TEHRAN, Iran, (AP) – Iran said foreign experts can accompany the international envoys it has invited to inspect its nuclear facilities ahead of planned talks with world powers, the Foreign Ministry said Thursday.
Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast spokesman said the invitation by Iran to representatives of Russia, China, EU, developing and Arab countries to visit its nuclear facilities could be extended to the experts as well.
“There are no restrictions on bringing nuclear experts as companions,” he said, in response to concerns by some country representatives that they didn’t have sufficient expertise for the trip.
Mehmanparast said the invitation aimed at building trust ahead of talks Jan. 21 with world powers in Istanbul over Iran’s controversial nuclear program that many fear might be aimed at developing weapons. Iran denies the charge.
Iran’s invitation pointedly did not include the United States, one of its biggest critics internationally, and many saw this as an attempt to divide the nations conducting the nuclear talks. Already a number of countries have indicated they may pass on the tour.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton already has said EU would not attend the tour and the inspection of nuclear sites should be done by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency. Then on Thursday China also said it is unlikely to take up Iran’s offer.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Thursday that “as our representative to Vienna is now at home, it will be difficult for him to visit Iran.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, meanwhile, said Thursday that the invitation “deserves attention as any gesture showing some extra openness in relations with the international community,” but maintained it could neither replace IAEA inspections or the upcoming Istanbul talks.
“The Iranian nuclear program is quite an acute problem now both because we aren’t seeing due Iranian cooperation with the IAEA and also because excessive tensions are being fanned around it,” he added.
Iran said the facilities to be visited include the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and the Arak site where it is building a plutonium-producing heavy water reactor.
Both facilities are considered suspect by the West because they could be used to make the fissile core of nuclear warheads, and Tehran’s refusal to shut them down has triggered U.N. Security Council sanctions.
Iran invited several countries — including Russia, China and Hungary, which currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency — to tour the sites ahead of the next round of international talks on its disputed nuclear program.
The invitation was not extended to the United States or the three European countries — Britain, France and Germany — that have been more critical of Iran. Those four countries will also take part in the talks, together with Russia and China.
Iran’s IAEA envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh also said the representatives from Egypt, Algeria, Venezuela and Syria would visit the sites on Saturday and Sunday, according to IRNA, the state news agency.