Iran's nuke tour to go ahead without major powers

Iranian envoy says "this trip will offer the most transparency;" China, Russia, Turkey and EU decline offer to tour nuclear facilities.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
January 15, 2011 00:57
3 minute read.
Iran's Ambassador to the International Atomic Ener

Soltanieh 311. (photo credit: AP)

VIENNA  — A weekend tour of Iran's nuclear sites will go ahead without Russia, China, the European Union or key allies Turkey and Brazil, blunting Teheran's attempts to gain support from major powers ahead of crucial talks on its atomic activities.

Ahead of departure from Vienna to Teheran Friday evening, Iranian envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh said that representatives of nonaligned nations, developing countries, the Arab League, Venezuela and Syria were going with him to visit Iran's central Natanz enrichment facility and its still-unfinished heavy water reactor at Arak.

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"This trip will offer the most transparency" regarding Iran's nuclear program, Soltanieh told The Associated Press, adding that the diplomats would be able to see "everything they wanted."

He declined to discuss which other nations had been invited. But China and the EU have in recent days publicly declined. And diplomats familiar with the issue said Russia, Switzerland,Turkey and Brazil had also either turned down invitations or had not responded.

The diplomats — all accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is tasked with probing Iran's nuclear activities — spoke on condition of anonymity because their information was privileged. Soltanieh represents his country at the IAEA.

Switzerland, which has attempted to mediate between Iran and the international community, later confirmed it was not going. "We declined the invitation," President and Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said in answer to a question from the AP. "All the like-minded (countries) declined the invitation."

With crucial talks between Iran and six world powers in Istanbul just a week away, the timing of the nuclear tour and the choice of nations invited appeared a possible attempt to weaken unity among Iran's interlocutors.

Moscow and Beijing are part of the talks. At the same time, they are generally opposed to 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 used to make nuclear weapons.

Neither the US nor the three other Western nations were invited to Iran's weekend tour.

While willing to talk about the deal at the Istanbul talks beginning next Thursday, the six powers want the discussions to focus on broader aspects of Iran's nuclear program, including its refusal to freeze enrichment despite four sets of UN sanctions.

Soltanieh denied the tour had been timed to sow division among the six powers, saying the visit and the Istanbul talks "had nothing to do" with each other.

"We simply created an opportunity ... to see our nuclear facilities but we respected their decision if they are not interested," he said.

Later, ahead of checking in at Vienna's airport, he told AP Television News that while Russia and China "welcomed warmly this positive initiative" the two nations could not attend because of time conflicts.

Seen with Soltanieh were diplomats from Cuba, Egypt, Venezuela, Oman, Syria and Algeria, either representing their own countries, nonaligned nations or developing countries. A representative of the Arab League was also going.

In Teheran, acting Foreign Minister Ali Salehi, Iran's nuclear chief, 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.

"All this is an indication of the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear activities," he told the ISNA news agency.

The US has mocked Iran's latest offer, calling it a "magical mystery tour" and saying it is no substitute for Iran fully cooperating with the IAEA — the UN nuclear watchdog — to prove that its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes.


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