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Iran offering tour of its nuclear sites

In an apparent move to win support ahead of a new round of talks with six world powers, Iran has invited Russia, China, the European Union and its allies in the Arab and developing world to tour its nuclear sites.

In a letter made available Monday to the Associated Press, senior Iranian envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh suggests the weekend of Jan. 15 and 16 for the tour and says that meetings "with high-ranking officials" are envisaged.

While no reason was given for the timing, the offer was made just weeks before Iran and the six powers follow up on recent talks that ended with agreement on little else but to meet again.

The new round between Tehran and the permanent U.N. Security Council members -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France -- plus Germany, is tentatively set for late this month in Istanbul, Turkey. It is meant to explore whether the parties can find common ground for more substantive talks on Iran's nuclear program, viewed by the United States and its allies as a cover for plans to make nuclear arms.

The Islamic Republic insists its uranium enrichment and other programs are meant only for peaceful purposes.

Diplomats from delegations at the table with Iran during last month's talks in Geneva said Tehran made no commitments to talking about U.N. Security Council demands that it freeze uranium enrichment -- which can turn out both fuel and fissionable warhead material. And Iranian negotiators flatly ruled out discussing such demands in Istanbul.

Fears have risen because Tehran developed its enrichment program clandestinely and because it refuses to cooperate with the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency probe into suspicions that it experimented with components of a nuclear weapons program. Iran denies such work.

The offer of a visit comes more than three years after six diplomats from developing nations accredited to the IAEA visited Iran's uranium ore conversion site at Isfahan, which turns raw uranium into the gas that is then fed into enriching centrifuges. Participating diplomats then told reporters they could not make an assessment of Iran's nuclear aims based on what they saw at that facility in central Iran.

But the new offer appeared more wide ranging, both as far as the nations or groups invited and sites to be visited.

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