UNITED NATIONS, (AP) -Major powers expect unanimous approval Saturday of new U.N. Security Council sanctions to pressure Iran into suspending uranium enrichment.
The new measure comes after arduous negotiations that sought unity in meting out punishment against the Islamic country for its nuclear defiance.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who earlier said he wanted to address the council when it voted on the measure, canceled a trip to New York and was sending his foreign minister instead.
The six world powers that drafted the resolution spent Friday trying to overcome objections from several council members, reflecting concerns that anything short of consensus would undermine its efforts to send a strong message to Iran.
The Security Council is voting on its second set of sanctions against Iran; the country responded to the first by expanding enrichment.
“We will be united again on this important resolution,” French Ambassador Jean-Marc 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.
Alejandro Wolff, the acting U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., called the sanctions “serious measures that underscore the severity with which the council views rejection of its resolutions.” He warned that if Iran continues to defy Security Council demands “we will continue to add measures and continue to up the pressure.”
Ahmadinejad said earlier this month that he wanted to take his case for pursuing nuclear power to the Security Council himself.
But Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini told Iranian state television Friday 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.”
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.
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.”
The draft resolution was agreed upon last week by the five veto-wielding council members — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — and Germany. But it met with resistance from several elected members of the Security Council, particularly South Africa, which criticized the five powers for not giving enough consideration to the views of the other countries.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called South African President Thabo Mbeki on Friday to push for a “yes” vote, said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. South Africa’s U.N. Ambassador Dumisalo Kumalo said he was satisfied with some of the changes in the revised resolution, even though it rejected key proposals from his country, including a 90-day suspension of all sanctions against Iran.
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 revised draft refers to a past resolution from the International Atomic Energy Agency calling for the need for the region to be free of such weapons.
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.
The U.S. and its allies claim Iran’s nuclear efforts are cover for a weapons program, but Tehran insists it only wants electricity.