Russia has welcomed Iran's invitation to a select group of countries to visit its nuclear facilities even as China and the European Union turned down the offer.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday that Iran's offer “deserves attention”.

“We believe that any gesture that indicates greater openness from Tehran should be welcomed,” said Mr. Lavrov at a press conference in Moscow on Thursday. He said organisation of the visit should be entrusted to nuclear experts.

At the same time he cautioned that such a visit should not be seen as a substitute for regular inspections from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or for six-party talks with Iran.

Public difference

Mr. Lavrov's statement signalled a rare public difference between Moscow and Beijing on Iran's nuclear programme. Just hours earlier, China, ahead of President Hu Jintao's state visit to the United States next week, said it would be “difficult” for its ambassador to IAEA in Vienna to go on the Iran tour. E.U. foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said that the bloc had also turned down the invitation citing the need for “expertise” for such visits.

Tehran invited diplomats accredited to IAEA from Russia, China and the nonaligned group to visit its nuclear sites at Natanz and Arak.

Mr. Lavrov warned against “stirring up frenzy” regarding Iran's nuclear programme. He pointed to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent call to step up pressure on Iran and Israel's proposal to threaten Iran with the use of force.

RELATED NEWS

Iran nuclear talks at a dead end January 22, 2011