nuclear disarmament." This was rejected by 55 votes against and nine for. The resolution then passed by 89 for, no vote against and 16 abstentions, including Iran.
Several countries, including South Africa and Brazil, stressed their support for nuclear disarmament even though they voted against the Iranian proposal.
Under the NPT, a 1970 pact, the five recognised atomic bomb "haves" agreed to work toward eliminating their nuclear weapons, and the "have-nots" pledged not to pursue them.
Critics say there has been more emphasis on meeting the non-proliferation goal than getting the five major powers - the United States, China, Russia, France and Britain - to fulfil their part of the deal.