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Western diplomats will have the opportunity to tour Iran's key nuclear facilities, the chief of its nuclear program said, challenging Western countries to provide similar access, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
"We plan to have a tour for Teheran-based Western diplomats [to the country's nuclear facilities] in the future," the agency quoted Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, as saying Sunday when he was asked if representatives of Western countries' representatives would be allowed to visit the facilities.
His comments came a day after Iran took seven diplomats representing organizations of Third World countries on a tour of its Isfahan facility in an apparent bid to show that it has nothing to hide even as international criticism of its nuclear program increases.
"There is no ban in this regard," Aghazadeh said. "Clarifying that Iran's nuclear activities are peaceful has been a part of the country's definite programs." He did not give dates for the proposed tours.
Iran faces mounting pressure to roll back its nuclear program after the United Nations Security Council approved economic sanctions against it on Dec. 23. The council will consider additional measures if Iran does not halt uranium enrichment by the end of a 60-day period that elapses later this month.
Aghazadeh took aim in his comments at countries that led the drive to impose sanctions on Iran over concerns that it is using the program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons - an accusation Iran vehemently denies, saying its goal is to generate electricity.
"Are the Americans and Europeans ready to allow journalists and [representatives of] other countries to visit their nuclear facilities?" IRNA reported the nuclear chief as saying.
Inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Association, visited the Isfahan and Natanz facilities twice since the beginning of this year.
Aghazadeh said that in the past two days IAEA inspectors have set up "new cameras in new places such as [where] gas is injected and [in the] storehouse" at Natanz that would allow them to monitor the activity there.
Teheran already has cascades of 164 centrifuges installed above ground at Natanz and has announced plans to operate 3,000 centrifuges below ground there, enabling it to speed up production of nuclear fuel.
Diplomats accredited to the IAEA at its headquarters in Vienna, Austria, said that hundreds of technicians and laborers have been "working feverishly" at Natanz over the past few weeks, setting up piping, control panels and electric cables before the centrifuge hookup.