Ahmadinejad seeks to address U.N. conference on nuclear weapons

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 28, 2010; 5:10 PM

UNITED NATIONS -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has requested a visa to travel next week to New York to address a U.N. conference aimed at stemming the spread of nuclear weapons, a move that sets the stage for a potential confrontation with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton over Tehran's nuclear intentions.

Ahmadinejad's decision to address the nuclear conference comes as the United States and other key U.N. powers are engaged in delicate negotiations over a U.N. resolution calling for sanctions against Iran for failing to comply with U.N. obligations to curtail its enrichment of uranium. Those talks -- involving the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany -- are expected to play out on the sidelines of the four-week-long conference.

Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Iran's nuclear program provides an ominous backdrop for the eighth review conference for the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which opens Monday at U.N. headquarters. Rice, who described the treaty as "a cornerstone of our national security," said the United States would use the four-week session to strengthen the Cold War-era pact. Clinton will lead the U.S. delegation. Rice also confirmed Ahmadinejad's visa request.

The development fueled expectations that Tehran may seek to undercut the Obama administration's efforts to pursue reforms aimed at strengthening U.N. inspections of states' nuclear programs and punishing states that abruptly withdraw from the treaty to evade their nuclear obligations. All decisions by treaty members must be reached by consensus, giving Tehran effective veto power over any outcome.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters at a luncheon Wednesday that it would be "helpful" if the Iranian leader came to New York with some "constructive proposal to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue." But he said he is "unaware of any concrete ideas" Ahmadinejad intended to unveil before the nuclear conference.

Ban said that the "onus" of assuring the international community that Tehran is not developing nuclear weapons rests on the Iranian leader. "The burden is on you," he said. "You have not satisfied the request of the international community" to demonstrate that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful.

The United States and its European allies are seeking passage of a resolution that would impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Tehran, restrict investment in Iran's energy sector and authorize states to seize Iranian vessels suspected of ferrying banned weapons materials. U.S. and European officials had hoped to conclude the talks before the start of the nuclear conference.

Last week, Vice President Biden voiced confidence that the United States would secure passage of a sanctions resolution by next week. "I believe you will see a sanction regime coming out by the end of this month, beginning of next month," Biden said Thursday on ABC's "The View" talk show.

But Security Council members said the United States and other big powers negotiating an Iran sanctions resolution "are not even nearing the end game," said a council diplomat. The official said that negotiations would continue throughout May.

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