Iran invites envoys to nuclear sites


Iran said today it had invited some envoys accredited to the UN nuclear watchdog to visit important nuclear facilities this month, shortly before a second round of talks between Tehran and major powers.

Those invited included representatives from some of the six world powers involved in diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute over Iran's nuclear programme, foreign ministry spokesman said without giving details.

Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Vienna-based UN nuclear body, said the plan was for the ambassadors to travel to the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water reactor.

The two sites are at the heart of Iran's nuclear dispute with the West, which suspects the Islamic Republic is seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies this.

"Ambassadors ... are invited to visit our nuclear sites, particularly in Natanz and Arak," Mr Soltanieh said in Vienna. ""This is in the line of our transparent nuclear policy," he said, adding that meetings with high-ranking Iranian officials would also be organised.

Analysts said the move was an attempt by Tehran to demonstrate openness about its nuclear programme before meeting the six powers - Russia, China, the United States, France, Germany and Britain, known as P5+1 - in Istanbul this month.

"This is Iran trying to show it is flexible, that we don't have any problem to show our facilities to diplomats," said Mahjoob Zweiri, an Iran expert at the University of Qatar.

"It will be a clear message to P5+1 that Iran will not retreat in the negotiations," he said.

Tehran and the powers agreed in Geneva last month, the first such talks in more than a year, to hold more discussions in the Turkish city in late January even though no exact date has yet been announced.

The Geneva meeting made little progress towards resolving the long-running row over Iran's nuclear work. Iran says its nuclear programme is purely for peaceful electricity production and has rejected international demands to curb it.

The IAEA regularly visits Iranian nuclear sites including Natanz, but it has voiced growing frustration at what it sees as lack of Iranian full cooperation with its inspectors.

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman said the invited ambassadors also included some European Union states as well as envoys from the non-aligned movement of mainly developing countries.

The invitation "has once again shown the goodwill of our country regarding cooperation" with the IAEA and Iran's"peaceful nuclear activities", Mr Mehmanparast said.

"They will possibly visit Iran and our nuclear facilities on January 15th and 16th," he told a news conference.

Mark Fitzpatrick at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank called Iran's move a "propaganda ploy" aimed at deepening divisions among IAEA member states regarding Iran's nuclear programme.

"Ambassadors are not trained to be inspectors If Iran were serious about openness, there are many other ways that sincerity could be demonstrated," he said.

Iran, one of the world's major oil producers, has been subjected since June to a series of UN, US and EU measures aimed at its important energy sector. The sanctions are aimed at persuading Iran to halt its uranium enrichment programme.

While Iran has insisted the sanctions are having no effect, political analysts say the unexpected severity of the measures may have been a factor in bringing it back to talks.

In early 2007, Iran showed UN surveillance cameras to six envoys from the Non-Aligned Movement of developing nations during a tour of a nuclear site near the city of Isfahan, in a bid to demonstrate openness about its atomic programme.