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Key powers missing at Iran nuke site tour

TEHRAN, Iran - Seven international envoys got a look inside an Iranian nuclear site yesterday for a tour that Tehran hopes will build support before a new round of crucial talks with world powers on its disputed atomic activities.

Iran is trying to sell the tour as a gesture of transparency ahead of three-day talks in Istanbul, Turkey, that begin Thursday.

In a blow to the effort, however, key powers Russia, China and the European Union refused the Iranian invitation. The EU said it should be up to inspectors from the United Nations' 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, and many saw the tour as an attempt to divide the nations conducting the nuclear talks.

In particular, there have been differences among them on the issue of imposing economic and other penalties on Iran as a way to pressure it to make concessions.

Ambassadors to the UN atomic agency from Egypt, Cuba, Syria, Algeria, Venezuela, Oman and the Arab League arrived in Tehran early yesterday and visited the unfinished heavy water reactor near Arak in central Iran, state TV reported.

The group is expected later to tour the uranium enrichment facility near Natanz.

The United States and some of its allies accuse Iran of using its civil nuclear program as a cover to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Iran has denied the accusation, saying its nuclear work is merely geared toward producing nuclear energy and isotopes to treat medical patients. - AP

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