| UNITED NATIONS
UNITED NATIONS The U.N. Security Council on Friday accepted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's request to defend his country's nuclear program when the 15-nation body votes on arms and financial sanctions against Tehran.
The Iranian leader wants to address the council before members raise their hands on the resolution but no date has been set for a vote, said South African U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, this month's council president.
"We transmitted the letter containing the request from the (Iranian) ambassador that his president wants to lead the delegation," Kumalo said. "We haven't received one objection." Since we told all 15 this will happen I am assuming this will happen."
A draft resolution introduced to the council on Wednesday would ban all Iranian arms exports but not imports and freeze financial assets abroad of 28 individuals, groups and companies. These include the state-owned Bank Sepah and some commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The measure requires Iran to halt uranium enrichment and the processing of nuclear fuel within 60 days after passage or face the possibility of additional sanctions.
The United States has to issue a visa for Ahmadinejad. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack could not say whether a visa would be issued but noted that Washington had "in the past issued visas for him as well as his traveling party when they have gone to the U.N."
The United States and leading European nations suspect Iran is using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop weapons but Iranian leaders insist the program is to generate electricity.
The resolution, under intense negotiation in New York since March 1, was drafted by Germany and the five permanent council members with veto rights -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.
Kumalo said the full council would meet on Wednesday after the 10 rotating elected members, who serve for two year terms, received an answer from their governments.
"We could have a vote by the end of next week" but council members would have to make the decision, Kumalo added.
In Tehran, Ahmadinejad once again rejected any demands from the Security Council.
"We have a nuclear fuel cycle. We will not give it up under pressure, he told a rally in the central Iranian town of Khatam. "By holding meetings you (the West) cannot block the Iranian nation's path." His remarks were transmitted by the official Iranian news agency, IRNA.
The new draft follows a resolution adopted in December that imposed trade sanctions on Iran's sensitive nuclear materials and technology, and froze the assets abroad of some Iranian individuals and companies. Iran ignored a February 21 deadline to suspend enrichment or face further action.
But the new measures go further than targeting Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile program by including elite units from the Revolution Guards, who back or train foreign revolutionary movements.
The draft is a compromise from earlier versions. Gone is a travel ban on Iranian officials, which now is voluntary.
But it calls on nations and international financial institutions to bar new grants or loans to Iran except for "humanitarian and developmental" purposes.
U.S. officials say the earlier sanctions and Washington's steps crack down on Tehran's access to financial markets, has stirred political ferment in Iran and caused some foreign banks and companies to stop doing business there.
(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Tehran)