Even Jim Lehrer, the moderator, seemed a bit surprised. He twice asked the candidates: both of you really believe this is the "single most serious threat" to America? Nuclear proliferation is, after all, a classic wonk's issue. But George W. Bush and John Kerry agreed on this and little else in their debate last week: the spread of nuclear fissile material, equipment and know-how is their top national-security priority. And America's No. 1 nightmare is that proliferation may yield a nuclear device detonated by terrorists in a U.S. city.
What the president and his challenger sharply disagree on is what to do about nuclear proliferation. For Bush, counterproliferation is mainly about facing down hostile or rogue states, most notably Iraq. One Bush success has been his Proliferation Security Initiative, an ad hoc coalition of naval powers that stop shipments of nuclear contraband.
Kerry, on the other hand, tends to focus less on hostile states than on careless or corrupt ones like Russia. This is the so-called loose-nukes problem. In the debate, Kerry homed in on what critics say is Bush's biggest vulnerability: the president's tepid support of a decade-old program to dispose of more than 600 tons of enriched uranium and plutonium in Russia, which could fall prey to terrorists or unscrupulous middlemen. Bush's approach will take 13 years; Kerry said he'll secure the stuff in four. Kerry is also eager to use carrots as well as sticksï¿½for example, to hold direct talks with North Korea, putting new incentives "on the table," in order to keep its plutonium out of terrorist hands.
Whose approach is more effective? Here is a reality check:
LOOSE NUKES. "This president, I regret to say, has secured less nuclear material in the last two years, since 9/11, than we did in the two years preceding 9/11," Kerry said. True? Only partly. Most of Kerry's figures came from a study by Harvard nuclear experts Matthew Bunn and Anthony Wier. But Bunn himself admits that he had to correct some of his own numbers; in fact, when it comes to "rapid" fixesï¿½like putting in new window bars and door locks at storage sitesï¿½Kerry's claim doesn't hold up.
Kerry also said Bush has "cut the money" for nuclear nonproliferation. Bush replied that he's actually increased it by about 35 percent. After a day of scouring the books, Bush aides finally came up with supporting numbers. For '05, Bush is asking for $2.009 billion for the Defense Department's Cooperative Threat Reduction programs and nonproliferation activities at the Energy and State departments. Compared with $1.49 billion in 2001, that's a jump of 34 percent, says campaign spokesman Brian Jones. What Jones didn't say is that this includes the entire budget of the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Energy agency responsible for nuclear-weapons facilities inside the United States. And that about three quarters of the new money, $431 million, goes to disposing of America's own plutonium.
THE NUCLEAR BLACK MARKET. Another chief Bush claim in the debate was that "we busted the A. Q. Khan network." This is the black market of centrifuges and other nuclear equipment run by Pakistan's rogue lead scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, and exposed by Libya's disclosures last spring. It is true that Khan was placed under house arrest. What Bush didn't say is that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has not given U.S. or International Atomic Energy Agency officials access to Khan or his chief aides. Officials still don't know the full extent of his supply chain or exactly how many other countries were involved.
LIBYA. "We convinced Libya to disarm," Bush said. But in fact the British played the lead role in the negotiations. And the talks succeeded only after the British managed to sideline the Bush administration's top arms-control official, John Bolton, NEWSWEEK has learned. Under Secretary of State Bolton, a hard-liner, pursued Bush's basic approach of "not rewarding bad behavior" by refusing to lift sanctions against Libya. But after a tense session in London, the British complained that Bolton was obstructing talks. Washington agreed to keep Bolton at home. The assurances that Libya sought were quietly given. Bush lifted sanctions.
NORTH KOREA AND IRAN. By common consent, these countries are the two most dangerous potential proliferators. Here Bush is more the multilateralist, Kerry the bilateralist. Bush, speaking of Saddam Hussein, once declared that he would "not allow the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most dangerous weapons." But he has softened his stance elsewhere. His currently stalemated approach to North Korean nukes involves six-party talks including China, but no real offers of incentives to Pyongyang. Will it work? "I certainly hope so," he said. Against Iran, Bush rested his hopes on France, Germany and Britain. Again, his stand appeared less firm than on Saddam. "I hope we can do it," Bush said.
In the debate, Kerry hit Bush for letting North Korea get "four to seven" nuclear weapons on his watch. There is no hard evidence for that number, but Pyongyang is indisputably more dangerous than it was when Bush took office. And the president's response to Kerry's proposal for bilateral talksï¿½Bush called it "a big mistake" and said China would drop out of the six-party talksï¿½misstated Beijing's position. In fact, China has been urging Washington to sit down with the North Koreans. Kerry also mentioned his new plan to "test" Tehran by offering to sell it nuclear fuel so the Iranians don't need to enrich it themselves. The point? To see if they genuinely want it for peaceful purposes. Yet he did not say what he would do if Tehran refused.
So, there are big differences. But on one big theme, both candidates sounded worryingly alike. Neither said what he would do if his approach failed.
2. IAEA SOURCE SAYS KYRYGZ PLUTONIUM SEIZURE IS HARMLESS.
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Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told the BBC on 30 September that 60 "plutonium containers" seized on 21 September in Kyrgyzstan are actually harmless Soviet-era smoke detectors that contain a small amount of radioactive material. Fleming stressed that the material does not pose any threat. Earlier reports indicated that Kyrgyz security services had seized an unspecified amount of plutonium-239 in a sting operation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 2004). Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service would neither confirm nor deny the BBC report, akipress.org reported on 1 October. The investigation into the matter is apparently continuing in Kyrgyzstan.
3. CRITICAL CHOICES:Nuclear threat expected to pose a major challenge
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When John Kerry was asked to name the single most serious threat to America's security during his first debate against President Bush this week, the Democratic candidate didn't hesitate. "Nuclear proliferation," the Massachusetts senator said. "Nuclear proliferation."
Security specialists advising both candidates say the nation's most daunting challenge is preventing terrorists from killing hundreds of thousands of people in a nuclear nightmare that would dwarf the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Bush agreed with Kerry's assessment in the debate Thursday night and Vice President Dick Cheney repeatedly has said that the prospect of nuclear terrorism keeps him up nights.
"To contemplate the possibility of them unleashing that kind of capability . . . in the midst of one of our cities -- that's a scary proposition," Cheney recently told an interviewer on talk radio.
No matter who wins the election next month, the next president will face a nuclear proliferation problem that continues to worsen, specialists say.
Bush said in the debate that his administration has increased funding by 35 percent to contain nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere, and cites as success stories both Libya's willingness to dismantle its program and the breakup of a Pakistani black-market supply network that reached from North Africa to East Asia.
But North Korea, despite US-led talks involving six nations over the past two years, is suspected to have built several nuclear bombs in recent years. Iran, also labeled a supporter of terrorists, is widely thought by international intelligence agencies to be on the brink of developing the capacity to build nuclear weapons. The sheer amount of nuclear material in the former Soviet Union makes security specialists nervous.
When Chechen terrorists seized a school in southern Russia last month, officials in Moscow took urgent action to increase security at nuclear facilities across the country, fearful that the guerrillas -- whose cohorts had boarded and crashed two Russian jetliners after a $40 bribe to airport personnel -- could secure nuclear supplies with cold cash. The Sept. 11 commission concluded in July that Al Qaeda has been seeking nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction for a decade.
At least twice since the Sept. 11 attacks, US intelligence officials believed, terrorists had smuggled a nuclear device into the United States, once in New York City and later along the Potomac River near Washington, D.C. A senior Bush administration official who asked not to be identified said that before the information was determined to be unfounded, he considered calling his wife and telling her to take the children and head for the Virginia mountains.
In September, national security officials gathered in Washington for a secret exercise that simulated the detonation of a small-scale nuclear device and tested how the government would respond.
"It would be difficult for terrorists to mount a nuclear attack on a US city, but such an attack is plausible and would have catastrophic consequences, in one scenario killing over a half-million people and causing damage over $1 trillion," according to a new study by the Congressional Research Service obtained by the Globe.
The study cites "many potential weaknesses in US ability to thwart nuclear terrorism."
Kerry insisted that as president he would devote more attention and funding to the threat than Bush and would immediately appoint a presidential coordinator to oversee the issue. Citing a recent Harvard study by Matthew Bunn and Anthony Weir, Kerry noted that less Russian nuclear material was secured in the two years after the Sept. 11 attacks than in the two years before.
Kerry also has called for speeding up efforts to secure vulnerable Russian material, which he said at the current pace will take 13 years to complete. Kerry has pledged to complete the process in four.
Bush, meanwhile, said Thursday that stanching nuclear proliferation is "one of the centerpieces of a multipronged strategy to make the country safer." He cited recent efforts such as the Proliferation Security Initiative, involving 60 countries, to disrupt the shipments of materials for weapons of mass destruction. "And we've been effective," Bush said.
To specialists on nuclear proliferation, the two candidates differ little on the magnitude of the danger but part company on how to control it.
"In identifying the challenge, there is pretty broad agreement," said Laura Holgate , a former Clinton administration official and a vice president of the nonpartisan Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit organization established by former senator Sam Nunn and media executive Ted Turner. "The techniques and the mechanisms have some differences. Kerry plans to secure loose materials faster, giving the job executive-level focus and additional funding.
This issue doesn't seem to come up in much detail in summit discussions over the last four or five years."
Holgate said Kerry, compared with the president, also has focused on breaking through some of bureaucratic logjams, particularly in regard to Russian cooperation, that have stifled progress. She said a Cabinet-level commission in the Clinton administration that was supposed to streamline nuclear control efforts "trailed off and was never recreated."
Bush wants to protect the homeland from a nuclear launch by developing a national missile shield, a standing Republican Party goal since the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Kerry argued that terrorists are more likely to smuggle a nuclear device across porous US borders and that he thinks the proposed antimissile system, which has cost about $100 billion, is unproven.
Kerry also said he would re-embrace the international treaties and other multilateral efforts that he contends Bush has rolled back. The senator said he would negotiate directly with the North Koreans and lead multinational efforts to force Iran to open up its nuclear program. He also derided the Bush administration's determination to pursue research on new US nuclear weapons even as it is trying to dissuade others from developing nuclear capabilities.
"I'm going to shut that program down, and we're going to make it clear to the world, we're serious about containing nuclear proliferation," he said Thursday.
The Bush campaign says the president deserves credit for a range of accomplishments to limit the nuclear threat. Bush persuaded the Group of Eight economic powers in 2002 to pledge $20 billion to secure former Soviet nuclear, chemical, and biological materials and expertise, although little of the money has been spent.
Bush cites success in Libya and the unraveling of the Abdul Qadeer Khan supply network in Pakistan; his campaign says Washington "is working with allies and the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure that Iran meets its commitments and does not develop nuclear weapons."
But in the view of many specialists, the right words have not translated into the right deeds. Morten Bremer Maerli, a nuclear proliferation specialist at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, said the threat of nuclear terrorism is the "great paradox" of the war on terrorism.
"Despite the rhetoric out of D.C., the United States has done less in securing highly enriched uranium . . . and undermined the international nonproliferation regime and weakened the fight against terrorism," Maerli said from Oslo, where he recently completed a doctorate thesis on securing loose nuclear weapons.
Only 6 percent of Russia's estimated 600 tons of potentially vulnerable nuclear materials have been secured -- enough to make thousands of nuclear bombs.
The security manager at one of Russia's largest nuclear processing centers reported that guards routinely patrol without ammunition and a Russian businessman was charged last year with offering $750,000 for stolen weaponsgrade plutonium for sale to a foreign client.
And while Russia may be the front line in the race to stop a nuclear nightmare, it is only the beginning. The United Nations estimates that 110 lack the necessary safeguards to protect nuclear materials terrorists are seeking.
Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service (SNB) has determined that 60 lead containers confiscated on 21 September contained plutonium-239, Kyrgyzinfo reported on 30 September. The news agency cited copies of documents with the results of SNB tests confirming that the substance was plutonium-239, which is used in weapons manufacturing. Undercover SNB agents seized the plutonium from an unidentified seller in a sting operation, "Vremya novostei" reported on 29 September. Also on 30 September, representatives of Kazakhstan's National Security Service (SNB) told ITAR-TASS that the plutonium-239 did not come from Kazakhstan. Responding to earlier statements by the Kyrgyz SNB, the press service of the Kazakh SNB told the news agency, "This plutonium cannot be of Kazakh origin." The Kazakh SNB representatives added that they have not received any request to conduct a joint investigation from their Kyrgyz colleagues.
5. Russian nuclear arms secure from terrorism - Sergei Ivanov
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Russia's nuclear munitions arsenal is adequately protected from terrorist attacks, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said.
"The facilities where nuclear munitions are stored have always been protected in a very serious way, which is why no additional measures were taken to protect and defend them due to the increase threat of terrorism," Ivanov told reporters in Oryol on Friday.
The government has adopted the Defense Ministry-proposed federal program for technical re-equipment of facilities where weapons, military equipment and munitions are stored, Ivanov said.
"As to the anti-terrorist measures, they have been conducted at military bases for three years already," he said.
1. Candidates point to nuclear danger. Will they rein it in?
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The year: 2054 or thereabouts. At a gleaming new "Nuclear History" museum on Washington's National Mall, an exhibit traces America's attitudes toward nuclear weapons.
Naturally, last Thursday's presidential debate features prominently. President Bush (news - web sites) and John Kerry (news - web sites) identified the No. 1 threat facing the nation as "nuclear proliferation" - a surprise to voters focused on the economy and the war in Iraq (news - web sites).
But move forward in that future nuclear exhibit. Will it show crude nuclear devices incinerating major U.S. cities?
That's the real question, and it, too, shouldn't be a surprise. Though Bush and Kerry didn't clearly define the threat - which has many parts - the dominant worry is that terrorists will get so-called loose nukes. They've been poorly tracked since the Soviet Union disintegrated. Or build their own from pilfered material. Difficult, but not, say nearly all experts in the field, impossible. Osama bin Laden (news - web sites) has said he'd use such a weapon - a big difference from the nuclear standoff of the Cold War. Worries center on:
Russia. The Soviet Union's once tight control of its nuclear arsenal is long gone. Material for thousands of weapons remains vulnerable. Problems include poor accounting for nuclear material and lazy or corrupt guards. In 2003, for instance, a businessman was caught trying to steal weapons-grade plutonium. Terrorists have cased facilities.
Research reactors. Enough highly enriched uranium for hundreds of nuclear weapons provides fuel for more than 130 research reactors in more than 40 countries. Many have as little security as a chain-link fence. The fuel elements can fit in a backpack, and published literature shows how to extract highly enriched uranium.
Pakistan. The country has few nuclear weapons. But the man who developed Pakistan's program was caught selling parts and know-how to Libya, North Korea (news - web sites) and elsewhere. The country is al-Qaeda and Taliban central. Insiders could help terrorists.
The danger is magnified because programs to secure loose nukes, have been running out of steam. Russian corruption and lack of cooperation is one reason; U.S. bureaucratic problems another. Harvard's Project on Managing the Atom, cited by Kerry, says more material was secured in the two years before 9/11 than in the two following.
Kerry and Bush have spoken little about their plans, but the starting point for any president is the existing but flagging U.S. and international initiatives to secure loose nukes by paying for their destruction.
Kerry says he would appoint a high-level official to energize that and other anti-proliferation efforts. He also says he'd shut down Bush's program to improve nuclear weapons because it makes anti-proliferation efforts look hypocritical.
Bush sees a need to develop new nuclear weapons that might be used to penetrate underground bunkers protecting terrorist or rogue state facilities that threaten the U.S. He cites the termination of Libya's nuclear program and the rolling up of Pakistan's rogue network as successes.
The first step to any meaningful improvement: documenting and securing nuclear materials, particularly in Russia.
With both candidates now saying the issue is their top foreign priority, perhaps that finally will get the high-profile attention it needs to succeed.
2. Presidential campaign focuses on nuclear proliferation
James W. Brosnan
Scripps Howard News Service
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The first presidential debate brought to the campaign's forefront the often-unnoticed effort of old Cold War enemies to put their nuclear genies back in the bottle before terrorists can grab enough plutonium or highly enriched uranium to make a bomb.
President Bush and Democratic nominee John Kerry agreed Thursday night that the top threat to U.S. security is the danger that terrorists could obtain nuclear material. But they argued over how best to prevent that material from falling into terrorist hands.
There is plenty around.
During the Cold War, the United States passed out nuclear matter to other countries for research under the Atoms for Peace program. More than 130 research reactors in more than 40 countries are still fueled by weapons-usable uranium, according to Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
The Soviet Union was so enamored of nuclear power that it used uranium to power remote, unmanned lighthouses and airline navigational beacons.
Russia alone has an estimated 600 tons of highly enriched uranium in its stockpiles, enough to fabricate tens of thousands of nuclear weapons beyond the 32,000 warheads that already exist in the world, according to a study published this week by the National Defense University.
Since the early '90s the United States has been spending $1 billion a year on an initiative by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., to stop nuclear proliferation.
Under the program 6,382 nuclear warheads have been deactivated, including all weapons in the former Soviet republics of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, and more than 22,000 former Soviet bloc scientists have been employed in new jobs.
Progress has been slower to strengthen the security of the weapons themselves in Russia. Some storage sites lacked even fences. By the end of 2003, security had been upgraded on only 22 percent of Russian nuclear weapons materials.
At the current pace, Kerry said in Thursday night's debate, the Bush administration would finish the work in 13 years. Kerry pledged to complete it in four.
Kerry, quoting from the Belfer study, also said the administration actually protected less nuclear material after 9/11 than before. But in an interview, Bryan Wilkes, spokesman for the National Security Administration, disputed the study, saying the actual figures are that 42 pounds of nuclear material were secured before 9/11 and 42 metric tons have been protected since 9/11.
Wilkes also said the timetable for security upgrades has been accelerated so that work will be completed at Russian Navy and intercontinental ballistic missile sites by 2008.
Critics are dubious about the timetable and Bush's commitment to it. Twice in the last four years, work on Nunn-Lugar programs stopped either because Bush would not certify that the Russians were complying with arms control promises or because of debates over liability for U.S. contractors working under the program.
Ashton Carter, former assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton administration, said Bush reviewed the Nunn-Lugar program for almost two years, including six months after 9/11 and then kept its budget at pre-9/11 levels when "they should have been tripled or more." After last month's deadly siege of a Russian school by Islamic terrorists, Lugar himself called for the administration to increase efforts to secure nuclear material in Russia.
As President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry wrestled over foreign policy in their first debate Thursday, some facts were oversimplified, others were exaggerated and still others dropped from sight entirely.
No mistake was so glaring that it was likely to do lasting damage to a candidate. But as they grappled on the familiar territory of the Iraq war and related subjects, the combatants shaded the truth again and again in ways that echoed what they have said on the campaign trail.
Bush, for example, eager to blunt Kerry's charges that he charged unilaterally into the Iraq war, contended that his administration had "used diplomacy every chance we get." In fact, though Bush sought United Nations approval for the war in early 2003, it had become clear that the administration's patience for diplomacy was nearly exhausted. The administration rebuffed proposals from other countries that would have extended international weapons inspections and delayed the March 2003 invasion.
Kerry, on the other hand, seeking to portray the war as reckless, asserted flatly that Bush had "no plan" for the aftermath. In fact, the administration had elaborate sets of plans for handling the various crises that officials anticipated, such as oil-well fires and huge refugee flows. The problem they later confronted was that the assumptions behind the plans proved wildly wrong.
Bush tinted some of the war's developments with optimism. In seeking to show international support for the U.S. effort, the president cited an upcoming meeting this month in Tokyo to discuss $14 billion in aid pledged to the rebuilding effort. He failed to mention that many donors had yet to fulfill their pledges 12 months after they made a commitment to do so.
Bush also sought to portray efforts underway as projects completed. Outlining his administration's progress against nuclear proliferation, he asserted that the network of Pakistani physicist Abdul Qadeer Khan had been "busted" and "brought to justice."
However, Khan himself was pardoned by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in February, and of 11 staff members at the top-secret Khan Research Laboratories near Islamabad originally believed to be involved in the nuclear trafficking, none has been charged after lengthy detentions and interrogations. International investigations are still underway.
Similarly, to show that he has made progress in the war on terrorism, Bush said, "75% of known Al Qaeda leaders have been brought to justice."
The CIA has attempted to quantify the success of U.S. efforts against the terrorist group and has tallied the number of its "known leaders" at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks who have been killed or captured. The agency used a rough estimate of two-thirds earlier this year, and increased its estimate to three-quarters this summer. But many terrorism experts say the estimate is misleading because Al Qaeda is a decentralized network of groups and new leaders often spring up after others die.
On several points, Bush and Kerry misrepresented each other's position. During discussion of his planned missile defense system, Bush said that "my opponent is opposed to the missile defenses."
Kerry is not opposed to the missile defense program, although, on the campaign trail, he has advocated reduced spending for the program.
Kerry may have been exaggerating when he said the president hadn't put "one nickel" into protecting subways from the threat of a terrorist attack. But he was on the right track when he suggested that spending on mass-transit security lagged far behind the investment in protecting airports.
Although the aviation security budget is about $5 billion a year, the government has spent just $115 million on transit security since the Sept. 11 attacks. Bipartisan legislation in the Senate calls for a $5.2-billion investment.
Separately, Amtrak has received more than $70 million to fund security and safety improvements in the tunnels serving New York's Penn Station, used by more than 300,000 commuters each day.
Kerry said the cost of the war was $200 billion, money "that could have been used for healthcare, for schools, for construction, for prescription drugs, and it's in Iraq."
He exaggerated somewhat how much money has been spent in Iraq so far. Congress has appropriated funding for operations there and in Afghanistan in three installments that total about $180 billion. Not all of that has been spent. However, no one doubts that the bill will eventually exceed $200 billion.
Kerry's suggestion that funding for the war was taken from domestic priorities was a bit of a stretch. Even while funding the war, Congress recently approved a major expansion of Medicare to include prescription drug benefits and has continued to increase spending for education and highway construction.
Bush said there were currently a "hundred thousand troops trained" ï¿½ close to the 96,681 trained police and military forces cited in a Sept. 22 statement by the Defense Department.
Though Bush's claim is factually true, it has drawn strong criticism as an overstatement by Democrats in Congress and independent military experts. Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage acknowledged last Friday to Congress that some of the forces were "shake-and-bake" trainees, with three weeks of training or less.
Many police lack equipment or vehicles. Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. official in charge of training, has been unable to fill his staff needs.
At one point in the debate, Kerry implied that a U.S.-backed plan to build military bases in Iraq was a prelude to a permanent U.S. presence there. He said that "some people say [the bases have] got a rather permanent concept to them."
U.S. reconstruction officials, however, have long insisted that 14 bases are being built or refurbished from existing bases to provide housing and training facilities for the Iraqi army and security forces. The U.S., they say, will maintain a presence in Iraq only as long as the Iraqi government permits it.
In saying that nine of 10 active-duty Army divisions have played a role in Iraq or are planning to, Kerry actually understated the case. Nine divisions have either fought in Iraq or are planning to, and a brigade from the 10th ï¿½ the South Korea-based 2nd Division ï¿½ is now in Iraq.
Kerry contended that the United States and only two other countries, Britain and Australia, sent troops to Iraq in the initial thrust. In fact, Polish special forces were part of the first wave.
But Kerry was correct in saying that the largest share of coalition forces by far are American, and that U.S. contributions dwarf all others. Of the 30 allied forces, only six have 1,000 or more troops in Iraq. And the United States has recently struggled to keep more countries from dropping out of the coalition.
One set of conflicts dealt with the global availability of nuclear weaponry, which both Bush and Kerry identified as their top national security concern, and the developing nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea.
Arms control specialists questioned Bush's assertion that the United States was "a party to working with" Britain, France and Germany on a deal the Europeans eventually offered Iran last October. The nations said they would share advanced nuclear technology with the country in exchange for Tehran's pledge to give up both its enrichment of uranium and production of centrifuges used in the enrichment process.
"If there was coordination with the United States [and the three European countries], then it's been secret until now," said Joseph Cirincione, who follows nonproliferation issues at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Unless there was something secret going on, I think Bush was just wrong on that."
Arms control specialists who have followed the North Korea nuclear issue agreed with Kerry's charge that the North Korean government had made significant advances in its quest for nuclear weapons in the two years since the Bush administration broke off talks.
Cirincione cited intelligence estimates that North Korea now "probably has enough nuclear material for four to eight weapons."
When Bush came to office, intelligence estimate suggested the country had enough to make two bombs.
Kerry said the North Koreans now had enough nuclear material to produce four to seven weapons.
However, arms control experts noted that Bush was also correct in stating that North Korea violated ï¿½ if not technically, at least in spirit ï¿½ an agreement his administration inherited from the Clinton years.
Kerry said that the amount of nuclear weapons material worldwide that been safely secured under Bush in the two years immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, was less than the amount secured in the two years immediately before the terrorist attacks. Kerry drew that assertion from an analysis by researchers at Harvard University released this year that concluded: "there remains a potentially deadly gap" between the urgency of the threat and the pace of efforts to deal with it.
"If progress continues at last year's rate of 35 tons per year, it will take 13 years to finish the job in just the former Soviet Union," the report said.
Kerry proposed speeding up the pace to complete the destruction of Russia's estimated 600 tons of fissile material in four years ï¿½ a timeline endorsed by the report.
Bush countered that he had increased spending on "nuclear nonproliferation" by 35%.
But Kenneth Luongo, director of nuclear nonproliferation programs in the Clinton administration who now serves as executive director of the Russian-American Nuclear Security Advisory Council, said the president must be counting programs other than the core nuclear nonproliferation efforts known as the Nunn-Lugar programs.
Bush campaign officials said the president's claim that spending on nonproliferation had increased by 35% referred to an increase in the budget for the National Nuclear Security Administration, part of the Department of Energy, whose primary responsibilities include safeguarding nuclear sites and reducing stockpiles in the United States.
4. Kerry, Bush agree on combating nuclear proliferation; dispute details
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The two US presidential candidates agreed Thursday that the spread of nuclear weapons was the biggest threat facing the United States but disagreed over how to combat it.
President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry, his Democratic challenger in the November 2 election, both gave priority to nuclear non-proliferation towards the end of their televised debate here.
"There are terrorists trying to get their hands on that stuff today, and this president, I regret to say, has secured less nuclear material in the last two years since 9/11 than we did in the two years preceding 9/11."
"The president actually cut the money for it. You have to put the money into it and the funding and the leadership," Kerry said. "And part of that leadership is sending the right message to places like North Korea."
The Democrat said Bush was sending "mixed message" by spending hundreds of millions of dollars to research bunker-busting nuclear weapons.
"We're telling other people, you can't have nuclear weapons, but we're pursuing a new nuclear weapon we might even contemplate using," Kerry said, vowing to shut the program down if elected in November.
"We're going to make it clear to the world, we're serious about containing nuclear proliferation, and we're going to get the job of containing all of that nuclear material in Russia."
Bush said he agreed with Kerry the main security challenge was containing the spread of nuclear weapons and keeping them out of the hands of terrorists. He said his administration had boosted funding for this by 35 percent.
The president said Washington had spearheaded a "proliferation security initiative" involving more than 60 nations, had bust a Pakistani network and convinced Libya to disarm.
"We'll be implementing a missile defense system relatively quickly," he added, "and that another way to help deal with the threats that we face in the 21st century. My opponent is opposed to missile defenses."
The two clashed over efforts to persuade North Korea to renounce its nuclear weapons program and called for bilateral talks with Pyongyang as well as multi-party discussions also bringing in China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.
Bush responded: "I can't tell you how big a mistake I think that is to have bilateral talks with North Korea. That's precisely what (North Korean leader) Kim Jong-Il wants. It will cause the six-party talks to evaporate."
"We must have China's leverage on Kim Jong-Il besides ourselves. If you enter bilateral talks, they'll be happy to walk away from the table. I don't think that will work," Bush said.
Regardless of who wins the White House on Nov. 2, the occupant will inherit the increasingly creaky, three-decade-old system of global nuclear controls in dire need of an overhaul, nonproliferation officials say.
President Bush and Senator John F. Kerry made it clear in Thursday's debate that both see nuclear proliferation as the number one security threat facing the United States. A burgeoning global black market allows more countries -- and possibly terrorist groups -- to acquire atomic material more easily, while states wishing to pursue a nuclear option have become increasingly adept at developing the know-how on their own and at hiding it from international scrutiny.
''Common sense and recent experience make clear that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which has served us well since 1970, must be tailored to fit 21st-century realities," Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, said in a statement in August.
Iran has managed to develop sufficient expertise to produce a weapon in a few years, most specialists say. Libya was well on its way to a nuclear capability when it voluntarily abandoned its weapons program earlier this year. North Korea appears to be extremely close to acquiring nuclear weapons.
Moreover, Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan was able to run clandestinely a vast smuggling network, described by some officials as a ''nuclear supermarket," for decades.
The main deficiencies in the current system, nonproliferation officials say, are the absence of an international treaty against nuclear trafficking and an emerging ability among an increasing number of countries to master the nuclear fuel cycle, including enriching uranium and separating plutonium, a key step in developing nuclear weapons.
The main international organization controlling nuclear exports is an informal 44-nation body called the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Established in 1975, the group follows a set of guidelines for the export of nuclear material and technology to assure that it is not used for weapons programs.
But when Khan, the founder of Pakistan's nuclear program, confessed earlier this year that he had provided atomic secrets to Iran, Libya, and North Korea since the late 1980s, many nonproliferation officials began calling for a stronger antitrafficking system.
''Perhaps the most disturbing lesson to emerge from our work in Iran and Libya is the existence of an extensive illicit market for the supply of nuclear items, which clearly thrived on demand," ElBaradei said in a Sept. 20 speech at the IAEA's general conference. ''The relative ease with which a multinational illicit network could be set up and operated demonstrates clearly the inadequacy of the present export-control system."
In a Feb. 12 opinion column published by The New York Times, the IAEA chief called for the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which he calls a ''gentlemen's agreement," to be replaced with universal and legally binding ''treaty-based controls" on nuclear exports.
But stronger export controls alone will not stop countries seeking nuclear weapons from developing an indigenous capacity to do so, officials say.
Under the nonproliferation treaty, only the United States, Russia, China, Great Britain, and France are permitted to possess nuclear weapons, and they agree not to provide them to other nations.
Three nuclear nations, Pakistan, India, and Israel, have refused to sign the treaty and are not subject to its provisions. North Korea withdrew from the treaty last year. All others must submit their civilian nuclear power programs to IAEA inspections and monitoring to assure that they are not used to build weapons.
But under the treaty, all signatories are allowed to enrich uranium and separate plutonium, key steps in a nuclear weapons program that also have civilian applications, as long as these activities are subject to IAEA inspections.
This allows for what IAEA officials call the risk of ''breakout," the ability of states to develop key nuclear expertise up to the brink of having a weapons capability while abiding by the letter of the nonproliferation treaty and adhering to IAEA monitoring.
If such a state then decides to pursue nuclear weapons, it can withdraw from the treaty with three months' notice and potentially activate its weapons shortly thereafter.
To close this loophole, ElBaradei has proposed amending the nonproliferation treaty to prohibit individual countries, other than the five declared nuclear powers, to enrich uranium and separate plutonium and to place the processes under international control. He has also called for the clause allowing signatories to withdraw from the treaty after giving three months' notice, as North Korea did last year, be revoked.
After the 1991 Gulf War, IAEA inspectors discovered that Iraq had developed a covert nuclear program. The revelations led to an amendment called the Additional Protocol, which allows for snap inspections that are not limited to declared nuclear facilities. Out of the 188 signatories of the nonproliferation treaty, 86 nations have signed on to the Additional Protocol. Of these, 60 have ratified it.
1. Russia maintaining nuclear parity with U.S. - Ivanov
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Russia is maintaining its nuclear parity with the United States, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said.
"We are buying as many [intercontinental ballistic missiles] as we need to maintain nuclear parity, however not the Cold War-era parity, rather, parity taking into account the interests of state security," Ivanov told reporters in Sochi on Friday.
1. BUSHEHR COMMISSIONING PUT OFF, SAY WESTERN MEDIA. IRAN DENIES
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The commissioning of the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear plant Unit One has been postponed, alleged certain Western-based media outlets. Hamid Reza Assefi, official spokesman of Iran's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, denied the news.
"We had negotiations with Russia on that score. It pledged to finish the works on schedule, and we expect it so," he said to a media audience today.
Physical commissioning of Unit One was scheduled for next year, and exploitation is to start in 2006.
IAEA experts are to appear in Teheran within a few days to settle issues remaining on the Iranian nuclear programme agenda, added Mr. Assefi.
"Negotiations with Agency experts, who are to appear quite soon, will help to settle certain minor problems of Iranian nuclear programmes," he said.
As for a schedule to recommence uranium enrichment, the diplomat said the works have not restarted for now, and Iran will eventually announce a deadline.
Iran's envoy to Russia assured Moscow on Thursday Tehran would work with the UN atomic agency to remove all concerns about its nuclear program after Russia criticized Iran's stance on the issue.
In a note sent to Reuters after talks between Iranian Ambassador Gholamreza Shafei and Russia's top nuclear official, Alexander Rumyantsev, Iran stressed making nuclear fuel did not breach any UN nuclear rules.
"During the conversation Iran stressed that the Islamic Republic's nuclear program is fully peaceful," it said. "While continuing to work with the IAEA and the global community to prove the Iranian nuclear program is peaceful, Iran states that making nuclear fuel is within norms stipulated by the NPT (nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty)...and no country can take away that right."
Russia has been building a nuclear power station near the Iranian city of Bushehr.
The Iranian embassy also said Rumyantsev would travel to Iran in late November to discuss nuclear ties.
Russia offered Wednesday to resume construction of a nuclear power plant in Iran if Iran will return the spent fuel, the Interfax news agency reported.
At a Moscow news conference, Russian Security Council secretary Igor Ivanov made the offer of returning to the Bushehr facility.
Iran quite rightfully raises the question that it should have equal access with other countries to advanced technologies, including nuclear technologies used for peaceful purposes, Ivanov said. Russia is demonstrating in practice that the demand is righteous and therefore we cooperate with Iran.
International concerns were raised that spent nuclear fuel can be reprocessed into weapons-grade uranium, which prompted Russia to suspend its construction of reactors in Iran.
Russia should develop its activity in space bearing in mind the U.S. ï¿½space expansion,ï¿½ President of the Russian Tsiolkovsky Academy of Cosmonautics (RAKTs) Vladimir Senkevich said at a news conference on Monday.
He presented a report prepared by RAKTs experts on conditions of, and prospects for the development of Russiaï¿½s space activity in a period up to the year 2035.
ï¿½At present, over 800 spaceships are functioning in orbits, almost 400 of them belong to the United States,ï¿½ Senkevich said. ï¿½Russia has about 100 satellites now, although it used to have double that number in the past.
ï¿½Since we ranked the worldï¿½s second in financing the national space activity, we have rolled down to the ninth place,ï¿½ he said. ï¿½We now lag behind Japan, China and the European Space Agency (ESA).ï¿½
RAKTs experts deem it necessary to make a wider use of the existing space facilities in the interests of the Armed Forces. In this connection, the Academy plans to implement a number of projects, such as ï¿½the creation of a new generation of state-of-the-art defense facilities with all-weather jam-proof intelligence systems combined with systems of precision-guided weapons and guidance systems based on different carriers,ï¿½ Senkevich said.
According to experts, it is necessary to make information support from space available to ï¿½every soldier.ï¿½
As of mid-2004, Russiaï¿½s orbital grouping comprised 91 spacecraft, among them 58 defense or dual-purpose satellites.
The Russian Tsiolkovsky Academy of Cosmonautics is a scientific-research organization that works out proposals and recommendations for the development of Russiaï¿½s space activity.
Bulgaria and Russia will sign a long-term program of bilateral cooperation in the sector of energy during the visit of Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov to Bulgaria on October 19-20.
The document, which has already been drafted, is going to be discussed by experts and handed over to the Bulgarian side through diplomatic channels, according to Russia's government staff head Sergei Naryshkin, who took part in the Russian-Bulgarian intergovernmental commission for trade, economic, research and technology cooperation.
Russia also declared interest in cooperation in atomic energy, particularly the upgrade of units at Bulgaria's sole nuclear plant Kozloduy, supplies of nuclear fuel and return of spent fuel to Russia.
Bulgaria has recently revived the plan to build a second nuclear power plant on the Danube river a decade after it was shelved amid protests from environmentalists.
The move came in response to the closure of two units at Kozloduy in 2002. The shut-down of the two oldest units came after many years of concern over their safety, strong pressure from the European Union, protests from the nuclear lobby and opposition parties that the reactors are economically necessary.
The Armenian nuclear power plant was stopped, July last, for an overhaul and refuelling. It will recommence work October 4, on schedule, Gaghik Markosyan, its Director General, announced today.
The plant has scheduled repairs annually, and overhauls once every four years, he added.
This year's overhaul concerned turbine No. 4. There was also a thorough check of the metal reactor casing. Industrial safety has been increased, and the refuelling procedure has been introduced, Mr. Markosyan said to Novosti.
The Armenian nuclear plant stopped in the small hours, July 30. Another, 12 million dollar batch of nuclear fuel was finally delivered to the plant the week before.
Commissioned in 1980, the plant was shut down in March 1989 and re-commissioned, November 1995, with an acute energy crisis in the country. The INTER United Russian Power Grid paid for its fuel, according to a contract.
Unit 2, with a first-generation VVER-440 water-cooled reactor, of Russian manufacture, accounts for an average 30-40 per cent of Armenia's entire electricity. Experts think the plant can safely work up to 2016.
Plant management was warranted for five years, September last, to the INTER United Russian Power Grid, United Russian Power Grid-its branch, and the Rosenergoatom Russian nuclear industrial concern.
The European Union expressly demands the plant sealed, and is willing to grant 100 million Euro for the purpose, while Armenian experts think it will take close on a billion Euro to build sufficient substitute plants in the country.
1. Global Stocks of Nuke Bomb Material Growing-Survey
Louis Charbonneau, Reuters
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The world's stockpiles of plutonium and highly enriched uranium useable in atomic weapons are growing, despite increasing fears about the security of nuclear materials, a U.S. based think-tank says in a new report.
The estimates of civilian and military stocks of plutonium and highly enriched uranium (HEU) -- information treated by most governments as classified -- were prepared by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), run by former U.N. weapons inspector David Albright.
"At the end of 2003, there were more than 3,700 metric tons of plutonium and highly enriched uranium -- uranium enriched to 20 percent or uranium-235 -- enough for hundreds of thousands of nuclear weapons, in about 60 countries," Albright and Kimberly Kramer wrote in an article to be published in the next issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
Most of the weapons-useable material is in Russia, followed by the United States.
In response to intelligence reports that terrorists are interested in acquiring nuclear weapons, the United States and Russia are working with the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to recover and secure all U.S. and Russian bomb-grade material spread across the globe.
Other states with some plutonium or HEU include the other declared nuclear powers -- Britain, France and China -- as well as Belgium, Italy, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and former nuclear power South Africa, ISIS says.
North Korea, which withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) last year, had some 15 to 39 kg of plutonium and two to nine nuclear weapons at the end of 2003, according to a table in the article.
The article says that military plutonium stocks are also growing in Israel, Pakistan and India -- countries known to possess nuclear weapons but which have not signed the NPT and are therefore not subject to IAEA safeguards.
The fact that states outside the NPT continue to make bomb material highlights the need for "an international ban on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons," it says.
Albright and Kramer are not optimistic: "Civil plutonium stocks are not expected to decrease in the next 15 years."
WORRIES ABOUT SECURITY
It takes around 10 kg of plutonium-239 or 16-25 kg of HEU enriched to around 90 percent uranium-235 (U-235) to fuel a weapon. ISIS estimates that at the end of 2003 there was a total of 1,855 tonnes of plutonium and 1,900 tonnes of HEU globally.
Most of the plutonium was in civilian hands, while the HEU was mostly in military stocks.
Some of the weapons-useable nuclear material produced around the world is disposed of, but the total amount keeps growing, Albright and Kramer say in their article, an advance copy of which was provided to Reuters.
"This is worrisome not only because the world has yet to come up with an accepted method of plutonium disposition but also from a security standpoint -- how safe is that plutonium and HEU?"
Coastal countries like Ireland, New Zealand and Peru complain about the security of transporting nuclear materials through their territorial waters. These countries say that dangerous shipments of fissile or highly radioactive materials are often moved through their waters without their knowledge.
The environmental pressure group Greenpeace says on its Web site that 140 kg of plutonium -- enough for at least 14 weapons -- is now en route to France, where it is to be converted into nuclear reactor MOX fuel.
Nuclear depots are well-guarded, no additional security measures are required to counter terrorist challenges," Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov told newsmen when on a tour about the Orlov region.
The government has adopted, at the initiative of the defence ministry, a federal targeted programme on retooling the armaments and munitions depots, said the minister. He added that as soon as he had assumed the post 3,5 years before all the bases and warehouses began introducing regular anti-terrorist measures.
"Formerly, the inventory of munitions, including trotyl, was made rarely. However, some problems have still survived," said the minister.
Anti-terrorism exercises have been held at the defence ministry's munitions and explosives base in the Orlov region where Ivanov is on a visit.
"While making a routine trip about the Oryol region, I have visited today a very important site-a major munitions and explosives storage. I wanted to a make a personal inspection of the way this base is guarded and technically equipped," said Ivanov.
"We have conducted a brief counter-terrorist game, tested the base's technical condition and its guarding system," said the minister.
"The inventory is kept quite O.K. at this base. But coordination of all security systems, including those of the interior ministry, should be improved," he noted.
Ivanov said that when "a detailed check-up" was underway, methods of repelling terrorist threats were tested.
The procedures for launching a joint NATO-Russia peacekeeping operation were examined in a two-day exercise held at NATO Headquarters between 28 and 30 September.
This was the first time ever that NATO and Russia have held such an exercise. It reflects a growing determination of the NATO member states and the Russian Federation to work together in addressing jointly today's complex security challenges.
In the exercise, the 27 member countries of the NATO-Russia Council were confronted with a fictional international crisis situation that required the generation of a joint peacekeeping force to enforce a UN-sponsored peace agreement.
In the space of three days, civilian and military decision-makers in Brussels and from the capitals had to analyse the situation and consider general political guidelines for the planning that would be necessary for the envisaged joint operation.
Preparing for joint operations
The exercise addressed the political aspects of the procedures for the planning and conduct of joint NATO-Russia peacekeeping operations, which were agreed by the 27 nations in 2002.
A number of practical issues were identified for subsequent discussion in the NATO-Russia Council.
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