WASHINGTON – The United States has granted a visa to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, allowing him to travel to New York to address the U.N. Security Council as it considers new sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program.
"It has been approved," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters Monday.
The move, which had been expected, comes after world powers agreed in principle to a new package of sanctions and Iran sought to speak to the Council before members vote on a resolution to impose the new measures for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment.
The United States does not have diplomatic relations with Iran, which it regards as a leading state sponsor of terrorism. The U.S. has repeatedly condemned the country for allegedly trying to disguise an atomic weapons program under the guise of a civilian nuclear energy scheme. Tehran denies the charge.
As host of the United Nations, the United States is obligated to allow foreign leaders to speak before the world body barring extraordinary circumstances.
"We have host country obligations and we are going to live up those host country obligations," McCormack said.
The date of Ahmadinejad's visit to New York has not yet been finalized, but McCormack said Washington hoped the Iranian leader would use the occasion to pull back from Iran's defiant refusal to negotiate over its nuclear program.
"It would be an important moment for President Ahmadinejad in his address to the Security Council to take the opportunity to say: 'We are going to negotiate, we do not seek confrontation, we seek dialogue."'