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Major Powers Inch Closer to Agreement on Iran Sanctions

Diplomats from major world powers are said to be nearing agreement on a new package of U.N. sanctions against Iran. From U.N. headquarters, VOA's Peter Heinlein reports Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is signaling he wants to appear before the Security Council to defend his country's nuclear ambitions.

The pace of diplomacy quickened Tuesday, as ambassadors from the five permanent Security Council members and Germany sought agreement on a resolution imposing a modest package of penalties on Iran for its suspect nuclear program.

A draft agreement is to be presented to the full Council Wednesday. But veteran diplomats cautioned that while there could be a vote within days, it might still take weeks to iron out final details.

The proposed sanctions in the resolution, including an embargo on Iranian arms exports, would be added to the financial and trade restrictions imposed last December after Tehran refused a Security Council order to suspend uranium enrichment.

Britain's U.N. envoy Emyr Jones-Parry says he is optimistic the follow-up resolution can be approved quickly.

"There are no difficulties," said Emyr Jones-Parry. "Just one or two issues to resolve."

But Russia and China, which raised objections that delayed the original sanctions resolutions for weeks last year, signalled they still have questions. Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin described talks on this follow-up resolution as 'very good', and held out the possibility of approval 'within days'. But at the same time, he hinted at lingering concerns.

"We still do not have the complete picture, some elements we need to be satisfied about before we accomplish the final package," said Vitaly Churkin.

China's envoy to the U.N. Wang Guangya said Chinese concerns about the resolution are centered on a list of Iranian officials and organizations that would be penalized under the new resolution, including members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

"For many of us, including China, we are not sure about all those entities, because the objective is to target the nuclear and missile activities, but now with so many names, we don't know if they are linked to those activities or not," he said.

As the negotiations move toward what may be the final phase, Iran is signaling that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would like to come to New York to address the Security Council.

The president of the Council for March, South Africa's Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo says Iranian diplomats have contacted him about such an appearance.

"I spoke to the ambassador of Iran, and he informed me that he was still awaiting final instructions about what to do next," said Dumisani Kumalo. "His understanding is that the Iranian government is determined to make this trip."

A State Department spokesman says if Mr. Ahmadinejad applies for a visa, the United States would be inclined to routinely grant the request in keeping with the host country agreement. But spokesman Tom Casey told reporters Monday he doubts Mr. Ahmedinejad's appearance before the Security Council would serve a positive purpose.