Excluded US dismisses Iran’s outreach on nuclear sites
Calls compliance with UN the way to end sanctions
TEHRAN — Iran said yesterday that it had invited the European Union and some other world powers — but apparently not its chief critic, the United States — to tour nuclear sites before the next round of international talks in late January on its disputed nuclear program.
The Associated Press reported the invitation to tour the facilities on Monday, citing a letter from a senior Iranian envoy that suggested Jan. 15-16 for the visit. A diplomat familiar with the letter said Iran invited Russia, China, Egypt, the group of nonaligned nations at the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, Cuba, Arab League members at the IAEA, and Hungary, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency.
Iran’s economy appears to be struggling under the weight of four rounds of international sanctions over its nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at producing weapons though Tehran denies that. Iran returned last month to nuclear talks with the so-called 5+1 countries — the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China, plus Germany — which hold sway over the sanctions. And the invitation to visit nuclear sites may also be a sign that Tehran is looking for ways to ease its financial pain.
The State Department mocked Iran’s offer, calling it a “magical mystery tour.’’ Spokesman P.J. Crowley said the offer is no substitute for Iran fully cooperating with the UN nuclear watchdog to prove that its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes and not to build a bomb.
Asked by reporters how the United States felt about being excluded from Iran’s invitation, Crowley responded sarcastically by saying: “We’re just crushed.’’ While he did not urge others to decline the invitation, he did say there is no reason for any country to attend.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast confirmed the invitation yesterday, saying it went to “the EU, the nonaligned movement, and representatives from 5+1 countries.’’ He said Iran would name the countries later and added that the invitation was a sign of Iran’s “good will’’ and greater transparency about its nuclear program.
Mehmanparast said the tour would take place before the January round of nuclear talks.
An Iranian official speaking from a European capital said facilities to be visited include the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and the Arak site where Tehran is building a plutonium-producing heavy water reactor. Both facilities are considered suspect by the West because they could be used to make the fissile core of nuclear warheads; Tehran’s refusal to shut them down has triggered UN Security Council sanctions.
The new round of negotiations is meant to explore whether there is common ground for more substantive talks on Iran’s nuclear program.
The Security Council has demanded that Iran freeze uranium enrichment — a process that can produce both fuel and fissile warhead material.