Iran says it has invited some diplomats accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna to visit nuclear facilities in the Islamic Republic.
The invitation comes ahead of a new round of talks over Iran's controversial nuclear program.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said those invited included representatives of some of the six major world powers involved in the negotiations.
The six powers involved in the talks are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States -- plus Germany.
Mehmanparast also said the invitees included envoys from some European Union states and the nonaligned movement of mainly developing countries.
He said the invitation was part of the Islamic republic's attempt to demonstrate "goodwill."
"The new move of inviting the ambassadors of different countries to visit our nuclear facilities has once again shown the goodwill of our country regarding cooperation and peaceful activities," Mehmanparast said.
No U.S. Representative
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei confirmed that China was among the invitees, but gave no further details.
The Hungarian Foreign Ministry, whose country currently holds the EU presidency, also confirmed receiving the Iranian letter, and said it is discussing the offer with other EU member nations and the bloc's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton.
A spokesman for the European Commission said its ambassador to the IAEA had received the Iranian invitation, adding: "It is for the IAEA and its inspectors in the first place to have full access to Iran's facilities and do the necessary assessments of the Iranian nuclear program."
Delegates from Russia were also reported to be among those invited, along with delegates from Cuba and Egypt.
Asked whether the U.S. representative would be invited, Mehmanparast said the list of the countries invited for the visit would be unveiled "when it is finalized."
Diplomatic sources close to the IAEA were quoted as saying that the United States, along with Britain and France -- the three staunchest UN Security Council critics of Iran’s nuclear program -- were not invited. Sources also say that Germany was not invited.
In Washington, U.S. State Department Spokesman Philip Crowley dismissed the proposed tour as “antics” and a “public relations stunt.”
"This magical mystery tour, if you want to describe it as that, is not a substitute for what Iran has to do, which is to cooperate fully and transparently with the IAEA," Crowley said.
New Nuclear Talks
An unidentified source who spoke to Western news agencies said the planned tour would include the nuclear plant at Bushehr and the uranium enrichment plant at Natanz.
Ali Asgar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, said the plan was for the foreign envoys to travel to Natanz and to the heavy water facility at Arak.
Speaking to Iran’s ISNA news agency, Soltanieh also said the visit was scheduled for January 15 and 16, before a new round of talks on Tehran's nuclear program between Iran and the six powers in Istanbul at the end of this month. No date has been set for those talks.
The previous round of talks, which took place after a hiatus of more than a year, was held in Geneva on December 6-7.
The meeting made little progress toward resolving the long-running dispute over Iran's nuclear activities, which the West suspects are aimed at making bombs. Iran says its nuclear program is purely for peaceful electricity production.
The UN Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions on Iran and demanded that it stops its uranium enrichment program.
Highly enriched uranium can be used in nuclear weapons.
Iranian negotiators have ruled out discussing such demands at the Istanbul meeting.
IAEA inspectors regularly visit Iranian nuclear sites, but the Vienna-based agency has voiced frustration at what it sees as lack of Iranian cooperation.
In February 2007, diplomats from member countries of the nonaligned movement, the Group of 77, and the Arab League toured a nuclear facility near Isfahan in a bid by Iran to demonstrate openness about its atomic program.
written by Antoine Blua, with agency material