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U.N. Council set Iran sanctions vote for Saturday

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Security Council members reached broad agreement on Friday on a resolution imposing new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program but Iran’s president cancelled plans to address the council.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addresses a news conference in Sudan's capital Khartoum in this March 1, 2007, file photo. Ahmadinejad cancelled his visit to address the U.N. Security Council in New York because U.S. visas for his team were issued too late, Iran's U.N. ambassador said on Friday. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdalla

The vote is scheduled at 8 p.m. British time on Saturday barring any last minute changes when the latest text is sent to governments of the 15 council members for final approval.

“There will be a vote tomorrow and we are all determined that vote will be unanimous,” Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, told reporters on Friday.

South Africa, which submitted amendments that gutted all the sanctions drawn up by the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany, is expected to vote in favour.

“We achieved not everything we wanted but we achieved a lot,” said Pretoria’s U.N. ambassador, Dumisani Kumalo.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called off his visit to New York to address the Council on Saturday because of the lateness in getting U.S. visas for his entourage, issued in Berne, Switzerland, Tehran’s U.N. Ambassador Javad Zarif said.

But U.S. officials said there would have been time for him to get to New York. Instead Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, who had received his visa early on Friday, is taking a commercial flight to address the Council on Saturday.

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Iran refuses to suspend work on enriching uranium, a process that can be used to make nuclear bombs, or be used for peaceful uses. Western nations suspect Iran is developing weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear program.

U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff, the deputy American representative, said, “As soon as Iran suspends its enrichment activities in a verifiable manner, the Council will suspend its actions and we will be able to address this issue politically again. So it’s not a high bar for Iran to meet.”

Wolff consulted for many hours on Friday with his Indonesian counterpart, Rezlan Ishar Jenie, on an amendment Jakarta and Qatar wanted on a nuclear-free Middle East.

The preamble to the resolution now says the solution to the Iranian nuclear issue would contribute to global nonproliferation efforts and “realise the objectives of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, including their means of delivery.”

The resolution would ban exports of all weapons and freeze assets abroad of 28 more people and institutions, including commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and companies they control, and the state-owned Bank Sepah.

It also calls for restrictions on new financial assistance or loans to the Iranian government.

A minimum of nine votes in favour and no veto is needed to pass a resolution and the measure has such backing. But it would carry more weight with a unanimous vote, which Wolff and British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry were fairly certain would be the case.

The new text is a follow-up to one adopted in December banning trade in sensitive nuclear materials and ballistic missiles as well as freezing assets of individuals and institutions associated with atomic programs.

To mollify South Africa, negotiators provided an explanation in the text of why each name on a list of Iranian individuals, companies and institutions should be subject to an assets freeze.

They also added pages to the resolution on their willingness to negotiate and give Iran an economic incentive package if it complied.

Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta in New York, Sue Pleming in Washington and Thomas Atkins in Berne