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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has canceled his trip to New York to address the UN 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.
A diplomat on the Security Council said Ahmadinejad would instead send his deputy foreign minister Saturday to address the Security Council before the vote. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because there had not been an official announcement.
Mohammad Mir Ali Mohammadi, press secretary of Iran's mission at the UN, told The Associated Press that the US did not deliver a visa to the US 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 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 UN mission.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi had earlier claimed on Iranian state-run radio that the US government had not issued a visa for Ahmadinejad.
Zarif told reporters "the visas for (Ahmadinejad's) crew were not ready yet."
In Washington, the State Department insisted that it had approved and issued visas for Ahmadinejad and his entire delegation, including those for the air crew although some of those applications were incomplete.
Deputy spokesman Tom Casey said 75 visas had been approved, 39 for the president and his immediate entourage that were handed over to Iranian representatives in Switzerland on Friday morning and 36 for crew and support staff that were handed over by the close of business. The second tranche was issued "despite the fact that the completed applications for many of them were not received until this morning," he said.
"These actions honor our obligations under the UN Headquarters Agreement and will permit the Iranian delegation to travel to the UN should it choose to do so," Casey said.
US officials declined direct comment on the cancellation of Ahmadinejad's trip.