1. Stage One of Chemical Weapons Destruction Facility to be Launched in March
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The first stage of a chemical weapons destruction facility in the Kirov region in European Russia's northeast will be launched in March 2006, Regional Governor Nikolai Shaklein told a press conference Thursday.
He said all chemical weapons in the Kirov region, which is one of Russia's six regions with chemical weapons arsenals and holds second place in the country in terms of its stock (17.4% of national chemical weapons stock), should be destroyed by 2012.
Shaklein said some of the ammunition have expired storage terms. He said such weapons are destroyed in line with special secure technology.
The Maradykovsky arsenal holds 40,791 aviation weapons and warheads, which means 6,936 metric tons of nerve agents.
All of the ammunition was produced between 1953 and 1987.
For 50 years under Soviet rule, nearly everything about the Odessa Antiplague Station was a state secret, down to the names of the deadly microbes its white-coated workers collected and stored in a pair of ordinary freezers.
Cloistered in a squat, gray building at the tip of a rusting shipping dock, the station's biologists churned out reports on grave illnesses that were mentioned only in code. Anthrax was Disease No. 123, and plague, which killed thousands here in the 19th century, was No. 127. Each year, researchers added new specimens to their frozen collection and shared test results with sister institutes along a network controlled by Moscow.
Today, the Soviets are gone but the lab is still here, in this Black Sea port notorious for its criminal gangs and black markets. It is just one of more than 80 similar "antiplague" labs scattered across the former Soviet Union, from the turbulent Caucasus to Central Asian republics that share borders with Iran and Afghanistan. Each is a repository of knowledge, equipment and lethal pathogens that weapons experts have said could be useful to bioterrorists.
After decades of operating in the shadows, the labs are beginning to shed light on another secret: How the Soviet military co-opted obscure civilian institutes into a powerful biological warfare program that built weapons for spreading plague and anthrax spores. As they ramped up preparations for germ warfare in the 1970s and 1980s, Soviet generals mined the labs for raw materials, including highly lethal strains of viruses and bacteria that were intended for use in bombs and missiles.
The facilities' hidden role is described in a draft report of a major investigation by scholars from the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. The main conclusions of the report, which was provided to The Washington Post, were echoed in interviews with current and former U.S. officials familiar with the labs. Most scientists who worked in antiplague stations in Soviet times knew nothing of their contributions to the weapons program, the report says.
The labs today are seeking to fill a critical role in preventing epidemics in regions where medical services and sanitation have deteriorated since Soviet times. But an equally pressing challenge is security: How to prevent the germ collections and biological know-how from being sold or stolen.
"They often have culture collections of pathogens that lack biosecurity, and they employ people who are well-versed in investigating and handling deadly pathogens," said Raymond A. Zilinskas, a bioweapons expert and coauthor of the draft report on the antiplague system. "Some are located at sites accessible to terrorist groups and criminal groups. The potential is that terrorists and criminals would have little problem acquiring the resources that reside in these facilities."
Managers of the old antiplague stations are aware of their vulnerabilities but lack the most basic resources for dealing with them, according to the Monterey authors and U.S. officials. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, budgets at the institutes have fallen so steeply that even the simplest security upgrades are out of reach. One facility in a Central Asian capital could not even afford a telephone and had no way of contacting police in the event of a break-in. At least two antiplague centers outside Russia have acknowledged burglaries or break-ins within the past three years, though there are no confirmed reports of stolen pathogens or missing lab equipment, Monterey officials said.
The lack of modern biosafety equipment is also raising concern among U.S. officials about the potential for an accidental release of deadly bacteria and viruses. In Odessa, where 44 scientists and about 140 support staff carry out research in the I.I. Mechnikov Antiplague Scientific and Research Institute, scientists wearing cotton smocks and surgical masks work with lethal microbes that in the West would be locked away in high-containment laboratories and handled only by scientists in spacesuits.
The lab's scientists said their training in handling dangerous materials allowed them to work safely with pathogens without Western-style safety equipment -- which they viewed as unnecessary and which in any case they cannot afford.
"Many of the institutes are located in downtown areas, and some work with pathogens with windows wide open," said Sonia Ben Ouagrham, who coauthored the Monterey study with Zilinskas and Alexander Melikishvili.
The obscurity of the antiplague stations is hampering their ability to fix the problems, the researchers said. The institutes were not officially part of the Soviet bioweapons complex, so they have been deemed ineligible for the tens of millions of dollars in aid given each year by U.S. and Western governments to keep former weapons scientists from selling their expertise.
Western governments are just beginning to look for ways to help the institutes, and not only because of the bioterrorism threat. In a two-year study of Russia's biotech industry, a panel of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences recently urged former Soviet republics to modernize the antiplague labs and integrate them with other global networks that seek to prevent outbreaks of diseases from becoming pandemics. "The Russian Anti-plague System, regardless of any involvement it might have had in the former offensive program, serves an important public health need," said David Franz, panel chairman and director of Kansas State University's National Agricultural Biosecurity Center.
Any weakening of the antiplague network has consequences for the control of infectious diseases throughout the world, and especially in Europe, said Monterey's Zilinskas.
"These institutes have served to prevent diseases such as plague, tularemia and Crimean-Congo fever from spilling over," he said, referring to a flulike fever sometimes referred to as "rabbit flu" and a hemorrhagic viral fever. "Some Europeans are unaware of this biological threat on their southeastern flank. Others are aware, but so far, are choosing not to be engaged."
Growth of a Secret Soviet System
The name "antiplague" reflects a grim reality of the Czarist and early Soviet periods, when the first antiplague stations were created: Plague, or black death, was a frequent visitor to Russia and neighboring countries well into the 20th Century.
Plague is caused by a bacterium, Yersinia pestis , and it is most commonly transmitted to people by animal or insect carriers, such as rats. It is the same illness that killed an estimated one-third of the population of Europe in the 14th century. Today, plague is easily treated with antibiotics, although a rare form of the disease -- pneumonic plague, caused by breathing the bacteria into the lungs -- is highly lethal and is considered a weapon of choice for germ warfare or bioterrorism.
In Odessa alone, a sea port of just over 1 million people, tourists can visit eight different cemeteries for plague victims, including Plague Mountain, a grassy mound that served as a mass grave for victims of an 1812 outbreak that killed more than 2,600 people.
The first antiplague stations were established to help contain such outbreaks. A dozen of them already were operating by the end of the reign of the last czar. The start of the Soviet era in 1917 brought many new institutes, new priorities and an expanded list of diseases, including tularemia, cholera and anthrax.
The Monterey Institute's report studies how the institutes evolved under Soviet leadership , and draws on scores of interviews and visits to more than 40 antiplague institutes and field stations. Some details emerged previously from the writings and testimony of Soviet weapons scientists.
By all accounts, the antiplague network grew dramatically under the Soviets, both in size and sophistication. By the end of the Soviet period it boasted 14,000 employees and 88 permanent facilities, including six major antiplague institutes, 26 regional stations and 53 smaller field stations.
Odessa's facility was a regional station, first opened in 1937 to battle recurring outbreaks of plague linked to infected rats that were arriving by ship. The original building on a municipal dock was later exchanged for a walled compound of three-story buildings painted pale blue. Inside, scientists dissected infected rats and birds in separate virology and bacteriology labs, using equipment that would be considered outmoded in many U.S. high schools today. For years, until the lab purchased autoclaves for cremating contaminated materials, the bodies of the diseased animals were simply buried in the lab's courtyard.
Beginning in the 1950s, the Soviet military began to exert influence over research priorities in the facilities. At first, the Monterey report says, antiplague institutes were asked to help bolster the nation's defenses against a possible foreign biological attack. The assignment was code-named "Problem Five," and it required scientists to expand on their already-proven ability to respond to a sudden outbreak. Researchers refined techniques for detecting and identifying pathogens, established rapid-response teams and aided the investigation of new drugs.
A growing international consensus against biological warfare prompted the Soviets to shift to a new direction. In 1969, President Richard M. Nixon unilaterally halted U.S. production of biological weapons. Three years later, the Soviet Union joined the United States and other nations in signing the Biological Weapons Convention, outlawing biological weapons. Within the next two years, the Soviets secretly began to build a massive offensive weapons program. Much of it was hidden inside a sprawling civilian-run enterprise called Biopreparat, which put tens of thousands of scientists to work on bioweapons projects disguised as pharmaceutical research.
The ruse worked. Western governments did not become fully aware of true of purpose of Biopreparat until a leading Soviet scientist, Vladimir Pasechnik, defected to Britain in 1989.
A Steady Supply of Virulent Strains
When Soviet generals began their expanded buildup of bioweapons in the 1970s, they looked to the antiplague network for help, the Monterey authors said. The largest antiplague institutions were enlisted into a new program, code-named "Problem F," or simply "Ferment."
According to Zilinskas and others, the antiplague institutes were a goldmine for the military because they provided "ready-to-use information, biomaterial and expertise."
Precise details of the antiplague institutes' work remain unclear. The Russian government still refuses to officially acknowledge the existence of the Soviet Union's offensive weapons program. Russia also has outlawed any disclosures of classified information from the pre-1992, Soviet era. But scientists now living outside Russia have brought many key facts to light, the researchers said. It is now known, for example, that key antiplague institutes during this period came under the command of Soviet military officers, some of whom once worked at military biological facilities.
It is also clear, they said, that Soviet bioweapon engineers relied on the antiplague institutes for basic research and identification of pathogen strains that were exceptionally lethal.
"There was a secret law that enjoined all antiplague institutes to send the government any kind of virulent strain that might be used for defensive purposes," said Zilinskas. Soviet bioweapons that most likely originated in antiplague centers include bacterial strains that cause plague, anthrax and tularemia, the report concludes. In addition, it is believed that one of the antiplague facilities, in Volgograd, helped Biopreparat scientists develop weaponized versions of the bacteria that cause glanders and melioidosis, two livestock diseases that also attack humans. "This collaboration probably went beyond the mere supplying of strains," the authors write. "It included efforts to weaponize wild bacterial strains."
The bioweapons program was so secret that many researchers didn't know about it. Lev Mogilevsky, deputy director of the Odessa research facility and a 36-year veteran of the antiplague system, said he believed it was impossible that his institute could have contributed to the creation of offensive biological weapons. But he did remember working on joint projects with military medical units in the 1970s and '80s, during which the exchange of information was decidedly one-way.
"We would hold meetings to discuss Problem Five, and there would be many institutes participating, including military ones," Mogilevsky recalled. "Our contributions would be open, but the military's never were. They revealed nothing."
Under-funded, Under-staffed and Unsecured
Today, the Odessa antiplague station and others like it throughout the former Soviet Union face a new generation of difficulties. Even the simple task of gathering field specimens can be a challenge, because it requires travel. That means using the institute's aging van, which is often in need of repairs, and purchasing gasoline, which the lab cannot afford.
To grow bacteria for testing, the scientists need a sterile nutrient broth, or growth medium, common to biological labs all over the world. But again, the Odessa lab has no money for such supplies. Workers improvise by collecting meat scraps, boiling them down in the lab and skimming off the fat.
The list goes on: Glassware. Lab chemicals. Fax paper. Microscope parts. Testing kits.
"Our budget has been very much decreased. The equipment that we have is old," said Mogilevsky. "Basically what we have is enough to sustain the lab at a very low level of activity."
Other shortages, unrelated to lab work, trouble the institute's deputy director. He worries about broken alarm sensors, ancient locks that need replacing and walls that should be built higher and stronger to keep out intruders. He wonders whether a single guard is enough, and if not, how he could possibly afford another.
When the Monterey Institute and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit group, brought scores of antiplague scientists together two years ago for their first post-Soviet-era meeting, complaints about inadequate supplies and plummeting budgets were a common refrain. In fact, Odessa's plight was nowhere near the worst.
"All were in poor shape," said Zilinskas, who has helped launch a program that brings antiplague scientists to the United States for training. "Some of the facilities received literally no money from their governments, at all."
Many of the centers in the ex-Soviet republics continue to maintain high professional standards, the researchers said, thanks in part to a core of older scientists who were trained under the Soviet system in classic laboratory techniques. But today, training is harder to come by, even for the few young scientists who are willing to accept starting salaries of less than $25 a week.
Over time, continued cost-cutting inevitably will undermine the labs' ability to function at all. And that, the researchers said, has a cost of its own.
"If the system shuts down because of lack of equipment and funding, there's a risk of an epizootic outbreak among animals that becomes an outbreak among humans," said Monterey's Ouagrham. "And humans travel."
2. FSB Director: Terrorists Attempt to Acquire Biological Weapon
FOCUS News Agency
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Director of Russiaï¿½s Federal Security Service (FSB) Nikolay Patrushev convinced the public that international terrorists will not get an opportunity to acquire biological, nuclear or chemical weapons, RIA Novosti reported.
According to Patrushev ï¿½terrorists do not have opportunity to supply the weapons of mass destruction they want at the present momentï¿½. He also said that Russian Security Services have at their disposal information regarding some terrorist formationsï¿½ attempts to acquire such weapons. According to Patrushev protective measures need to be developed and introduced in order to avoid possible attacks.
Terrorist groups are making attempts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear and biological weapons, Federal Security Service director Nikolai Patrushev told colleagues from other former Soviet republics on Friday.
"The terrorists are striving to obtain access to biological, nuclear and chemical weapons. We record this, and we have such information," Patrushev said at a meeting with his counterparts from other countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States.
"Our mission is to deny them such access," Patrushev said at the meeting in Aktau, Kazakhstan, which followed a counterterrorism exercise in which CIS forces simulated the seizure of an oil tanker by a terrorist group in the Caspian Sea.
Patrushev did not give any details about who had tried to acquire WMD or when and where the attempts had taken place. Russia and the other 11 countries of the CIS were supposed to have destroyed their biological weapons long ago in accordance with international conventions.
The United States and several other countries have expressed worries that terrorists could acquire nuclear, biological or chemical weapons materials in Russia and other former Soviet republics.
Patrushev said the Federal Security Service, or FSB, was evaluating security and accountability in the defense industry and other enterprises that are or have been involved in the development and production of WMD to ensure that they are impenetrable to terrorist groups.
"We are really checking these enterprises and, as of today, we are taking measures to eliminate those flaws that exist," he said, Interfax reported.
He said the FSB was focusing on preventive measures.
"At the moment, we evaluate the situation this way: Terrorists will not get the weapons they're striving for," he said. "Nonetheless, in light of the aim of terrorists to get access to weapons of mass destruction, we must perfect this work."
Earlier this summer, the chief of the Defense Ministry's nuclear safety and security department said there was a constant stream of intelligence from the FSB indicating that terrorist groups were developing plans to target the military's nuclear arsenals. "We have special information continuously coming from the Federal Security Service on terrorist groups' plans against our facilities," Igor Valynkin, head of the ministry's 12th Main Directorate, said in June.
Patrushev's comments came after Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev threatened to stage new terrorist attacks and hinted that he might go beyond conventional attacks. In an interview broadcast by the U.S. television network ABC on July 28, Basayev vowed to "do everything possible" to end the second Chechen war. Basayev had ordered radioactive materials planted in Moscow and threatened to detonate them to end the first Chechen war.
"I am trying not to cross the line. And so far, I have not crossed it," Basayev said in the interview, which was taped in late June. Basayev has claimed responsibility for the Beslan school hostage-taking, which killed more than 330 people, and scores of other terrorist attacks.
During the first and second wars, Chechen rebels sought to acquire radioactive and biological materials, plotted to hijack a nuclear submarine and cased military nuclear installations.
While initially skeptical of the threat of WMD terrorism, Russian authorities are increasingly acknowledging the imminence of the menace and are working to safeguard nuclear, chemical and biological substances at military and civil installations with financial and technical assistance from the West.
One sign of this change in attitude is that the military and the FSB are holding regular exercises in repelling possible terrorist attacks on nuclear installations. The next CIS counterterrorism exercise will focus on repelling an attack on a nuclear power plant and will take place in Armenia in 2006, Patrushev said.
Patrushev also said the FSB had helped investigate violence in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijan earlier this year.
He said the FSB had offered to assist in the London subway and bus bombings but that the offer had been declined.
A cargo of radioactive litter has been found in Russiaï¿½s far eastern port of Vladivistok, Russian news agencies reported on August 13.
The Primtechnopolis radiation safety company became alarmed after its monitoring devices showed a radiation level surpassing the normal level 100 times in the port.
A check revealed 89 radioactive items, previously spare parts for equipment, RIA Novosti reported. In a special operation that lasted six hours the dangerous pieces were sorted and taken away from the port, and the radiation level stabilized.
Considering the small size of the cargo, the radiation level of 1,500 micro-roentgen per hour that it produced was very impressive, the Primtechnopolis representatives told Interfax.
3. Pak, Russian Scientists Maintain Al Qaeda's N Arsenal: Book
Press Trust of India
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Terror outfit al Qaeda is paying nuclear scientists from Russia and Pakistan to maintain its existing nuclear arsenal and assemble additional weapons, claims a forthcoming book by former FBI consultant.
Quoting documents purportedly seized in Afghanistan, the author Paul Williams said the terror group also plans to assemble its own nuclear weapons with fissile material it purchased on the black market over a period of ten years.
In the book "The Al Qaeda Connection: International Terrorism, Organied Crime and the Coming Apocalypse", he contends that Al Qaeda has already planted in the US nuclear weapons it obtained from the Soviet Union.
"It has obtained 40 of them from the Soviet Union and these include suitcase nukes, nuclear mines, artillery shells and even some missile warheads," he said.
In addition to capability to detonate its own nuclear weapons also smuggled through criminal gangs across the Mexican broder and already planted in the U.S., Williams' book said there was evidence to suggest that al Qaeda was paying former Russian special forces Spetznaz to assist them in locating nuclear weapons formerly concealed inside the US by the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
4. Russian Security Chief Says Weapons of Mass Destruction Protected From Terrorists: Report
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Weapons of mass destruction in Russia are well protected, but measures to keep them out of terrorist hands must still be improved, the Interfax news agency quoted the chief of Russiaï¿½s security service as saying on Friday.
ï¿½Terrorists are striving to get access to biological, nuclear and chemical weapons,ï¿½ Interfax quoted Nikolai Patrushev, head of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, as saying after a joint counterterrorism exercise in Kazakhstan.
Patrushev said that ï¿½at the moment we evaluate the situation in this way: Terrorists will not get the weapons theyï¿½re striving for,ï¿½ according to the report. ï¿½Nonetheless, in light of the aim of terrorists to get access to weapons of mass destruction, we must perfect this work.ï¿½
He said authorities are acting to remove unspecified shortcomings in protection systems.
The statements came amid persistent fears, particularly in the United States, that terrorists could acquire biological, chemical or nuclear weapons materials in Russia or other former Soviet republics.
Patrushev, whose agency is the main successor of the Soviet KGB, also said that British security services had refused his offer of Russian help in the investigation into the July bombings in London, Interfax reported.
ï¿½I contacted leaders of (British) counterespionage and offered our help. They thanked us but refused our services,ï¿½ the agency quoted him as saying. But he said Russia and British security services planned to exchange information that could be mutually useful.
1. Iranian President Appreciates Relations With Russia and Rules Out Deadlock on "Nuclear Dossier"
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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stressed the importance of enhancing Russian-Iranian relations and said he was sure talks with the European Union on the Iranian "nuclear dossier" would not come to a deadlock.
"Moscow and Tehran are extending comprehensive cooperation, including in the settlement of international problems, which is very important," the Iranian president said in an interview. He added that nobody could spoil these relations.
"We think that the development of comprehensive cooperation corresponds to long-term interests of the Russian and Iranian nations," Ahmadinejad said.
Touching upon the problem of the country's "nuclear dossier", the Iranian leader said talks between Iran and the European troika (the United Kingdom, France and Germany) were unlikely to reach a deadlock.
Speaking on Russia's possible assistance in solving the problem, Ahmadinejad said, "If Moscow takes a fair position and abides by the Non-Proliferation Treaty and its additional protocol as Iran does, this will improve the nations' relations and help enhance security in the region and of Russia and Iran."
On August 10, Iran resumed the work of the Isfahan Nuclear Technology Center to process uranium-bearing ore. The EU considered this move as lifting the moratorium on uranium-enrichment and called an emergency session of the IAEA (the International Atomic Energy Agency) Board of Governors. The body adopted a resolution urging Iran to suspend all kinds of work on uranium-enrichment.
Tehran turned down the document, calling it "politically motivated and unacceptable for a state". In his estimation of the Iranian "nuclear dossier" problem, President of the United States George Bush did not rule out the possibility to use force to solve the problem. However, the EU and Tehran announced they were set to continue a dialogue on the problem.
1. Russia to Field Latest N-Capable MiG-35 in India
Press Trust of India
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Russia is to field its latest nuclear capable MiG-35 fighter against US F-16 and French Mirage 2000 in the tender to be floated for the acquisition of 125 aircraft for the Indian Air Force to replace its ageing MiG-21 fleet, a top Russian official said.
"We will offer our MiG-35 multirole fighters with thrust vectoring control along with transfer of technology for indigenous production in India," Director General and Chief Designer of Russian Aircraft Corporation (RAC) 'MiG' Alexei Fedorov said after display of its capabilities by "MiG-29OVT" at the air show in Zhukovsky.
Fedorov said it has been decided to market the MiG-29OVT with thrust vectoring control (TVC) under the MiG-35 brand.
"It has incorporated all the features of MiG-29M/M2 fighters developed on the basis of MiG-29 frontline fighter and today we can offer top-of-the-line multirole combat aircraft with in-flight refuelling," Fedorov said.
Fedorov was appointed RAC MiG Director General by the Russian government last year after he successfully executed Sukhoi Su-30MKI deal with India as the President of Irkut Corporation manufacturer of Su-30MKI.
According to MiG Deputy Chief Designer Andrei Karasyov MiG-35 is capable of delivering all present and future weapons, since it has universal open architecture.
"It would take not more than 60 flights for the Indian pilots to master the new fighter with thrust vectoring," Chief Test Pilot of RAC MiG Pavel Vlasov said after displaying the capabilities of the new aircraft.
"Today new MiG fighter has the super -manoeuvrability similar to Sukhoi 30MKI," he underscored.
1. Russia, S Korea Call For Resumption of Six-Sided Talks on North Korea
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Russia and South Korea called for the resumption of the fourth round of six-sided talks on the Korean Peninsula at the earliest opportunity.
Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Alexeyev and Deputy Secretary of the South Korean national Security Council Lee Jong Suk ï¿½expressed satisfaction with the level of interaction on the resolution of the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula. The diplomats confirmed their readiness to exert active efforts towards resuming the fourth round of the six-sided talks as soon as possible,ï¿½ the Foreign Ministry said on Monday.
The sides also ï¿½reiterated their mutual desire to expand contacts in order to find ways and methods of achieving the common goal - a nuclear-free status of the Korean Peninsulaï¿½, the ministry said.
1. Mikhail Kamynin, Spokesman , Answers a Question Concerning DPRK's Position on Nuclear Issue
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation
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Question: Please comment on the statement of Konstantin Pulikovsky, the Russian President's plenipotentiary representative in the Far Eastern Federal District, on the remarks of DPRK leader Kim Jong Il about his readiness to abandon nuclear arms on condition that the US ceases its threats against his country.
Answer: The position of the North Korean leadership that was set out had already been conveyed to the world public. Moreover, DPRK representatives had declared readiness, in the case of a normalization of relations with the US and the situation on the Korean Peninsula, to return to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
These issues continue to be in the focus of attention of the participants in the fourth round of six-party talks to resolve the nuclear problem of the Korean Peninsula.
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