TEHRAN, Iran – Several international envoys – but crucially none from the world powers – got a look inside an Iranian nuclear site Saturday as part of a tour the Islamic Republic hopes will build support before a new round of talks on its disputed atomic activities.
Iran is trying to sell the tour as a gesture of transparency ahead of three days of talks starting Thursday in Istanbul, Turkey.
In a blow to the effort, however, major powers Russia, China and the European Union refused the Iranian invitation. The EU said it should be up to inspectors from the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency to verify whether Iran’s program is entirely peaceful.
Iran’s offer pointedly did not include the United States, one of its biggest critics internationally, nor three other Western nations that have been critical of the Iranian program – Britain, France and Germany – and many saw the tour as an attempt to divide the nations conducting the nuclear talks.
Ambassadors to the U.N. atomic energy agency from Egypt, Cuba, Syria, Algeria, Venezuela, Oman and the Arab League arrived in Tehran early Saturday and visited the unfinished heavy water reactor near Arak in central Iran, state TV reported.
The group is expected to tour Iran’s main uranium enrichment facility near Natanz today.
The U.S. and some of its allies accuse Iran of using its civil nuclear program as a cover to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Tehran denies the accusation, saying its nuclear work is merely geared toward producing nuclear energy and isotopes to treat medical patients.
To support that assertion, Iran on Saturday unveiled domestically produced deuterated compounds, which state TV said can be used for medical research and making optic fiber.
With crucial talks between Iran and six world powers in Istanbul just days away, the timing of the nuclear tour and the choice of nations invited appeared to be an attempt to weaken unity among Iran’s interlocutors.
In particular, there have been differences among them on the issue of imposing economic and other penalties on Iran.