What a pity Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is not coming to New York after all! The world missed a good show no doubt.
Ahmadinejad had wanted to address the council before it votes on imposing new sanctions on Iran for refusing to stop enriching uranium in what is widely believed to be a bid to achieve nuclear weapons. The meeting is expected to be held on Saturday, although it has not been officially scheduled yet.
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.
The United States issued visas in two batches on Friday at its embassy in Berne, Switzerland, but Iran's UN Ambassador Javad Zarif said it was too late.
"There was no time for the visas to be sent to Tehran in time for the president to be able to fly to New York," Zarif told Reuters. But he said Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, who had received his visa early on Friday, would take a commercial flight to New York to address the council.
Richard Grenell, a spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, challenged Zarif's statement.
"Too late for what?" Grenell said. "The meeting hasn't even been scheduled yet. How can they say they are too late to come if the Security Council has not given a date and time for the event?"
Zarif said some of the visas were issued early in the morning in Berne but the remainder not until near 6 p.m. local time, which did not leave enough time to take the passports back to Tehran in time for the president's plane to take off.
In Berne, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy said some 38 visas had been issued, including one for Ahmadinejad, early on Friday, and an additional 40 for the entourage late in the day once all the paper work was completed.
"The applications were incomplete but they were completed this morning," said Daniel Wendell, press attache at the embassy. "The two batches amount to about 75 visas," he said. "That's a pretty sizable group."
In Washington, the State Department said the reasons for the cancellation were a ruse.
"Rather, it would appear that he is unwilling to stand before the Council and take the heat for his continued defiance of the international community," said spokesman Tom Casey.
Casey said the visas were issued late Friday afternoon "despite the fact that the completed applications for many of them were not received until this morning."
And at the United Nations, the American representative, Alejandro Wolff said, "I think this is all a pretext. The visas were issued in ample time."
But in Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini was quoted on television as saying, "Due to the obvious negligence in issuing a visa for members of the Iranian delegation accompanying the president and the plane crew, American officials stopped the president from attending the Security Council's meeting."