Iran denies reports of demolitions at base; Lavrov to visit Tehran ahead of talks


Iran has denied claims by the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog that it demolished buildings at a military base that the agency suspects was involved in nuclear testing.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, is expected to visit Iran on Wednesday to discuss its nuclear program, ahead of the 3rd round of talks with world powers to be hosted by Moscow.

The Monday report by state-owned YJC.ir news website quotes Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi as saying allegations that Iran was trying to erase evidence at the Parchin military base are “irrelevant and unwise.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency showed satellite images last month to board member nations that indicated a cleanup of the site, saying the photos depicted water streaming out of one building, the razing of several other buildings and removal of earth at the facility.

The activities in the site at southeast of Tehran are a recent IAEA concern, The Associated Press said.

The West suspects Iran is pursuing a weapon program, a charge Iran denies.

The Russian Foreign Minister will visit Iran on Wednesday to discuss the upcoming Moscow talks on Tehran’'s nuclear program as well as the Syria crisis, his ministry said.

“The focus of attention... will be on the situation in the Middle East and North Africa, with the emphasis on the current transformation processes taking place in the Arab world and Syria,” news agencies quoted a foreign ministry official as saying Monday.

Moscow on June 18-19 will host the third round of thus far unproductive negotiations between top world powers and Iran over its disputed nuclear program.

The meeting will be staged just two weeks before the European Union imposes a full embargo on Iranian oil -- a measure aimed at crippling the government’s economy and forcing it to halt its uranium enrichment program.

Russia and Iran enjoy close commercial and military ties that have made Moscow into an influential voice in the negotiations.

But the Kremlin has recently expressed growing worry that Iran may be pursuing the development of a nuclear bomb that could destabilize the region and prompt military strikes from either Israel or the United States.

The ministry said Lavrov would devote “particular attention to preparations” for the Moscow meeting but gave no other details, according to AFP.

Lavrov’s visit comes one week after President Vladimir Putin met his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the sidelines of a regional summit in Beijing where he defended Tehran's right to a “peaceful” nuclear program.

“But I want to emphasize that it is peaceful that we are talking about. You know our position,” Putin told Ahmadinejad in Beijing.

Russia, meanwhile, has proposed holding an international conference on Syria aimed at saving mediator Kofi Annan’s tattered peace plan for a 15-month conflict that observers say has claimed more than 13,500 lives.

Lavrov has pressed for Iran’s inclusion despite strong reservations from the United States, France and Britain.

“Without Iran’s involvement, the opportunity to exert constructive pressure on Syria will not be implemented in full,” the foreign ministry said on Monday.