updated 3/19/2007 8:39:47 PM ET 2007-03-20T00:39:47

The U.S. has granted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a visa, letting him travel to New York to address the U.N. Security Council as it considers sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program.

The department has processed 39 visas for Ahmadinejad and his delegation, which includes 12 other senior Iranian officials and 26 security guards, he said. Another 33 visa requests, for airline crew and support staff, are expected to be processed shortly.

The approvals, which had been expected, were announced Monday after world powers agreed in principle to a new package of sanctions. Iran sought to speak to the council before members vote on a resolution to impose the new measures for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.

The United States does not have diplomatic relations with Iran, which it regards as a leading state sponsor of terrorism. The U.S. has repeatedly condemned the country for allegedly trying to disguise an atomic weapons program under the guise of a civilian nuclear energy scheme. Tehran denies the charge.

As host of the United Nations, the United States is obligated to let foreign leaders speak before the world body barring extraordinary circumstances.

“We have host country obligations and we are going to live up those host country obligations,” said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

Date of visit not yet set
The date of Ahmadinejad’s visit to New York has not been finalized, but McCormack told reporters Washington hoped the Iranian leader would use the occasion to pull back from Iran’s refusal to negotiate over its nuclear program.

“It would be an important moment for President Ahmadinejad in his address to the Security Council to take the opportunity to say: ’We are going to negotiate, we do not seek confrontation, we seek dialogue,”’ McCormack said.

The council is expected to begin formal consideration of the new resolution Wednesday. The U.S. has been lobbying some of the non-elected elected members, concentrating first on Muslim states, officials said.

President Bush spoke Monday to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the White House said. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the foreign ministers of Indonesia and Qatar over the weekend, McCormack said.

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