EU to Reject Iran Invite to Tour Nuclear Facilities

EU's Catherine Ashton: Touring nuclear facilities is not our job; looking at sites and establishing what they are there for is for IAEA inspectors.

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The European Union will turn down an offer from Iran to tour its nuclear facilities, the bloc's foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said on Friday.

"Yes, what I'll be saying is the role of the inspections of nuclear sites is for the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and I do hope Iran will insure that the IAEA is able to go and continue its work," she told Reuters after talks with Hungary's Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi.

Earlier in the week, Iran invited Russia, China, the European Union and its allies among the Arab and developing world to tour its nuclear sites, in an apparent move to gain support ahead of a new round of talks with six world powers.

"My view is that though this is not an invitation that I'm taking a negative view of, it's not our job and looking at the sites and establishing what they are is for inspectors," Ashton said.

In a letter made available Monday to The Associated Press, senior Iranian envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh suggests the weekend of Jan. 15 and 16 and says that meetings "with high ranking officials" are envisaged.

While no reason was given for the timing of the offer, it comes just weeks before Iran and the six powers follow up on recent talks that ended with agreement on little else but to meet again.

The new round between Tehran, and the permanent UN Security Council members - the U.S. Russia, China, Britain, France - plus Germany, is tentatively set for Istanbul, Turkey in late January.

It is meant to explore whether there is common ground for more substantive talks on Iran's nuclear program, viewed by the U.S, and its allies as a cover for secret plans to make nuclear arms - something Tehran denies.

Instead, the Islamic Republic insists its uranium enrichment and other programs are meant only to generate fuel for a future network of nuclear reactors.

The offer of a visit comes more than three years after six diplomats from developing nations accredited to the IAEA visited Iran's uranium ore conversion site at Isfahan, which turns raw uranium into the feedstock gas that is then enriched. Participants then told reporters they could not make an assessment of Iran's nuclear aims based on that visit to that facility in central Iran.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton.Credit: Reuters



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