UNITED NATIONS – Iran's U.N. Mission sent a letter Thursday requesting that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad be allowed to speak before the Security Council when it votes on new sanctions against Tehran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment, the council president said.
South Africa's U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo said he would present Iran's request to the 14 other council members Friday.
"The Security Council will have to decide whether they accommodate this or not," said Kumalo, whose country holds the rotating council presidency. "The challenge right now is that we don't know when this could be."
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Kumalo said under the U.N. Charter and Security Council rules, if a member state has an issue before the council and requests to appear before its members, "this must be considered."
Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, said the U.S. has received official visa requests for an Iranian delegation.
He refused to disclose any details, but a council diplomat said Iran asked for visas for 38 people to accompany Ahmadinejad, including Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani.
The request from Iran's U.N. Ambassador Javad Zarif arrived as the council's five veto-wielding members — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — and Germany agreed on a modest package of new sanctions to step up the pressure on Tehran to suspend enrichment.
Their draft resolution was presented to the 10 non-permanent members, who were not part of the negotiations and will now send it to their capitals to be studied.
The full council isn't expected to discuss the draft resolution until Wednesday, Kumalo said, so the earliest possible vote would be late next week, though the timetable could change.
Iran has rejected U.N. demands that it halt enrichment, insisting its nuclear program is peaceful and aimed at producing energy. The U.S. and its European allies are concerned its real aim is to produce nuclear weapons.
Earlier Thursday, Ahmadinejad called the Security Council an "illegitimate" body and said any new sanctions imposed on his country would only stimulate it to be self-sufficient and further develop nuclear technology.
Acting U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff, reacting to that comment and the possibility of the Iranian president addressing the council, said: "I find it ironic that a president who's quoted today saying that he tears up Security Council resolutions and has no respect for what the council does, is interested in coming and speaking to the council."