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Foreign envoys visit Iranian atomic facilities

world Updated: Jan 15, 2011 21:32 IST

Iran opened the doors of its two atomic facilities to foreign diplomats on Saturday, in a rare move to drum up support just days before talks with world powers about its sensitive nuclear programme.

Meanwhile, foreign minister and atomic chief, Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran would reveal new achievements during the visit to the Arak heavy water facility. The two day tour to Arak and the main uranium enrichment facility at Natanz was snubbed by the European Union, and apparently so, by key ally Russia too.

However, China's participation was unclear. An official in Beijing said it would be difficult for its representative at the UN atomic watchdog to make it, but the Iranian nuclear envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Ali Asghar Soltanieh said on Saturday that someone from China was there.

Iran had invited several envoys to the Vienna based IAEA as well as Hungary, the holder of the European Union's rotating presidency, to take part in the tour.

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

"The NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) troika, the Group of 77 members, the Arab League, Syria, Venezuela and Oman, are participating in the visit," said state media.

The European Union declined the invitation outright, saying the IAEA "are the people who have to inspect the Iranian nuclear facilities." Soltanieh said the visit was "for agency (IAEA) ambassadors and not linked to agency inspections."

He added that the European Union had missed a "historic opportunity" but that "we respect their decision."

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

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

But at a Saturday press briefing in Arak, he said China was represented. "I thank the ambassador of Venezuela and representatives of Syria, China and the Indian peninsula," Soltanieh said.

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