UN chief free to visit nuclear sites: Iran

Foreign ministers of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) states attend a meeting in Tehran on 28 August 2012 ahead of a summit which will gather dozens of heads of state. (Photo: AFP - Behrouz Mehri)

Published Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on Wednesday that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad agreed to allow United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to inspect Iran's nuclear facilities "if he so wishes."

"Ban Ki-moon could, if he wanted, inspect the nuclear facilities. The President has agreed that he may do so if he so wishes," said Salehi according to Iranian news Agency Mehr.

He also spoke about the possibility of inspection by participants in the Non-Aligned Movement summit.

"We have made several options available to our guests. They can visit major cities such as Isfahan, Tabriz and Shiraz, or industrial centers, car factories or scientific and research centers such as the Iranian Atomic Energy Center."

The UN chief was to meet Iran's top leaders after arriving in Tehran on Wednesday on a visit hailed by the Islamic republic as a diplomatic coup over arch-foes United States and Israel.

In the meetings expected with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Ahmadinejad and Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, Ban will raise the "clear concerns and expectations of the international community" regarding "Iran's nuclear program, terrorism, human rights and the crisis in Syria," a UN spokesman said.

Although the UN secretary general is a regular attendee at NAM summits – which gather 120 developing nations accounting for nearly two-thirds of the UN member states – this year's participation in Iran has angered the United States and Israel.

The US State Department said such a visit "sends a very strange signal with regard to support for the international order."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month told Ban he would be making "a big mistake" if he attended.

Israel, the only nuclear power in the Middle East, has upped its war rhetoric in recent weeks against Iran, as well as local allies in Lebanon and Gaza.

With Ban's announcement that he was going regardless, Iran seized on his visit as a victory over its enemies and a sign it was not so internationally isolated as the United States has portrayed it.

Iran is engaged in a deepening showdown with the United States and Israel over its disputed nuclear program, which it says is purely peaceful.

The UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is expected to release its latest report on Iran's nuclear program this week – perhaps concurrently with the NAM summit.

The report will be watched carefully, following the explosive IAEA report in November 2011, which fell short of explicitly accusing Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons.

The West seized the report as an opportunity to impose punitive sanctions against the Islamic republic, which has led to rising tensions in an already volatile Middle East.

Iran at the time accused the IAEA of "lousy intelligence," while Russia said the report was "politically motivated."

The new report is likely to highlight Iran's expanding uranium enrichment activities, as well as Tehran's refusal to allow IAEA inspectors into a military site, Parchin.

(UPI, AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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