US: Iran's invitation to nuclear plants is 'clever ploy'

By ASSOCIATED PRESS, JPOST.COM STAFF
January 4, 2011 08:57

Iranian envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh invites EU members, Russia, China and other regional allies to visit nuclear facilities; European diplomats say they are unlikely to accept offer.

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US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.

pj crowley 311. (photo credit: AP)

US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley on Monday said Iran's invitation of several countries to visit its nuclear facilities this month is "a clever ploy, but it's not a substitute for Iran's responsibilities to the IAEA," The New York Times reported.

“It won’t draw international attention away from the issues regarding Iran’s nuclear program,” Crowley stated.

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He added that Iran's nuclear enrichment activities violated six United Nations Security Council resolutions.

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European diplomats who were invited said they were unlikely to accept the invitation, if at all, until after the next round of talks on Iran's nuclear program, expected to be held in Istanbul at the end of this month.

In a letter made available Monday to The Associated Press, senior Iranian envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh suggested the weekend of Jan. 15 and 16 and said that meetings "with high ranking officials" are envisaged.

While no reason was given for the timing of the offer, it comes just weeks before Iran and the six powers follow up on recent talks that ended with agreement on little else but to meet again.

The new round between Teheran, and the permanent UN Security Council members — the US Russia, China, Britain, France — plus Germany, is tentatively set for Istanbul, Turkey in late January.

It is meant to explore whether there is common ground for more substantive talks on Iran's nuclear program, viewed by the US, and its allies as a cover for secret plans to make nuclear arms — something Teheran denies.

Instead, the Islamic Republic insists its uranium enrichment and other programs are meant only to generate fuel for a future network of nuclear reactors.

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Diplomats from delegations at the table with Iran during the December talks in Geneva said Teheran made no commitments to talking about UN Security Council demands that it freezes uranium enrichment — which can turn out both fuel and fissile warhead material. And Iranian negotiators flatly ruled out discussing such demands at the Istanbul meeting.

The offer of a visit comes more than three years after six diplomats from developing nations accredited to the IAEA visited Iran's uranium ore conversion site at Isfahan, which turns raw uranium into the feedstock gas that is then enriched. Participants then told reporters they could not make an assessment of Iran's nuclear aims based on that visit to that facility in central Iran.

But the new offer appeared more wide ranging, both as far as nations or groups invited and sites to be visited.

Dated Dec. 27, the four paragraph letter obtained Monday by the AP offered no details beyond offering an all-expenses paid "visit to Iran's nuclear sites."

But a diplomat familiar with its contents said it was mailed to Russia, China, Egypt, the group of nonaligned nations at the IAEA, Cuba, Arab League members at the IAEA and Hungary, as the president of the rotating EU presidency.

The US was not among those invited. China, and to a lesser degree Russia, have acted to dilute originally harsh sanctions measures proposed by the US and its Western Security Council allies, Britain and France, leading to compromise penalties enacted by the council that are milder than the West had originally hoped for.

The diplomat, who is accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency, also told the AP that Bushehr and Natanz were the venues to be toured and that meetings were planned with acting Foreign Minister Ali Salehi, the head of Iran's atomic agency and Saeed Jalili, Teheran's chief nuclear negotiator. He asked for anonymity because his information is privileged.


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