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. Security Council braces for sanctions showdown with Iran leader
UNITED NATIONS, March 18 (AFP) Mar 18, 2007
The UN Security Council braces this week for a dramatic showdown with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over a vote on new sanctions to prod Tehran to comply with demands that it suspend uranium enrichment.

South African Ambassador Dumasani Kumalo, who chairs the 15-member Council this month, said Friday there had been no objection from members to a request by the mercurial Iranian leader to attend the session at which a new draft sanctions resolution is to be adopted.

The full council was set to meet Wednesday afternoon to review the compromise text agreed Thursday by the council's five permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany.

A vote on the draft, which toughened sanctions already adopted by the council in December, was likely to follow a few days later, diplomats said.

Friday the United States urged Ahmadinejad to change course and agree to freeze his country's sensitive nuclear fuel program, which the West suspects hides a bid to acquire nuclear weapons.

The State Department said Iran had applied via the US embassy in Switzerland for visas for Ahmadinejad and his delegation and pledged that the United States, as host country, would do his best to comply.

"I would just note for you that we have in the past issued visas for him as well as his travelling party when they've gone to the UN," department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

Washington and Tehran have not had direct diplomatic ties since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran.

Under the UN charter, a member state not sitting on the Security Council is entitled to attend deliberations that directly affects it and speak, but without the right to vote.

"Should the American government issue a visa, I will definitely participate in the Security Council meeting and defend Iran's nuclear rights," Ahmadinejad said last week, even though he slammed the UN's most powerful body as "lacking legitimacy".

This would mark the Iranian leader's third visit to the UN in 18 months. His last visit was in September when he spent three days defending Iran's right to nuclear technology, railing against the United States and expressing readiness to end the nuclear standoff.

The draft crafted by the six major powers seeking to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions was turned over to the council's 10 non-permanent members with assurances that they would have enough time to review it, refer it to their capitals and amend it if necessary.

"We will not be a rubber stamp," said Kumalo, speaking on behalf of the 10.

Iran rejects Western charges that its nuclear program is aimed at producing atomic weapons, insisting that it is entirely peaceful and aims only to fuel nuclear power stations -- an activity allowed under international treaties.

The new draft would bar Iran from exporting arms and restrict the sale or transfer to Tehran of equipment including battle tanks, combat aircraft, attack helicopters and missiles.

It calls for a voluntary travel ban on additional officials involved in Iran's "proliferation-sensitive" nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

It also urges voluntary restrictions on "new commitments for grants, financial assistance and concessional loans to Iran" as well as extending an assets freeze to additional entities and individuals linked to Iran's nuclear and missile programs.

The text would give Iran 60 days to comply with repeated UN demands or face "further appropriate measures" (economic sanctions but no military action) under Article 41 of the UN Charter.

The United States says it wants a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff, but it has never ruled out a military option.

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