Iran opens atom sites to foreign envoys

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Tehran, Jan 15 (AFP) Iran opened the doors of its twoatomic facilities to foreign diplomats today, in a rare moveto drum up support just days before talks with world powersabout its sensitive nuclear programme.

Meanwhile, foreign minister and atomic chief Ali AkbarSalehi said Iran would reveal new achievements during thevisit to the Arak heavy-water facility.

The two-day tour to Arak and the main uraniumenrichment facility at Natanz was snubbed by the EuropeanUnion, and apparently so by key ally Russia.

China''s participation was unclear. An official inBeijing had said it would be difficult for its representativeat the UN atomic watchdog to make it, but Iranian nuclearenvoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) AliAsghar Soltanieh said on Saturday that someone from China wasthere.

Iran had invited several envoys to the Vienna-basedIAEA as well as Hungary, the holder of the European Union''srotating presidency, to take part in the tour.

However, the United States, Britain, France andGermany were not invited, diplomatic sources said.

"The NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) troika, the Group of77 members, the Arab League, Syria, Venezuela and Oman, areparticipating in the visit," told state media.

The European Union declined the invitation outright,saying the IAEA "are the people who have to inspect theIranian nuclear facilities."

Soltanieh said the visit was "for agency (IAEA)ambassadors and not linked to agency inspections." He addedthat the European Union had missed a "historic opportunity"but that "we respect their decision."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov echoed the EUview by saying that while Iran''s invitation "deservedattention," such a trip could not replace IAEA inspections,indicating Moscow would refrain from participating.

Soltanieh said Moscow and Beijing had "warmlywelcomed the invitation" but were unable to participate in thevisit as "they had problems with the timing."

But at a Saturday press briefing in Arak, he saidChina was represented.

"I thank the ambassador of Venezuela andrepresentatives of Syria, China and the Indian peninsula,"Soltanieh said.

The group visited Arak on Saturday to tour thestill-unfinished facility there, media reports said.

And Salehi said Iran would reveal new achievementsduring the visit to Arak. (AFP)

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