Sun, Jan 09, 2011 - Page 5 News List

EU foreign policy chief rebuffs invite to Iran nuclear sites


The EU’s foreign policy chief thanked Iran for inviting other countries to visit its nuclear facilities, but said that should be done by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The comments by the Baroness Catherine Ashton of Upholland on Friday appeared to indicate the EU would reject Iran’s offer.

“The inspection of nuclear sites is the job for the IAEA,” she said at a news conference. “We will be welcoming the fact that Iran is interested in having those visit at the sites, but the role and responsibility for doing that rests with the IAEA.”

Iran has denied claims by other nations that its nuclear program is aimed at producing weapons. However, its refusal to cooperate with an IAEA probe into suspicions that it experimented with components of a nuclear weapons program has heightened international concerns.

Meir Dagan, Israel’s outgoing spy chief, was quoted by an Israeli newspaper on Friday as saying that Iran’s nuclear program has been delayed and predicting that the country would not have a nuclear weapon before 2015.

Iran recently invited Hungary, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, and several other countries, including Russia, China and Cuba, but not the US, to tour its nuclear sites, suggesting Jan. 15 and Jan. 16 for the trip.

Ashton, visiting Budapest with the rest of the EU’s executive commission, said Iran was one of the subjects she discussed with Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi, particularly the talks Iran is tentatively scheduled to hold on Jan. 20 and Jan. 21 in Turkey with the US, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s nuclear department, said on Friday the invitation was aimed at greater transparency.

“On the eve of talks ... and as a gesture of goodwill, we have announced time and again that representatives of certain international communities and a number of countries can inspect Iran’s nuclear installations,” Salehi told the official IRNA news agency in Tehran.

Talks last month in Geneva between Iran and these countries ended with agreement on little else but to meet again.

The Istanbul meeting aims to explore whether there is common ground for more substantive talks on Iran’s nuclear program, which is seen by the US and its allies as a cover for secret plans to make nuclear arms. Iran says its uranium enrichment and other programs are meant for peaceful purposes only, to generate fuel for a future network of nuclear reactors.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, US Department of State spokesman P.J. Crowley said they look forward to the next round of talks in Istanbul.

“We and our partners are committed to pragmatic efforts to resolve the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, but we are equally committed to holding Iran accountable to its international obligations and will continue to focus on this until Iran demonstrates through tangible steps that it is prepared to resolve international concerns,” Crowley said.

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