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Clinton Questions Ahmadinejad's Role at Nuclear Conference

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday questioned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's role at next week's Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference in New York, given what she called Tehran's "indisputable" record of violating nuclear obligations. U.S. officials say Mr. Ahmadinejad and his delegation will receive visas in time to attend the meeting.

Clinton said there is a growing awareness around the world of the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program. She added that any attempt by the Iranian leader to shift the meeting's focus away from what U.S. officials believe is Tehran's nuclear weapons drive would fail.

The comments were Clinton's first on the surprise announcement by Iran that Mr. Ahmadinejad and a delegation of Iranian officials have asked for visas to attend the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT review conference that opens Monday at the United Nations in New York.

Under treaty commitments as the U.N. host country, the United States is obligated to provide visas for U.N. visits by officials from countries like Iran with which it does not have diplomatic relations.

A State Department spokesman said the visa requests for Mr. Ahmadinejad and his team are being processed. A senior official expressed confidence that they will be issued in time for the Iranians to attend the conference.

At a joint press event with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, Clinton said it is unclear what Mr. Ahmadinejad hopes to achieve by attending the review meeting, given that Iran's record of violating its NPT obligations is "absolutely indisputable."

"If President Ahmadinejad wants to come and announce that Iran will abide by their non-proliferation requirements under the NPT, that would be very good news indeed, and we would welcome that. But if he believes that by coming he can somehow divert attention from this very important global effort or cause confusion that might possibly throw into doubt what Iran has been up to - about which I don't think there is any room for doubt -- then I don't believe he will have a particularly receptive audience," he said.

The Iranian leader's decision to attend the New York conference comes as the United States and other key U.N. countries continue negotiations over a new Security Council sanctions resolution for Iran's failure to heed international calls to end its uranium enrichment program.

Analysts say Iran, which professes only peaceful nuclear intentions, might try to defuse the sanctions drive by accepting a variant of a big-power proposal made last year under which Iran would export much of its low-enriched uranium in return for fuel for a Tehran research reactor.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday it would be helpful if the Iranian leader came to New York with a constructive proposal to resolve the nuclear issue. But Mr. Ban said he is unaware of any concrete ideas to be advanced by the Iranian leader, who is scheduled to address the meeting on Monday.

Secretary Clinton discussed the proposed new sanctions resolution by telephone on Thursday with Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo, who is a key figure in negotiations on a new resolution.

Among veto-wielding permanent U.N. Security Council member countries, China is considered the most reluctant to support additional sanctions on Tehran.

State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said Clinton expressed appreciation for China's recent decision to engage fully in the process, and that the major powers are "working through the particulars" on what a fourth Iran sanctions resolution might include.

Clinton, in her comments with her Polish counterpart, said there is unanimity in efforts to try to dissuade Iran from what she called its "pursuit of nuclear weapons development." She said new sanctions would be aimed at "changing the calculus" of the Iranian leadership on the wisdom of such a course.