June 4 (UPI) -- The United Nations has suspended the voting rights of Iran and four smaller African countries because they have not settled delinquent dues.
The international body says Iran, Sao Tome and Principe, Central African Republic, Comoros and Somalia owe two years worth of dues and under the U.N. charter.
As a result of the move, Iran and the Central African Republic cannot vote in the General Assembly, the present session of which ends in September.
Iran owes more than $16 million in dues, more than any other delinquent nation.
"We have been in very intense discussions with the Islamic Republic of Iran on finding a way for them to pay their dues," Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, told reporters Thursday.
"The minimum paid needed to be paid by the Central African Republic is $29,395; by Comoros, $871,632; by the Islamic Republic of Iran, $16,251,298; São Tomé and Príncipe, $829,888; and Somalia, $1,443,640."
Tehran blamed the unpaid debt on U.S. sanctions that have frozen Iranian money worldwide.
Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the removal of voting rights was "fundamentally flawed, entirely unacceptable and completely unjustified."
"It is astonishingly absurd that Iranian people, who have been forcibly blocked from transferring their own money and resources to buy food and medicine ... by a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, are now being punished for not being allowed to pay budget arrears by the secretariat of the same organization," Zarif said in a letter he posted online.
Some of the Iranian sanctions were imposed by former U.S. President Donald Trump after he withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal. That agreement had lifted various sanctions in exchange for nuclear concessions.
"[Iran] falls under a number of bilateral sanctions, which makes it a bit challenging," Dujarric told reporters. "So, those discussions are continuing in good faith on all sides."