A nuclear conference at the United Nations next week could provide Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with an opportunity to lobby world leaders against a fourth round of U.N. sanctions on his nation.
Mr. Ahmadinejad has applied for a U.S. visa to attend a conference to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice said on Wednesday. The conference opens on Monday and lasts nearly until the end of May.
The 1968 treaty aims to prevent the spread of atomic arms beyond the five original weapons powers - the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China. It requires signatory nations not to pursue nuclear weapons in exchange for a commitment by the five nuclear powers to move toward nuclear disarmament, and guarantees non—nuclear states access to peaceful nuclear technology to produce nuclear power.
For the treaty to become universal would require having nuclear powers India and Pakistan and Israel, which is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons, signing on and North Korea rejoining.
A visit by Mr. Ahmadinejad also would coincide with U.S.—led negotiations on a fourth round of U.N. sanctions on Iran intended to halt its uranium enrichment. Six major powers have been holding talks on possible new sanctions against Iran for refusing to negotiate on its nuclear program, which the U.S. and others suspect is aimed at producing nuclear weapons.
The United States and its Western allies are pressing for quick adoption of an array of tough sanctions, but Russia and China are still hoping that diplomacy will lead Iran to the negotiating table and have indicated they will only agree to much weaker measures if Tehran refuses.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said applications for the Iranian delegation, including Mr. Ahmadinejad, were given to the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland, earlier Wednesday and were under review.
Under the terms of its agreement to host the United Nations, the United States must in most cases grant visas to heads of state wishing to address the world body.
Mr. Crowley would not say if the application would be approved, but said that if it was, the U.S. would like to see Mr. Ahmadinejad “play a constructive role” in the nuclear treaty review conference.
He said that no meetings would be expected to take place between members of the Iranian delegation and the U.S. delegation, which will be led by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“We want to see nations reaffirm their commitment to the treaty and we would certainly hope that President Ahmadinejad or whoever leads the Iranian delegation will come to New York prepared to make that commitment,” he told reporters in Washington.
“This is a case where President Ahmadinejad, if he comes to New York on Monday, will have the opportunity to clearly make that kind of commitment,” Mr. Crowley said, adding that the United States and its allies would continue to work on tough new Security Council sanctions resolution regardless of the country’s representation at the conference.
Mr. Ahmadinejad’s last visit to the United Nations was in September, when he attended the annual high—level gathering of the U.N. General Assembly. There he cast himself as a beleaguered champion of the developing world and issued stinging attacks in U.S.—led military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, but made only passing reference to the nuclear issue, a call for global nuclear disarmament.
Days later he called a news conference at a New York hotel to insist he has complied with U.N. rules on uranium enrichment and repeated his assertion that Iran’s use of nuclear technology is peaceful.
This month, Mr. Ahmadinejad wrote a letter asking U.N. Secretary—General Ban Ki—moon to investigate the conduct of allied troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Asked about the letter on Wednesday, Mr. Ban appeared dismissive of the Iranian president’s request.