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Iran sends out invites for inspection of its nuclear sites

Iran has announced it will allow Russia, China, the European Union and others to view its nuclear sites, but appears to have snubbed the United States, Britain, France and Germany, which most oppose its nuclear program.

Arak heavy water plant

This heavy-water production plant is under suspicion

Iran has invited envoys of world powers and European Union states to visit its nuclear facilities ahead of talks in Istanbul on its controversial atomic program.

"The representatives of some European Union countries, NAM (Non-Aligned Movement), and some representatives of the five-plus-one (six world powers) have been invited to visit our nuclear sites," foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters on Tuesday.

But it seems that not everyone has yet received an invite.

"We haven't yet received an invitation," a spokesperson for the German Foreign Ministry, which is part of the five-plus-one group of UN members with the veto powers, told the AFP news agency.

Asked specifically whether a US representative would be invited, Mehmanparast replied: "The list of the countries invited for the visit will be unveiled when it is finalized."

A slight on the States

Ramin Mehmanparast

Mehmanparast says the visit is a gesture of goodwill

A report by the New York Times on Tuesday suggested America had been snubbed.

Washington has been spearheading a campaign of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, which world powers suspect is masking a drive for atomic weapons.

It has also not ruled out a military strike to stop the growing nuclear program under Iran's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Tehran has been slapped with four sets of UN sanctions.

China, a close ally and economic partner of Iran, confirmed it was among the invitees to visit the atomic sites.

"China has received the invitation from the Iran side and will maintain communication with Iran on this," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said, without giving details.

He added that all sides should take a "flexible, practical attitude" towards resolving the Iran nuclear issue.

Mehmanparast said the invitation was part of the Islamic republic's attempt to demonstrate "cooperation with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)."

Natanz enrichment site

The Natanz enrichment site is viewed with suspicion by the west

A gesture of goodwill

"The visit to our nuclear sites once more shows the goodwill of our country and the peaceful and cooperative nature of our [nuclear] activities," Mehmanparast said.

"I think it definitely suggests that [caretaker Foreign Minister Ali Akbar] Salehi is trying to make his mark and to improve PR, but I am not sure it will do much more than that," said Ali Ansari, an Iranian expert at St Andrews University in Scotland. "However, it is a move away from all the confrontational rhetoric."

Visitors have been invited to Iran's enrichment site at Natanz and the Arak heavy water reactor. The two sites are at the heart of Iran's nuclear dispute with the West.

Such visits to Iran's atomic facilities are rare and the last trip which Tehran arranged for members of the IAEA, the UN nuclear watchdog, dates back to February 2007.

The proposed new visit to nuclear facilities, Mehmanparast said, "will take place before the Istanbul meeting," for which a final date has yet to be determined.

Iran and the six powers - Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany - are to meet for another round of talks on Tehran's atomic program in January.

The previous round of talks, which took place after a hiatus of 14 months, was held in Geneva on December 6 and 7.

The talks are aimed at ascertaining whether Iran is seeking nuclear weapons or is indeed looking only to meet the energy needs of its growing population, as it insists.

Author: Natalia Dannenberg (dpa, AP, Reuters)
Editor: Rob Turner

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