The European Union is to decline Iran's invitation to tour its nuclear sites ahead of scheduled talks on its nuclear program, saying that the role and responsibility of nuclear inspection belongs to another body.
The invite included the Natanz uranium enrichment facility
European Union foreign policy chief Catherin Ashton said on Friday that the bloc would not accept Iran's invitation to tour two of its nuclear sites, but rather that the work should done by representatives of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Iran had invited Hungary, which recently overtook the rotating EU presidency, as well as Russia, China and several other countries to tour the Natanz uranium enrichment plant and the Arak heavy water facility.
Tehran suggested January 15-16 for the visit, less than a week before scheduled nuclear talks in Istanbul between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany. Iran's acting foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said the invitations were to show "the lies propagated by some non-benevolent countries regarding Iran's nuclear activities."
'Not our job'
Ashton said she still looked forward to the nuclear talks in Istanbul
Ashton told Reuters news agency that "the role of the inspections of nuclear sites is for the IAEA, and I do hope Iran will ensure that the IAEA is able to go and continue and fulfill its work." She added that she did not view the invitation negatively, and that she was optimistic about the talks with Iran.
Tehran claims its uranium enrichment is for peaceful energy purposes only, while the West believes it is a cover for plans to build nuclear weapons.
Invitations were also sent to Egypt, Cuba, Venezuela, Brazil, Turkey, Algeria and the Arab League. The United States, Britain, France and Germany - all participants in the nuclear talks - were not invited.
Some western diplomats dismissed the suggested tours as a ploy to divide the six powers involved in the talks and urged Moscow and Beijing to also decline the invitations.
Author: Andrew Bowen (Reuters, AP)
Editor: Rob Turner