Iran nuclear negotiator holds talks with China

Tehran is preparing to open its nuclear facilities to foreign guests.

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BEIJING // Iran’s deputy nuclear negotiator has held talks in Beijing with top Chinese diplomats, officials from both sides said Thursday, as Tehran prepares to open its nuclear facilities to foreign guests.

Ali Bagheri met Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun and Assistant Foreign Minister Wu Hailong on Wednesday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said.

"The two sides exchanged views on China, Iranian bilateral relations as well as the Iranian nuclear issue," he said.

Iranian embassy spokesman Mohammad Ali Ziaei confirmed the meetings, saying the two sides had discussed the Islamic republic's "peaceful nuclear activities", and said on Thursday that Bagheri had headed back to Tehran.

China is among a group of nations invited by Iran to visit the country's main uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and the heavy water facility at Arak over the weekend.

Beijing last week confirmed it had received the invitation but did not say whether it had accepted the offer. Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei on Thursday suggested the Chinese envoy might not be able to attend.

The unusual move to open up its facilities comes as Tehran works to garner support for its atomic drive in the run-up to fresh talks with six world powers in Turkey at month's end, aimed at ascertaining the nature of Iran's programme.

Tehran insists it only seeks to meet the energy needs of its population, while the West and Israel charge that it is developing nuclear weapons.

The previous round of talks -- bringing together Iran, Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany -- was held in Geneva on December 6-7 after a 14-month hiatus.

"China hopes the talks can help all parties build mutual trust and consensus. China also hopes positive progress can be made at the talks," Hong told reporters.

"We are willing to make joint efforts to achieve this goal."

Diplomatic sources at the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, said invitations for the visit had gone out to Russia, China, Egypt and Cuba, as well as to Hungary as rotating president of the European Union.

However, the sources said the United States, Britain, France and Germany were not on the list.

Iran's IAEA envoy has reportedly said that representatives from allies Venezuela and Syria would join the Saturday-to-Monday visit.

The European Union said it would not attend.

Such visits are rare. The last trip that Tehran arranged for members of the IAEA was in February 2007.