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Non-aligned envoys in Iran to see nuclear sites

6 envoys representing the Non-Aligned Movement of developing nations arrived in Iran on Saturday to visit nuclear sites.

india Updated: Feb 03, 2007 13:08 IST

Six envoys representing the Non-Aligned Movement of developing nations arrived in Iran on Saturday to visit nuclear sites as part of an effort by Tehran to show "transparency" over its disputed atomic project.

The United States, which accuses Iran of secretly working to make atomic bombs under cover of a civilian nuclear programme to generate electricity, has said that simply putting Iran's nuclear activities on display would not build confidence abroad.

The NAM diplomats, accredited to the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, are due to visit a facility near the central Iranian city of Isfahan that converts uranium ore into feedstock uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas.

Journalists have been invited to join them on the trip.

The group is not due to visit the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, where UF6 gas is fed into centrifuges to make fuel for nuclear power plants or, if greatly enriched, material for warheads. Iran says it plans to increase its enrichment capacity at Natanz soon.

Iran's official news agency IRNA said the trip was "based on Iran's policy for peaceful nuclear activities" and said Tehran was showing "transparency".

"They are not technical people and will not be able to pass judgment on what is going on (technically). This is a publicity exercise, that's the main point," an NAM ambassador in Vienna, where the IAEA is based, said of the visit.

The group comprises ambassadors from Egypt, Malaysia, Cuba, Algeria and Sudan, and a Syrian representing the Arab League.

They are due to hold talks with Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, and leave on Monday.

Iran has come under mounting pressure over its nuclear programme, which Tehran insists is purely civilian.

The UN Security Council slapped sanctions on Iran on Dec. 23, banning the transfer of sensitive materials and know-how for Iran's nuclear and missile programmes. The resolution gave Iran 60 days to suspend uranium enrichment work.

Iran reacted by refusing entry to 38 out of 200 IAEA inspectors who want to check Iranian facilities to verify that material is not being diverted to bomb making.

The United States has increased the pressure by imposing sanctions on two big Iranian banks and sending a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf, a move widely seen as a warning to Iran.

Washington has said it wants diplomacy to end the standoff but has not ruled out military action if that fails.

Despite the pressure, Iran says it plans to install 3,000 more centrifuges at Natanz, adding to about 350 experimental machines it now runs. With 3,000 machines running, Iran could make material for at least one warhead in a year, experts say.