Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has canceled his trip to New York to address the U.N. Security Council before a vote on whether to impose further sanctions against his country for refusing to stop enriching uranium, the Foreign Ministry spokesman said Friday.
Mohammed Ali Hosseini, the spokesman, told Iranian state television that the trip was scrapped because of "America's obstruction in issuing visas" to the Iranian delegation that was to travel to New York.
Mohammad Mir Ali Mohammadi, press secretary of Iran's mission at the U.N., told The Associated Press that the U.S. did not deliver a visa to the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland, in time for the Iranian president to pick it up before for the council session Saturday.
He said Russia and China were trying to postpone the session until Monday — and that if the session was put off, Ahamdinejad would decide whether to come.
Ahmadinejad had said he wanted to address the Security Council before it takes up a draft resolution seeking to pressure Iran to cease uranium enrichment, a process that can make fuel for civilian reactors or fissile material for a nuclear warhead.
The five veto-wielding members of the Security Council want a vote on the resolution Saturday. However, diplomats said the vote could be delayed because negotiations were continuing in an effort to reach unanimity and give the sanctions more weight.
"Maybe we will vote tomorrow, maybe not because the priority is to make this vote unanimous," said Maria Zakharova, first secretary of Russia's U.N. mission.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi had earlier claimed on Iranian state-run radio that the U.S. government had not issued a visa for Ahmadinejad.
But Daniel Wendell, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Switzerland said Ahmadinejad's and other Iranian officials' passports had been handed over in Bern on Friday. Another 31 other passports for support staff were to be ready later in the day. The passports would then be taken by courier to Tehran in time for the Iranians to fly to New York.
Zarif told reporters "the visas for (Ahmadinejad's) crew were not ready yet."
The United States says Iran's nuclear efforts are cover for a weapons program, but Tehran insists it only wants electricity.
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 announcing an expansion of its enrichment program. Ahmadinejad has remained defiant and asked to speak to the Security Council just before it votes on the new draft resolution.
The new 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.
Several non-permanent members of the Security Council have resisted the draft resolution, agreed upon last week by the five council powers — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — along with Germany.
In an effort to overcome their concerns, Russia proposed a compromise Friday over a proposal by Indonesia and Qatar calling for the Middle East to be free of weapons of mass destruction and the missiles to deliver them. 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.
The Russian proposal would include a recognition that "a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue would contribute global non-proliferation efforts, including those in the Middle East."
France and Britain approved of the wording, while the United States was considering it, said Axel Crau, a spokesman for France's U.N. mission.
"It's definitely a key point and probably the key to unanimity," Crau said.
He said the resolution's co-sponsors — France, Germany and Britain — still wanted to call a vote Saturday but may delay it to seek consensus. "For the sake of unanimity we are willing to make some efforts because unanimity has a value," he said.
Alejandro Wolff, the acting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, said the nuclear debate should not be affected by the Iranian seizure of 15 British sailors and marines in the Persian Gulf on Friday.