UNITED NATIONS – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad canceled a trip to New York to address the U.N. Security Council before it votes Saturday to impose further sanctions against his country for refusing to stop enriching uranium, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
After intense last-minute negotiations, the six world powers that drafted the resolution overcame concerns from several council members Friday and expected it to be approved unanimously when it comes to a vote, said French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere.
"We will be united again on this important resolution," de La Sabliere told reporters after a closed-door Security Council meeting. "We hope that Iran will reflect on this resolution and make the right choice."
The sanctions would ban Iranian arms exports and freeze the assets of 28 additional individuals and organizations involved in Iran's nuclear and missile programs. About a third of those are linked to the Revolutionary Guard, an elite military corps.
Ahmadinejad said earlier this month that he wanted to take his case for pursuing nuclear power to the Security Council himself. Earlier Friday, a council diplomat said the Iranian president would arrive in New York at 1 a.m. Saturday, just hours before the council is expected to meet.
But Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini told Iranian state television later in the day that the trip had been scrapped because of "America's obstruction in issuing visas" to the Iranian delegation that was to travel to New York.
Hosseini said that instead of Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki will attend the Security Council meeting and "explain Iran's position regarding its nuclear activities."
"Due to open failure by the United States to issue visas for members of the Iranian delegation accompanying President Ahmadinejad and the air crew, American authorities have effectively prevented President Ahmadinejad from attending the U.N. security council meeting," Hosseini said.
Mohammad Mir Ali Mohammadi, press secretary for Iran's mission to the U.N., told The Associated Press that the United States did not deliver a visa to the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland, in time for Ahmadinejad to pick it up before flying to New York for the Saturday session.
Officials from the handful of countries with which the U.S. does not have full diplomatic relations — like Iran — have to undergo special security checks to get a visa.
In Washington, however, the State Department insisted it had approved and issued 75 visas for Amadinejad and his delegation, including air crew and support staff.
Deputy spokesman Tom Casey also denied the U.S. or its visa processing system were responsible for the cancellation of the president's trip to the United Nations.
"Any suggestion that visa issues are the cause of President Ahmadinejad's decision not to travel to New York is false," he said. "Rather, it would appear that he is unwilling to stand before the Council and take the heat for his continued defiance of the international community."
In New York, Security Council diplomats spent all day trying to overcome concerns from Indonesia, Qatar and South Africa on the draft resolution, which was agreed upon last week by the five veto-wielding council members — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — and Germany.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also called South African President Thabo Mbeki — whose country holds the rotating council presidency and had offered the strongest resistance to the draft — to push for a "yes" vote, said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.
Indonesia and Qatar wanted the resolution to call for the Middle East to be free of weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them. But including such an appeal could have implications for Israel, a U.S. ally widely believed to possess nuclear weapons, though it has never officially acknowledged it.
In a compromise, the document will refer to a past resolution from the International Atomic Energy Agency calling for the need for the region to be free of such weapons, de La Sabliere said.
In December, the Security Council voted unanimously to impose limited sanctions on Iran, ordering all countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs and to freeze assets of 10 key Iranian companies and 12 individuals related to those programs. Iran responded by expanding its enrichment program.
The U.S. and its allies claim Iran's nuclear efforts are cover for a weapons program, but Tehran insists it only wants electricity. Wolff said the nuclear debate was not affected Friday by the Iranian seizure of 15 British sailors and marines in the Persian Gulf.