Last Updated: Tue Jan 04, 2011 11:20 am (KSA) 08:20 am (GMT)

Iran invites IAEA ambassadors to tour its nuke sites

A suspected uranium-enrichment facility near Qom, 156 km (97 miles) southwest of Tehran (File)
A suspected uranium-enrichment facility near Qom, 156 km (97 miles) southwest of Tehran (File)

Iran said on Tuesday it has invited envoys of some of the six world powers and European Union nations to visit its nuclear facilities ahead of talks in Istanbul over its atomic program.

The invitation to ambassadors of these countries represented in the U.N. atomic watchdog comes as Tehran attempts to garner support for its controversial atomic drive ahead of the Istanbul talks later this month.

"The representatives of some European Union countries, NAM (Non-Aligned Movement), and some representatives of the five-plus-one (six world powers) have been invited to visit our nuclear sites," foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters.

Showing "goodwill" of Iran

 The representatives of some European Union countries, NAM (Non-Aligned Movement), and some representatives of the five-plus-one (six world powers) have been invited to visit our nuclear sites 
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast

He said the invitation was part of the Islamic republic's attempt to demonstrate "cooperation with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency).

The "visit to our nuclear sites once more shows the goodwill of our country and the peaceful and cooperative nature of our (nuclear) activities," Mehmanparast said.

The visit to the nuclear facilities, he said, "will take place before the Istanbul meeting."

"At a minimum, it sounds as if Iran is trying to put a positive face on the discussions," said Columbia University Iran expert Gary Sick, a former senior U.S. National Security Council official, according to Reuters.

"My inclination on these things is not to just say 'No, we're not interested'," Sick said. "It is the sort of thing that might be done for propaganda purposes, but might also be used for very useful purposes."

He said the invitation could also be an initiative by Iran's new caretaker foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, who took office last month. Salehi is a former Iranian representative to the IAEA, who would personally know the diplomats Tehran was inviting.

"This may be a gesture that was his idea, to bring in people and engage with them," Sick said. "He's a serious guy."

Another round of talks

Iran and the six powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany -- are to meet later this month in Istanbul for another round of talks on Tehran's atomic program.

The previous round of talks, which took place after a hiatus of 14 months, was held in Geneva on Dec. 6 and 7.

The talks are aimed at ascertaining whether Iran is seeking nuclear weapons or is indeed looking only to meet the energy needs of its growing population, as it claims.

Mehmanparast did not specify whether arch-foe the United States, one of the six world powers negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program, is among those invited.

Asked specifically whether the United States representative would be invited, Mehmanparast replied that the "list of the countries invited for the visit will be unveiled when it is finalized."

Washington has been spearheading a campaign of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, which world powers suspect is masking a drive for atomic weapons.

It has also not ruled out a military strike against Iran to stop the nuclear program which has grown under the presidency of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Iran has been slapped with four sets of U.N. sanctions since Ahmadinejad pushed ahead with the nuclear program.

The latest U.N. sanctions were imposed on June 9, which were followed by unilateral punitive measures by the United States, the European Union and several other countries.

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