TEHRAN, (AFP) – 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.
Invitations to visit Iran’s nuclear sites in central cities of Natanz and Arak have been sent out to ambassadors of some of the nations represented in the UN atomic watchdog, foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said.
The rare move comes as Tehran works to garner support for its atomic drive in the run-up to talks with 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.
But diplomatic sources at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna said invitations have gone only to Russia and China, while the United States, Britain, France and Germany were not among the invited world powers.
The invitees also included Hungary as rotating president of the European Union, Egypt and Cuba, they said.
Mehmanparast said the invitation 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 nuclear facilities, Mehmanparast said, “will take place before the Istanbul meeting,” for which a final date has yet to be fixed.
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 programme.
The previous round of talks, which took place after a hiatus of 14 months, 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 also 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.
Asked whether a US representative would be invited, Mehmanparast replied: “The list of the countries invited for the visit will be unveiled when it is finalised.”
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.