Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has applied for a visa to attend the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference that opens in New York next week, a top US diplomat said on Wednesday.
"My understanding is that as of today he has filed an application for a visa," US envoy to the United Nations Susan Rice told reporters after a meeting of the Security Council on unrelated issues.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was scheduled to lead the Iranian delegation at the May 3-28 conference at UN headquarters, which is intended to assess compliance with the landmark arms control pact.
The point of the treaty is to halt the spread of atomic weapons and encourage the elimination of existing arsenals.
The United States and other Western powers accuse Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons in violation of its commitment under the NPT not to do so. Iran has said its nuclear program is solely to generate electricity.
As host of the UN headquarters, the United States would normally be expected to grant a visa to Ahmadinejad as a foreign head of state, despite the fact that the two countries do not have diplomatic relations and are embroiled in a standoff over Iran's nuclear program.
UN diplomats said there was little doubt Ahmadinejad would get his visa, though he has had problems in the past with securing entry permits for some members of his delegations.
The United States, Britain, France and Germany have persuaded China and Russia to help draft a fourth UN sanctions resolution against Tehran for refusing to suspend its nuclear enrichment program. Uranium enrichment can produce fuel for power plants or weapons.
The United States had wanted a swift agreement on a fourth resolution in order for the full Security Council to approve it before the NPT meeting. But negotiations have dragged on for weeks and diplomats say the six powers are far from a deal.
Ahmadinejad's presence could prove an unwelcome distraction -- and provide the Iranian leader with a high-profile platform as sanctions talks continue on the sidelines.
Analysts say the NPT has been battered by North Korea's withdrawal, Iran's insistence on pursing nuclear technology that could help it make bombs and developing nations' charges that big nuclear powers are ignoring disarmament commitments.
Western powers would like the NPT review to agree on a plan of action for beefing up the treaty to make it harder for states like Iran and North Korea to acquire sensitive technology and the capability to produce nuclear weapons.
Egypt and other Arab states are demanding that any final declaration that might come out of the conference include a renewed call for the creation of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East -- meaning that Israel would have to disarm.
Egypt is also demanding the convening of an international conference next year with Israel's participation to discuss that issue. Diplomats said the United States and Russia are trying to find a way to satisfy Egypt's demands.
Israel is widely believed to have a sizable nuclear arsenal although it has not acknowledged it.
Many NPT signatories would also like the review conference to call for universality of the treaty -- meaning that Israel, Pakistan and India should be pressured to sign and get rid of any warheads they have. North Korea withdrew from the NPT in 2003 and tested nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009.
NPT review conferences are held every five years.