Iran invites Russia, China to atom sites but not US

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Iran is to open its atomic sites to some world powers, officials announced on Tuesday, as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insisted the West was wrong to confront Tehran over its nuclear programme.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in Tehran that invitations to visit Iran's nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak have been sent to ambassadors of some of the nations represented in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Diplomatic sources at the IAEA in Vienna said, however, that invitations had gone out to Russia and China but that the United States, Britain, France and Germany were not on the list.

The invitees also include Hungary as rotating president of the European Union, Egypt and Cuba, according to the sources.

The rare move to open up its facilities comes as Tehran works to garner support for its atomic drive in the run-up to talks with the six world powers in Turkey at the end of January.

"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," Mehmanparast told a news conference.

When asked whether the United States was invited for the trip, he said "the list of the countries invited for the visit will be unveiled when it is finalised."

Mehmanparast said the initiative was part of the Islamic republic's attempt to demonstrate "cooperation with the IAEA" and showed "the goodwill of our country and the peaceful and cooperative nature of our (nuclear) activities."

ISNA news agency cited Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asgar Soltanieh, as saying the visit was scheduled for January 15-16 and would be to the country's main uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and the heavy water facility at Arak.

"This invitation is within the framework of Iran's transparent nuclear policy," Soltanieh said.

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 the nuclear facilities in central Iran, Mehmanparast said, is to "take place before the Istanbul meeting," for which a final date has yet to be fixed.

Iran and Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany are to meet for another round of talks on Tehran's atomic programme. The previous round of talks, after a 14-month hiatus, was held in Geneva on December 6-7.

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.

China, a close ally and economic partner of Iran, confirmed it was among those invited 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.

Ahmadinejad was adamant on Tuesday that the West had made a mistake by confronting Iran over its atomic programme.

"You should accept that you have made mistakes. You should accept that you chose the wrong path," the hardliner said in a speech in his hometown of Semnan that was broadcast live on state television.

The "previous path (of confronting Tehran) will have no result but defeat," the president said, adding that the West must respect the rights of other countries.

Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials have maintained that pursuing nuclear technology is the Islamic republic's "inalienable right."

The United States has not ruled out a military strike to stop Iran's growing nuclear programme under Ahmadinejad, and Tehran has been slapped with four sets of UN sanctions.

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

Apart from initial unilateral punitive measures imposed soon after the fourth set of UN sanctions, Washington placed new sanctions last month, targeting Iran's Revolutionary Guards and its energy and shipping sectors.

Those targeted included Guards member Parviz Fattah, a former energy minister, and the Pars Oil and Gas Company, which is responsible for tapping some of the world's largest gas fields.

© 2011 AFP

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