Iran - Arak heavy water production facility.
(photo credit: AP Photo/Fars News Agancy)
TEHERAN, Iran — Several international envoys — but crucially none from
the world powers — got a look inside an Iranian nuclear site Saturday as
part of a tour the Islamic Republic hopes will build support before a
new round of talks on its disputed atomic activities.
Iran is trying to sell the tour as a gesture of transparency ahead of
the Jan. 20-22 talks in Istanbul, Turkey. In a blow to the effort,
however, major powers Russia, China and the European Union refused the
Iranian invitation. The EU said it should be up to inspectors from the
UN's International Atomic Energy Agency to verify whether Iran's program
is entirely peaceful.
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Iran's offer pointedly did not include the United States, one of its biggest critics internationally, nor three other Western nations that have been critical of the Iranian program — Britain, France and Germany — and many saw the tour as an attempt to divide the nations conducting the nuclear talks.
Ambassadors to the UN atomic energy agency from Egypt, Cuba, Syria,
Algeria, Venezuela, Oman and the Arab League arrived in Teheran early
Saturday and visited the unfinished heavy water reactor near Arak in
central Iran, state TV reported.
The group is expected to tour Iran's main uranium enrichment facility near Natanz on Sunday.
crucial talks between Iran and six world powers in Istanbul just days
away, the timing of the nuclear tour and the choice of nations invited
appeared to be an attempt to weaken unity among Iran's interlocutors.
particular, there have been differences among them on the issue of
imposing economic and other penalties on Iran as a way to pressure it to
Moscow and Beijing, for example, have
generally opposed attempts by the other four — the United States,
Britain, France and Germany — to sharpen UN sanctions on Iran over its
refusal to stop activities that could be potentially used to make
Iran's envoy to the Vienna-based UN agency, Ali
Asghar Soltanieh, said on state TV that while Russia and China "welcomed
warmly this positive initiative" the two nations could not attend
because of time conflicts.
Soltanieh said the EU was wrong to connect the tour with the UN agency's inspections.
"This is the visit of IAEA ambassadors. It has nothing to do with IAEA inspections," Soltanieh said.
nuclear chief and acting foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi said the
invitations were intended as a trust-building measure, contending that —
outside of his nation — no other country has put its nuclear facilities
on display for others.
"This visit ... is evidence of the fact that Iran has nothing to hide," Salehi said.
also repeated denials that sanctions have hurt the Iranian economy.
However, the tour may be a sign that Teheran is looking to ease the
burden of the UN penalties.
Iran's decision to return to talks
could reflect some readiness to compromise on Security Council demands.
Still, hopes are modest. The Istanbul meeting follows on a first round
last month in Geneva that ended with little progress other than a
decision to meet again.
Soltanieh sought to play up the weekend
visit, saying the ambassadors taking part represented 120 countries from
the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77 developing nations.
ambassadors and envoys ... have welcomed the Iranian initiative and see
it as a sign of transparency in Iran's nuclear activities," the
official IRNA news agency quoted Soltanieh as saying Saturday.
said it was a replay of a 2007 visit to Iran's uranium conversion
facility in Isfahan, central Iran, when several ambassadors visited the
Soltanieh said the EU has "missed a historic opportunity" for cooperation.
of its goodwill, the Islamic Republic of Iran invited several other
countries, including the EU, to join the representatives of a majority
of the world countries but they didn't use this historic opportunity for
solidarity and cooperation and observe Iran's peaceful nuclear
activities," IRNA quoted him as saying.