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US Grants Visas to Ahmadinejad, Entourage, for UN Appearance


The Bush administration said Monday it has approved visas for a U.N. visit by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a large contingent of other Iranian officials. The Iranian leader has asked to address the U.N. Security Council when it votes on a resolution tightening sanctions on Iran for refusing to stop enriching uranium. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here say that as the U.N. host country, the United States does not want to be seen in any way as hindering the travel plans of the Iranian leader.

As such, they say the State Department has approved visas for Mr. Ahmadinejad and more than 70 other Iranians including diplomats, security men and the crew of his aircraft.

The Iranian President has asked to personally exercise his government's right of rebuttal during a final Security Council session on a resolution increasing sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program.

The five permanent Security Council member countries have already approved a draft of the measure and have circulated it among the council's 10 elected members, with a vote expected in the next few days.

Iran has given no indication that it intends to bow to international pressure and drop its uranium enrichment effort, which U.S. officials believe is part of a covert nuclear weapons program.

But in a talk with reporters, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.N. appearance would be an ideal time for Iran to announce an end to enrichment and a return to negotiations:

"We have host country obligations and we are going to live up to those host-county obligations," said Sean McCormack. "It would also be an important moment 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 and to accept the offer of negotiations that has been put forth by the P Five plus One."

The five permanent Security Council member countries and Germany last year offered Iran an array of incentives to end enrichment-related actives and return to negotiations with key European countries on its nuclear program.

The pending new resolution would, incrementally, expand a sanctions package the Security Council approved in December - targeting Iran's nuclear and missile programs.

Iran contends its nuclear program is entirely peaceful and that it has a right to all elements of a nuclear fuel cycle for a planned network of power reactors.

Spokesman McCormack said the Iranian team accompanying Mr. Ahmadinejad to New York will include Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larajani.

Elected two years ago, Mr. Ahmadinejad has made two previous U.N. visits, delivering Iran's General Assembly policy speech last September and in 2005.

U.S. diplomats say they are confident the Security Council will approve the current draft but that the Bush administration is actively lobbying council members with the hope the vote against Iran will be unanimous or close to it.

President Bush Monday spoke by telephone with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a pivotal Muslim country now on the council. Spokesman McCormack said Secretary Rice called the foreign ministers of Indonesia and Qatar, another council member, over the weekend.