A group of U.N. nuclear watchdog inspectors has visited Iran's second network of centrifuges at its Natanz uranium enrichment facility, the official IRNA news agency quoted an official as saying on Sunday.
Despite U.N. Security Council demands that it halt nuclear fuel production work, Iran announced last month that it had started up a second group of 164 centrifuges, which spin at supersonic speeds to enrich uranium.
The networks of centrifuges are known as cascades. Iran says Natanz will eventually house tens of thousands of the machines but that it will only use them to enrich uranium to a level suitable for use in atomic power reactors and not to the much higher level needed to make atom bombs.
"They have visited the second cascade and the Isfahan uranium conversion facility," the unnamed official told IRNA.
The inspectors who arrived in Iran on Friday will stay in the country for four days to collect information for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei's November report to the watchdog, IRNA said.
"Their activities in Iran are based on the (nuclear) Non-Proliferation Treaty and the IAEA's safeguards," the official said, calling the visit a routine part of Iran's commitment to international treaties.
Iran ended snap inspections of its nuclear facilities in February after its case was referred to the Security Council.
The United States is pushing the council to toughen a draft resolution drawn up by Britain, France and Germany for sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.
Russia and China, both veto-holding members of the council, want extensive changes to soften and shorten the resolution.
Iran insists sanctions will not deter it and has threatened to take counter measures, such as curtailing IAEA inspections altogether, if the Security Council does take action against it.
"There is no legal ground to suspend uranium enrichment ... Iran will act proportionally when the resolution is passed," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said in a weekly news conference on Sunday.
Experts say Iran would need thousands of centrifuges spinning non-stop for months to produce enough highly enriched uranium for one atom bomb. Iran says it will install 3,000 centrifuges by March 2007.
2. Iran ready to share missile systems with others:TV
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Iran is ready to share its missile systems with friends and neighbors, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards said, after he showed off missiles including some he said had cluster warheads.
Guards commander-in-chief Yahya Rahim Safavi also told Iran's Arabic-language Al-Alam TV late on Sunday the Guards had thousands of troops trained for suicide missions in case Iran was threatened although he said any U.S. attack was unlikely.
The United States has said it wants to resolve a dispute over Iran's nuclear program by diplomatic means but has not ruled out the use of force. Washington believes Tehran is seeking to make atomic bombs, despite Iranian denials.
"We are able to give our missile systems to friendly and neighboring countries," Safavi told Al-Alam. A text of his comments in Farsi were obtained by Reuters on Monday.
Iran's ambassador to Lebanon, Mohammad Reza Sheibani, was quoted by Iran's semi-official Mehr News Agency on Sunday as saying the Islamic Republic was ready to supply air defense systems -- without giving specifics -- to the Lebanese military.
"Tehran also considers this as its duty to help friendly countries which are exposed to invasion of the Zionist regime (Israel)," Sheibani was quoted saying, in response to what he said was a request by Lebanon's army commander, General Michel Suleiman, for help from friendly states.
Iran funded and supplied Lebanon's Hizbollah militia in the 1980s, but now says its support is political and moral. The group used Iranian-made missiles fighting Israel this summer.
On Thursday, at the start of 10 days of military exercises, Iran's Revolutionary Guards said they fired Shahab missiles with cluster warheads. Experts say the Shahab 3 has a maximum range of 2,000 km, able to hit Israel and U.S. bases in the Gulf.
Military experts said the exercises were to show off Iranian technology, although they say many systems are based on modified versions of equipment from other countries, such as North Korea.
Washington dismissed the maneuvers as "saber-rattling".
"Under the current circumstances, Americans are involved in Afghanistan and the quagmire of Iraq so we do not anticipate any military attack from America," Safavi said.
"But Iran has its own defense and deterrent power and it is very unlikely that America will cause us any problems."
"...We have military weapons which we have not shown off, but we will do in the next maneuvers," Safavi added.
Iran frequently reports tests of new weapons systems, but experts say it rarely gives enough detail to make clear if any significant advances have been made.
"The Revolutionary Guards does not only depend on its technological might because it has thousands of martyrdom seekers and they are ready for martyrdom-seeking operations on a large scale," Safavi said, calling them trained professionals.
An organization has previously said Iranians have signed up for suicide raids in case Iran was attacked, but officials have in the past said the group was independent of the government and not part of the Guards, the ideological wing of Iran's military.
No Iranians are thought to have directly executed suicide bombings in recent years. But the United States accuses Iran of being a state sponsor of terrorism, a charge Tehran denies.
As the Bush administration struggles to rally international pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear program, China and Russia are working to take the most powerful diplomatic weapon off the table: the military option.
Moscow and Beijing insist that a U.N. sanctions resolution under negotiation in New York should avoid language that could be used as a pretext for a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. They have received the tacit backing of the United States' key European partners, Britain, France and Germany.
But analysts say the 15-nation Security Council's refusal to preserve the possibility -- however remote -- of military action has weakened its hand as it confronts one of the most significant challenges of the 21st century: the possible emergence of a radical Middle East government with nuclear weapons.
"What means of enforcement is credible if you start out by saying in the beginning that 'oh, by the way, we're not going to do the one thing that you're most afraid of?' " said Patrick Clawson, deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He said the council should "have the military option on the table" in the event that the government that threatened to wipe Israel off the map does develop nuclear weapons.
The effort to constrain the United States underscores lingering distrust over the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq in March 2003 without explicit Security Council approval, analysts said. It follows a similar push to prevent the United States from adopting U.N. resolutions that one day may be used to punish Sudan and North Korea with stronger sanctions or military force.
"People are afraid it's a slippery slope; that if they agree to sanctions today, they give the authority for military intervention tomorrow," said Edward C. Luck, a Columbia University historian who studies the United Nations. He said the political dispute over the use of force has eroded the council's credibility. "It is a sign of weakness and division," Luck said.
The U.N. debate over the use of force in Iran coincides with a realignment of power in the region that is already diminishing the prospects for U.S. military action against Iran, analysts say. U.S. and NATO military setbacks in Iraq and Afghanistan are eroding public support in the United States for military action in the region. And the United States' European allies are firmly opposed to any U.S. military action in Iran.
The Bush administration maintains that though it never takes the military option off the table, its diplomatic campaign to rally support for sanctions against Iran and North Korea is not a cover for launching new conflicts.
But Russian and Chinese diplomats note that the United States insisted it was committed to diplomacy in the months leading up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. When the United States and Britain failed to secure U.N. backing for a more forceful response, they turned to a 12-year-old resolution as the legal basis for the invasion. Resolution 687 set out the terms of a cease-fire ending the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
"We learned our lesson from what happened in Iraq and that's why we want to be very clear," said a Chinese diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Moscow's former ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters in March that the debate over Iran reminded him of the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion. "That looks so deja vu," Lavrov said. "I don't believe that we should engage in something which might become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are convinced that there is no military solution to this crisis."
But some U.N. observers fear the feud has undercut the body's ability to bluff, emboldening Iran, North Korea and Sudan to openly defy the Security Council and get away with it. "There's a sort of almost tin hollow quality to some of its pronouncements," U.N. Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown said of the Security Council in a speech last month at the Brookings Institution.
Malloch Brown suggested that Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has interpreted the council's inaction as a sign of weakness, and rebuffed its demand to allow more than 20,000 U.N. peacekeepers into Darfur, Sudan, to bring an end to one of the worst human rights calamities in Africa in a decade.
"President Bashir looks at us and he thinks he's seen us blink, and that makes it hugely difficult to credibly address this issue of winning his consent to our deployment," Malloch Brown said. Though he acknowledged there is no stomach for using force to compel Bashir to accept U.N. forces, he said "we can never take the military option off the table."
The U.N. debate over the use of force in Iran and North Korea has focused on Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, a provision that has traditionally been used to enforce U.N. demands through the threat of economic sanctions or military action. Russia and China have refused to support the provision, arguing that it could be used to justify future military action.
The Bush administration argues that a Chapter 7 resolution is required to make sanctions compulsory. "It is simply incorrect" that the phrase "somehow authorizes the use of force," John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said last month.
"There is a suspicion, a misperception that this leads inexorably to the use of force, and it doesn't," British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry added during recent negotiations on North Korea.
Britain, France and Germany brokered a compromise sanctions resolution on Iran that cites Chapter 7, but it explicitly rules out the possibility that it could be used as a pretext for military action.
Some U.N. experts say the debate exaggerates the importance of a Chapter 7 provision in authorizing the use of force. They note that Chapter 7 was never invoked to authorize the United Nations' two most important Cold War enforcement operations, the Korean War and the 1960 Congo peacekeeping operation. The U.N. Security Council did not cite Chapter 7 when it granted U.N. peacekeepers the right to use force against Israeli troops or Hezbollah militia to enforce a cease-fire between the two combatants.
It may be harder to justify military action without using Chapter 7, "but it doesn't completely shut the door," said Colin Keating, New Zealand's former ambassador to the United Nations and the director of the New York-based Security Council Report.
1. Bushehr NPP launch schedule can be reviewed - Russian nuclear source
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The timeframe for launching the Bushehr nuclear power plant, which Russia is building in southern Iran, could be adjusted, a source in Russia's nuclear power sector said Tuesday.
"The approved schedule for the Bushehr power plant's launch envisages a whole set of arrangements, including by the Iranian side, and it could be revised if the Iranian side fails to meet the schedule," the source said.
It was earlier reported that the NPP is to be launched in September 2007, and will begin supplying electricity to the network in November 2007.
2. Russia holds realistic position on Iran nuclear issue - official
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Russia holds a realistic position on the Iran nuclear issue, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Sunday.
Iran has been at the center of an international dispute this year over its nuclear ambitions. Some countries suspect the Islamic Republic of pursuing a covert weapons program, but Tehran has consistently denied the claims and says it needs nuclear energy for civilian needs.
Hosseini said Russia, compared to the other countries of the Iran-6 (the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany) mediating Tehran's controversial nuclear program, held a softer and more realistic position on Iran and China had a similar view.
Three European states (France, Germany and Britain) proposed last week a new draft UN resolution on Iran, which included measures to ban the sale of missile and nuclear technologies to the country, freeze Tehran's military bank accounts and impose visa restrictions for officials linked to the nuclear industry.
But Russia has proposed amendments to the draft resolution, saying the sanctions should be limited to measures to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, and conditions should be provided for continuing negotiations.
3. Moscow against tying UN Iran resolution to Bushehr plant ï¿½ Lavrov
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Moscow is against tying the text of a UN Security Council draft resolution on Iran to the construction of a nuclear power plant in Bushehr by Russia, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists upon returning to Moscow from Brussels.
"As for Bushehr, the resolution [drawn up by the EU3] implies indirectly that if we support them on all issues, they will allow us to complete the Bushehr [plant]. We don't need this," Lavrov said.
"Bushehr is not so much a commercial as a political project," Lavrov said. "Bushehr serves as an anchor keeping Iran within the framework of the nuclear weapons nonproliferation regime," he said.
"Until the resolution on Iran is agreed upon, we will not take any steps to modify the plans of our cooperation with Iran," Lavrov said.
These plans "are in full compliance with international law and do not contradict Russia's or Iran's international agreements, and they absolutely do not violate anything that concerns weapons and trade in arms and do not upset the balance of forces in the region," he said.
As the United States and some of its allies prepare to use warships and aircraft to enforce United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718 against North Korea, they would do well to take a hard look at the politics of the situation, particularly regarding sea interdictions.
China, Japan, South Korea and Russia are unlikely to be directly involved in such interdictions, albeit for different reasons. And all but Japan would not welcome such interdictions by outsiders, especially in waters under their jurisdiction. Thus it is not clear who can or will do what to enforce the resolution at or over the sea.
The resolution drafted by the US and Japan prohibits the transfer to and from North Korea of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, their means of delivery (ballistic missiles) and related materials. This language is very similar to that used in the principles guiding the US-originated and -led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). This "coalition of the willing" is designed to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction through air and sea interdiction if necessary.
Clearly the US wanted to conflate the PSI with Resolution 1718 and thereby legitimize it. The resolution does require all UN member states to prevent the transfer of such material to North Korea using their flag vessels or aircraft, a boost for the PSI. But for compliance with these requirements, it only "calls upon" states, that is, merely requests them, to take cooperative action to prevent illicit trafficking in such materials.
It does not require them to do so. Moreover it clearly states that measures must be taken under UN Charter Chapter VII Article 41, which specifically does not authorize the use of armed force. But such use of armed force would probably be necessary if a country operating under the PSI tried to interdict and board a vessel that refused to stop. In this situation such use of force could be interpreted as an act of war. Even US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has conceded that the PSI "has holes in it", including the lack of a legal basis for interdiction of vessels and aircraft and confiscation of their cargo on the high seas.
After passage of the resolution, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rushed to Northeast Asia to try to coordinate an agreement on action to be taken, including interdiction. But she was compelled to acknowledge that each country had its own views and approaches to implementing the resolution. She also soft-sold and even back-pedaled on interdiction of ships and aircraft.
She hinted that most searches would take place in ports and assured nervous Northeast Asians that any US-led interdictions would be undertaken carefully and selectively based on sound intelligence. However, given the recent history of US intelligence failures, that may not have been particularly reassuring.
And given that most North Korean freighters use the high seas and that China may not be particularly strict in its implementation of the provisions in its ports, the resolution is not very robust. Indeed, Rumsfeld has acknowledged that preventing North Korea from selling its nuclear technology - the United States' next "red line" - is "practically impossible", particularly without the ardent cooperation of China and Russia.
South Korea, a US ally, is being pressured by the United States to join the PSI and help interdict North Korean ships. Not only did it decline entreaties by Rice and Rumsfeld, but it apparently discouraged even a visit by PSI architect and US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton. South Korea maintains that the PSI and Resolution 1718 are separate issues.
South Korea is concerned that if a Northern cargo ship escorted by Northern naval vessels is confronted by Southern naval vessels, a clash is almost certain. And South Korea is also concerned that if it interdicted a Northern vessel - or if it allowed the United States to do so in its waters - North Korea might attack Seoul. North Korea has indicated it would consider such an interdiction a violation of the Armistice ending the Korean War and do just that. South Korea does not want to call the North's bluff in this situation since it is the most vulnerable to attack.
China was the main obstacle to the US desire for a more robust resolution. At China's and Russia's insistence, the authority to use military force was dropped from the draft resolution as was the "requirement" to check all cargo bound to or from North Korea. And although China voted for the resolution, it immediately ruled out its participation in interdiction of vessels or aircraft on or over the high seas, saying that such is not "required".
In addition to refusing to agree to the use of force, China also insisted on insertion of the word "cooperative" regarding any enforcement action to be taken, including the inspection of cargo moving to and from North Korea. This was in part because it opposes foreign interdiction of ships or aircraft in or over its waters. Russia's position is similar. Neither wants to legitimate US policing of Northeast Asian waters.
Japan's new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and leading hawks in his administration support such interdictions. However, there are many inconvenient legal obstacles to Japan's direct involvement in them. Its recently passed Ship Inspection Operations Law allows such interdictions outside its territorial waters only if the government determines that the situation constitutes an emergency affecting the peace and security of Japan.
Otherwise, it cannot use force, including even the firing of live warning shots. Defense Agency Director General Kyuma Fumeo has said it would be difficult to define the North Korean nuclear test as such an emergency. It could perhaps extend logistical support, such as fuel and port services - under the law governing Self-Defense Forces operations to assist the United States - but only to US military forces during emergencies in areas surrounding Japan.
And even if it did so, were a US vessel attacked, Japan could not provide assistance - even if its vessels and aircraft were present - because it would be exercising the prohibited "right to collective self-defense". Thus it is understandable that Foreign Minister Taro Aso has said, "Japan is not thinking of expanding sanctions to cargo inspection."
The initial effort to restrict North Korean trade in weapons of mass destruction and related materials will likely be focused on ports. Rice urged Northeast Asian countries to create a strict system of radiation monitoring and inspections in their ports and airports and at borders on suspicious ships, aircraft, railcars and trucks, and to share intelligence on which ones to check.
The search and seizure (for safety violations) of a North Korean vessel in Hong Kong - an action backed up by a US guided-missile frigate - is probably the first of many such incidents to come. No banned items were uncovered, however, perhaps indicating faulty intelligence, and possibly serving as a caveat for future interdictions.
Regarding at- or over-sea interdictions of North Korean vessels or aircraft, there are several possibilities. The first, already operative, is to station warships and surveillance aircraft in the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan. These assets could serve as a warning of the possible use of force by the United States and others - whether or not it is authorized by Resolution 1718 or really intended. In other words, it could be an elaborate bluff that North Korea would be reluctant to call, particularly if it can transfer such materials through Chinese ports.
A second possibility is that the United States or Australia as a stalking horse will actually interdict an aircraft or vessel if it can be demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that it is carrying prohibited materials. However, such an interdiction would not be welcomed by China, South Korea and Russia. And third, if there is hard evidence of ongoing trade in such items by sea or air, the United States could go back to the Security Council to seek approval for the use of force under Chapter VII Article 42.
But unless and until that is granted, such interdictions, without the permission of the flag state, on or over the high seas could be considered an act of war.
Some thought North Korea was bluffing when it said it would test ballistic missiles. Some thought it was bluffing when it said it had a nuclear weapon. And some thought it was also bluffing when it said it would test it. Now North Korea has threatened war if its vessels or aircraft are interdicted. Given this history of miscalculation on both sides, the United States and its friends in the region need to consider carefully whether they want to contribute to causing a second Korean War.
Kim Jong-ilï¿½s decision to return to the six-party talks after a year-long hiatus is not a big surprise but certainly a temporary relief from concerns about the mounting tension on the Korean peninsula since the Oct. 9 nuclear test. It is only a tactical decision. It fits into a consistent pattern of North Korean behavior _ they always came back to talks with the United States even after they left the table without the promise of a return.
In Seoul, a question was raised during a National Assembly hearing last week regarding whether South Korea was excluded from the trilateral meetings in Beijing talks that produced a compromise that the issue of Macauï¿½s Banco Delta Asia will be discussed by a ï¿½separate mechanism or a working groupï¿½ when North Korea returns to the talks.
The South Korean vice foreign minister said Seoul had put in its own two cents through its ï¿½common and comprehensiveï¿½ approach that was explained to the United States.
However, this question was politically charged for domestic consumption. It was irrelevant to the core issue of how to bring about a denuclearized North Korea. Likewise, it is a moot point that Washington insists that the DPRK agreed to return to the talks without condition.
Pyongyang said its decision for return was ï¿½on the premiseï¿½ _ on the condition _ that the sanction issue ï¿½will be discussed and settled.ï¿½ The U.S. chief negotiator, Christopher Hill, only said the issue will be ï¿½discussed.ï¿½
Pundits speculated Kim Jong-ilï¿½s decision as a result of unbearable pressure from China compounded with the all out sanctions from the UN Security Council resolution 1718. President Bush welcomed the development and thanked China for its role in bringing North Korea to the talks, while vowing to strictly implement the UN resolution.
Kim Jong-il still calls the shots. He decides when to walk out of talks and when to return to talks.
It was Kim who asked China to tell Washington to come to Beijing primarily for a bilateral meeting between the DPRK and the United States. Kimï¿½s comment to Tang Jiaxun, the Chinese envoy who went to Pyongyang earlier last month, ï¿½We will return to the six party talks if the financial issue gets resolved,ï¿½ went without the scrutiny it deserved.
What Kim Jong-il must have meant was that he had a new softened position that he would return to the talks, not after the issue has been resolved but if it will be discussed and resolved within the six party talks. This comment resonated with Washingtonï¿½s back down on the issue prior to the nuclear test.
In addition, the North Korean leader needed to hear directly from the United States that it accepts his new offer. In the context of the previous U.S. position that it would not meet with the North Koreans until they return to the multilateral talks, the U.S.-DPRK bilateral meeting in Beijing was a significant face saving development for Pyongyang.
Call it a breakthrough or a Chinese victory, if you will, but it did not have to take a year to reach the compromise. Foreign policy has two aspects _ format and substance. It took one year to accommodate a compromised format. Format is important in diplomacy. But the purpose of format lies in substance. You can imagine how long it is going to take to get to the end state of substance through negotiation.
The process of substance has not really begun yet. The September 2005 joint statement provides only a broad set of principles toward a nuclear free Korean Peninsula, but not a road map.
The United States and others said they will not recognize North Korea as a nuclear weapons state. Such a position obviously reflects their common interest in nuclear nonproliferation.
But that does not alter the North Korean status as a proven nuclear weapons state now. In reality Kim Jong-il is coming back to the negotiating table with an enhanced position of strength _ with improved missiles and tested nuclear bombs _ more bargaining chips.
Since the North Koreans consistently maintain that they will abide by the 2005 joint statement and that they will carry out their duty to achieve a denuclearized peninsula, also as the will of their ï¿½great leaderï¿½ Kim Il-sung, the United States and other participants will have to operate with the supposition that they are serious. The whole process of negotiation should be ï¿½distrust and verify.ï¿½
In the mean time, Kim Jong-il will deploy his own negotiating strategy, which may include a protracted approach beyond the Bush administration, unless there is a higher level meeting with Washington, through which he may restore his trust in the United States. His plan may include tackling such peripheral or bilateral issues as a ï¿½permanent peace regimeï¿½ and ï¿½steps to normalize relationsï¿½ with the United States.
In addition to the Banco Delta issue, the United States and other parties should be prepared for a new agenda the North Koreans are likely to bring up; the UN resolutions adopted to punish North Korea. To abide by the United Nations charterï¿½s purposes and principles is an agreed item in the 9/19 joint statement.
There has been some speculation regarding the timing of Kim Jong-ilï¿½s offer for the resumption of the talks with only one week left before the midterm elections in the United States. Many had anticipated that he would wait at least until after the elections on Nov. 7. Well, Washington denied any relation to the elections, but Kim Jong-il was aware of its relevance.
He knew he would have to deal with the United States sooner or later. He knew he has a bad image and a bad reputation to all the American people. He probably wanted to show that he is not a petty politician, while trying to defray the increasing pressures from the sanctions.
I am cautiously optimistic about the prospect of progress at the coming multilateral talks, with bilateral negotiations in that framework, as neither the United States nor the DPRK has better options. As everybody agrees, diplomacy is the right way to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.
3. N. Korea Cargo-Screening May Miss Nuclear Contraband
Jeff Bliss, Bloomberg News
(for personal use only)
The radiation detectors at the heart of U.S.-backed cargo inspections aimed at stopping the spread of North Korea's nuclear technology may miss some contraband while mistaking harmless materials for dangerous ones.
The detectors used at border crossings and in major ports serving North Korea may be triggered by items as innocent as kitty litter, ceramics or bananas, said Parney Albright, who created the science and technology unit at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. At the same time, they won't pick up sensitive non-radioactive technology that North Korea might try to sell.
North Korea has in the past threatened to sell its nuclear knowledge, with the U.S. and other nations expressing the fear that its know-how might wind up in the hands of other rogue states or terrorists. After North Korea's Oct. 9 nuclear test, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shuttled among the capitals of Asian nations and Russia, urging the use of radiation and imaging detectors to check cargo crossing land borders and coming into ports.
Such detectors ``can't be the system,'' said Albright, managing director of Civitas Group LLC, a Washington-based homeland-security consultant. While detectors may be ``goaltenders that are there when all else fails,'' he said, ``at the end of the day, none of these systems is leak-proof.''
North Korea's agreement earlier this week to return to talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program won't affect the cargo inspections or financial sanctions the Oct. 14 United Nations Security Council resolution calls for. President George W. Bush said the system would remain in place until North Korea verifiably abandons its program.
UN members have until Nov. 13 to report on how they are implementing the sanctions under the resolution.
The cargo-inspection effort aims to make use of an existing U.S.-funded program to install state-of-the-art detectors in allies' ports and border posts. Weapons experts say the nuclear- detection net surrounding North Korea is full of gaps; for instance, while Russia has U.S.-supplied radiation monitors along its 12-mile (19-kilometer) border with North Korea, China doesn't have any along the 880-mile border it shares with the country.
Most of the detectors deployed overseas are based on a technology known as plastic scintillation. While the detectors are ``better than nothing,'' they can't distinguish between radiation from a natural source and material used in a nuclear weapon, said Gene Aloise, director of natural resources and environment at the Government Accountability Office, Congress's non-partisan investigative arm.
The detectors -- which are made by San Diego-based SAIC Inc., Longmont, Colorado-based TSA Systems Ltd., Sweetwater, Texas-based Ludlum Measurements Inc. and the Aspekt Scientific Production Center in Dubna, Russia -- contain a piece of specially molded plastic whose atoms emit glimmers of light when struck by gamma rays emitted by a radioactive source. The light glimmers are then amplified by the machine.
The detectors may produce false positives because certain harmless materials contain low levels of naturally occurring radiation. The potassium in bananas is radioactive, and any products created from dirt or clay -- including kitty litter and ceramics -- include small amounts of radioactive minerals; some pottery glazes contain minute amounts of thorium and uranium.
While such shipments might trigger false readings, they might also help smugglers hide contraband -- by inserting nuclear material the size of a baseball into a shipment of ceramics, for example.
The detectors can also be fooled if uranium, which the North Koreans have been mining for some time, is wrapped in lead, said David Albright, president of the Washington-based Institute of Science and International Security, a Washington- based nuclear-nonproliferation group.
TSA President Allan Frymire said plastic scintillators have limits yet their relatively low cost means large numbers can be used. He compared them to metal detectors in airports which ``cannot distinguish between your car keys and a gun but in both cases sound the alarm.'' When used with other screening methods, they are a ``very cost-effective means'' of detecting nuclear and radioactive materials, he said in an e-mailed statement.
Bill Huckabee, a distribution sales manager for Ludlum, declined to comment, as did SAIC spokesman Thomas D. Hampton.
Edgar Vasquez, a State Department spokesman, said the detectors are just one element in a strategy that includes training and sharing intelligence with regional allies. ``We are building a layered defense against North Korean proliferation,'' Vazquez said in a statement responding to a request for comment.
Since 1994, the U.S. has spent $178 million to provide radiation detectors to 36 countries to stop the spread of nuclear material, according to a March 2006 GAO report.
Earlier this year, the Homeland Security Department awarded $1.2 billion in contracts to Waltham, Massachusetts-based Raytheon Co. and Thermo Electron Corp. and Paris-based Areva SA's Canberra Industries Inc. to develop detectors capable of distinguishing the sources of radiation.
Deployment overseas of such next-generation detectors aren't scheduled to begin until the end of next year, maybe later. The GAO last month said the department's Domestic Nuclear Detection Office used flawed data in awarding the contracts, and that it isn't clear the machines will work. Congress has limited funding for the project until that question is answered.
Thomas Loewald, president of Thermo Electron's environmental instruments division, said in an e-mailed statement that the new technology ``represents a significant improvement,'' and the GAO report ``does not provide a complete picture.'' Stephen Mettler, senior product manager for Canberra, said the nuclear detection office has plans for testing ``to prove'' the detectors will work. ``I certainly think our technology will be effective,'' he said.
Raytheon spokesman Jon Kasle declined to comment, referring questions to the nuclear detection office.
Jenny Burke, a spokeswoman for the nuclear detection office, said efforts to improve the detectors will continue so lawmakers will realize the machines are worth buying. The office ``plans to subject systems to additional high fidelity testing prior to full-scale production,'' she said.
The U.S. also has helped place in foreign ports machines such as SAIC Inc.'s VACIS systems, which use gamma rays to create images of shipping containers and what's inside them.
The Homeland Security Department in September awarded $1.35 billion in contracts to SAIC, New York-based L-3 Communications Corp. and Billerica, Massachusetts-based American Science and Engineering Inc. to provide 300 imaging machines that would be able to detect nuclear or ``dirty'' bombs shielded by lead or other materials. They're scheduled to be deployed over the next six years. ``Dirty'' bombs use conventional explosives to disperse radiological material.
Port-security experts such as Stephen Flynn, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York, say the imaging machines are most effective when used in combination with the radiation detectors. That's only being done in Hong Kong, where a pilot project scans all cargo in two out of the 40 lanes of traffic coming into the port.
Another concern for experts is that North Korea might export technology rather than nuclear material itself, said Jon Wolfsthal, a fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic & International Studies.
The North Koreans initially won't part with the little plutonium they have, although they may be prepared to sell uranium, weapons experts say. Instead, they might market aluminum tubes, pumps and special chemicals such as tributyl phosphate, which is used to extract radioactive material from spent nuclear fuel rods, said David Albright.
Some of those products have other, more peaceful purposes: The pumps, for example, could be used in oil fields, and tributyl phosphate can be used as a solvent or an ingredient in aircraft hydraulic fluid.
Chinese border guards have been getting U.S. help in spotting so-called dual-use products for a year, and more training is planned. The training ``is helpful, but by no means is it enough,'' said Albright. ``It's doubtful the Chinese border guards are up to the task.''
The plot thickens. If a newly leaked document concerning a breach of security at Los Alamos National Laboratory turns out to be authentic, the lab may have been more exposed than was first thought.
A document purporting to summarize an internal briefing in Los Alamos said additional classified material was found at the trailer home owned by Jessica Quintana, a clerk formerly employed by a contractor at the nuclear weapons laboratory.
Quintana was said to have had extensive access to the video media vault located in the weapons division building.
Her security clearance was described in the memo as having a Sigma 15 identifier, which the author said, "allowed her to read documents that may have contained information about how to bypass permissive action links (PALs) on nuclear weapons."
PALs are security systems designed to prevent unauthorized use of weapons. Quintana has not been charged, but police arrested Justin Stone, who was residing in the mobile home, on an outstanding warrant for probation violation. During the arrest, police found evidence of a possible meth lab and also charged him with possession of drug paraphernalia.
The briefing document said investigators had found not only the three portable computer storage devices that were reported by the Los Alamos Police Department previously, but also 228 pages of hard copies printed on two sides.
Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, the Santa Fe-based nuclear group that released the briefing summary, emphasized that he could not vouch for the content, but was impressed by "the precision and obvious inside knowledge."
Coghlan said his group wants the National Nuclear Security Administration that manages the nuclear weapons complex "to hold the reigns of the cyberhorse firmly in its grasp."
"We simply don't have confidence in the contractor, past or present, in the management of cybersecurity," he said. "This is a tooth that needs a root canal."
The Associated Press reported Thursday that Quintana's attorney, Steven Aarons of Santa Fe confirmed that there were "about 200 pages of paper documents," supporting a key fact in the briefing paper.
Aarons told AP reporter Deborah Baker that Quintana "intended to use them to create an index of the items she had converted to an electronic format." He added that she took the work home to meet a deadline.
Peter Stockton of the Project on Government Oversight said this morning that POGO located the author of the memo Thursday night and further confirmed that it came from a "highly reliable" source.
The briefing memo enumerates the number of separate classified documents ("408 separate documents") that were on the jump drives. The classification was said to range from "Secret-National Security Information (pertaining to intelligence) to Secret-Restricted Data (pertaining to nuclear weapons.)
A spokesman for LANL reiterated the laboratory's inability to comment on any details of the ongoing investigation.
Spokesman Kevin Roark did confirm reports that Ambassador Linton Brooks, NNSA administrator was in Los Alamos earlier in the week. Roark refused to speculate on why the nuclear chief was here.
Stockton said POGO was following the case closely because the organization has for years urged the weapons complex to convert to a media-less system, that could not be carried outside the security perimeter.
Los Alamos has suffered a series of security breaches since NNSA was created in 1999, after the highly publicized Wen Ho Lee case.
A false positive security breach in 2004 led to a suspension of operations at the laboratory for a number of months and a complex-wide stand-down to tighten the system.
"The last stuff was bad - this is terrible," Stockton said.
2. Lawyer says classified lab material included paper documents
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A former nuclear weapons lab contract worker took home not only classified information on a portable computer storage drive but about 200 pages of paper documents as well, her lawyer says.
Stephen Aarons told The Associated Press on Thursday that the material found in Jessica Quintana's mobile home during a drug bust last month included copies of front pages of various documents from Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Quintana, an archivist, had planned to use them to create an index of the items she had converted to an electronic format, he said.
Aarons also said that while three portable computer storage drives were found at Quintana's home, only one contained lab-related material, and that it was "never put in any other computer."
"It was downloaded, but it was never uploaded," Aarons contended.
The 22-year-old contract worker took the material home in August because she faced a work deadline to create the index, he said. Aarons said Quintana never actually did the work at home she intended to do, then forgot about the documents, he said.
"Her intent was to destroy the hard copies and she never did it," Aarons said.
He also said she hadn't shown the information to anyone else.
"There was no espionage, but a person trying to do her job who made a bad judgment on how to do her job," the lawyer said.
Quintana has not been charged. A man who was renting a room at her mobile home was jailed on drug and probation violation charges.
The existence of the paper documents was first reported in a memo obtained by a lab watchdog group, ostensibly a summary of a briefing given at the Los Alamos lab.
The group, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said while it couldn't verify the authenticity of the memo and didn't know who wrote it, it showed "precision of detail and obvious inside knowledge."
If the summary is true, it indicates "perhaps the most serious" in a long line of security breaches at the nuclear weapons lab, the group said.
According to the memo, the flash drives contained 408 separate classified documents ranging from national security intelligence information to secret data about nuclear weapons. The materials came from the lab's HX _ or Hydrodynamics Experiments _ Division, it said.
There also were 228 separate pages, printed front and back, of hard copies of classified documents, the memo said.
Aarons said he couldn't confirm the 408 figure, because only the lab had that information, but that it "doesn't sound unbelievable."
The lawyer said he believed the 200 or so paper copies of front pages were duplicated on the USB flash drive, but that the flash drive may have contained the entire documents.
The memo also said that Quintana had a Sigma 15 Q clearance, a level that would have allowed her to read classified documents that could contain information on how to bypass the so-called permissive action links that ensure that there is only authorized use of nuclear weapons.
"She doesn't know anything about nuclear weapons," Aarons responded. "She knows how to scan documents."
The memo said Quintana had worked on and off at LANL since 2000. Aarons said she started at the lab as a student intern while in high school.
She was laid off by the contractor she worked for, Information Assets Management, in September, according to Aarons. The lab has been cutting back on contract work.
The Energy Department and the department's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees the nuclear weapons program including work at Los Alamos, declined Thursday to discuss the scope of the security breach, citing the ongoing criminal investigation.
But an official with knowledge of the government probe acknowledged there were "several hundred" pages of classified documents discovered during the drug raid in addition to the classified material found in three computer "thumb" storage devices.
"It is a sizable amount," said the individual, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue while the investigation is under way. He declined to characterize the documents and said the exact number had not been determined.
Two NNSA officials, speaking anonymously because of the ongoing investigation, did not reject the memo outright, but said there were "significant errors" in the memo.
They said they could not confirm the briefing referred to by the author of the memo, which Nuclear Watch New Mexico said it obtained through an intermediary.
"We're taking it (the security breach) very seriously," said Energy Department spokesman Craig Stevens, adding that Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman "was personally disturbed" by classified documents from the Los Alamos laboratory turning up during a drug raid.
"We want to know how this could happen," said Stevens.
The world could be dependent on "dirty, insecure and expensive" energy by 2030, an influential report has warned.
Current trends showed that demand for power was set to grow by 53% by 2030, the International Energy Agency said.
But if governments delivered on their promises to push cleaner and more efficient supplies, demand could be cut by about 10%, the agency suggested.
Greater use of nuclear power could be a "valuable option" to cut imports and curb CO2 emissions, the study added.
The WEO champions the role of nuclear power, saying it could make a "major contribution to reducing dependence on imported gas and curbing CO2 emissions".
It forecasts that the total global generation capacity of nuclear power plants could increase from 368 gigawatts in 2005 to 519 gigawatts in 2030.
The additional nuclear power plants would also have the advantage of being less vulnerable to fuel price changes than coal or gas-fired generation, helping to enhance the security of electricity supplies.
However, it said that governments would have to convince the private sector that the initial investment of about $2bn-3.5bn (ï¿½1-1.8bn) per reactor would be a wise move.
Ian Hore-Lacy, director of public communications for the World Nuclear Association, welcomed the IEA's report.
"Given that world energy demand, and more particularly electricity demand, is increasing strongly, we need sources of electricity supply that are safe, affordable, with abundant fuel and are environmental benign," he said.
"The virtues of nuclear power in all of those respects are becoming widely obvious."
But Greenpeace International called it a "wasted opportunity".
In a statement, the environmental group said: "While it is important that the IEA has finally recognised the need to drastically change the global energy supply in light of climate change, it has offered 'business as usual' solutions, which are not commensurate with the problems it seeks to solve."
They said the agency's nuclear plan would require more than 200 new nuclear reactors in the next 24 years, which was "neither desirable nor realistic".
2. Nuclear steps put region on brink of most fearful era yet
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It is one of the worldï¿½s most unstable regions, where conflicts over land, ideology and religion have raged for centuries.
Yet the Middle East may now be entering the most precarious era of its history, with the sudden rush by Arabs, Iranians and Turks to master nuclear technology and one day unlock the secrets to the atomic bomb.
Yesterdayï¿½s disclosure that Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and smaller states such as Tunisia and the UAE want to acquire nuclear technology was suspected for some time, but the headlong race into the atomic age came as a shock.
For months Arab leaders have been speaking out against nuclear proliferation in the region. Most wanted a nuclear-free zone to force Israel to give up its nuclear arsenal and to discourage Iran, which is pursuing a controversial atomic programme many suspect will give the regime a nuclear weapons capability.
But the calculations in the region changed dramatically this year. A far more strident Iran, under the leadership of President Ahmadinejad, defied pressure from the international community and began uranium enrichment work, which could be used to produce the fissile material needed to make an atomic weapon.
Then last month North Korea detonated a nuclear device, proving that even a country with limited resources can build an atomic weapon and use its nuclear status to blackmail the international community. In the case of North Korea the world did unite to place sanctions on the regime in Pyongyang. But so far the United Nations Security Council has failed to find a common approach on Iran, which defied a UN ultimatum more than two months ago and has yet to suffer any consequences.
Last night Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, said proposals by the European Union to impose very limited sanctions on Iran were too strong. Western diplomats fear the talks will drag on without any serious action being taken against the Iranian regime, which recently announced it had expanded its enrichment work.
The rest of the world has been watching these events with alarm, and nowhere more closely than in the Middle East. It is widely accepted that an Iran armed with nuclear weapons would fundamentally alter the balance of power in the region. Tehran has most vocally spoken out against Israel and Mr Ahmadinejad once remarked that the country should be ï¿½wiped off the mapï¿½.
But even greater concern exists in Arab states. They fear the rise of Iranï¿½s brand of Islam and the impact it is having on Shia brethren in countries such as Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.
An Iran that is a member of the nuclear club would have far more clout in the region.
There is no evidence that the sudden interest by Iranï¿½s neighbours and across the Arab world in nuclear technology is directly connected to Tehranï¿½s own nuclear ambitions. But the coincidence is too great to ignore, particularly in a region blessed by huge oil reserves where costly nuclear energy has never been needed before.
A civilian nuclear programme would not give any of the countries automatic access to nuclear weapons but building up nuclear knowhow and training a core of nuclear physicists and technicians is a vital first step in that direction.
The first country to signal an interest in nuclear power was Turkey. In June Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister, announced the country planned to build three power stations by 2015, the first near the Black Sea coast town of Sinop by 2014.
Next came Egypt. President Mubarak told members of his ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) in late September that the time had come ï¿½for a serious debateï¿½ about a nuclear programme, which Egypt abandoned 20 years ago.
This week it became clear that the debate was over. During a visit to Moscow his Russian hosts were delighted to learn that he had decided to build up to four nuclear power stations and would consider bids from Moscow.
The first Egyptian nuclear power plant is due to be completed at Dabaa by 2015.
Algeria is expected to be next in line. It already explored the possibility of nuclear power in the 1980s and is ready to pick up where it left off.
Most interest will be focused on Saudi Arabia, traditionally Iranï¿½s main rival for control of the Gulf. The leadership has consistently cautioned about the dangers of nuclear expansion in the region. Now it has signalled that it too wants to join the club.
This year Prince Saud alFaisal, the Saudi Foreign Minister, said that he was opposed to all nuclear expansion in the Middle East, be it for power stations or for weapons. Prince Saud told The Times: ï¿½We are urging Iran to accept the position that we have taken to make the Gulf, as part of the Middle East, nuclear-free and free of weapons of mass destruction. We hope they will join us in this policy and assure that no new threat or arms race happens in this region.ï¿½
Those hopes now appear doomed. In their place is the first evidence of a nuclear race beginning in the region and with it fears that the Middle East is entering the most dangerous period of its history.
China and Russia will sign agreements to build nuclear power plants and explore for energy and mineral ores when Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov visits Beijing this month, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov said Monday.
The 17 contracts will also cover scientific cooperation and space exploration and should help the two countries boost trade to $60 billion by 2009, Zhukov told reporters in Beijing.
"Our trade was up 25 percent year-on-year so far this year to $30 billion,'' he said. "Our cooperation is going well across the board, especially in energy, oil and gas.''
Atomstroiexport is competing with Areva, Siemens and Westinghouse Electric for $8 billion worth of Chinese orders for four reactors. The world's largest energy consumer after the United States needs at least two new reactors per year to meet a target of almost doubling its proportion of power from nuclear plants to 4 percent by 2020.
China and Russia will also cooperate in space exploration. Anatoly Perminov, chief of the Russian Space Agency, will hold a news conference Thursday in Beijing to sign an agreement with China to explore jointly the moon, according to a Russian Embassy invitation.
Russian Aluminum, or RusAl, will hold a news conference Thursday on cooperation with Chinese aluminum smelters. RusAl's deputy general manager Alexander Livshits will chair the news conference, said an invitation.
Rosneft CEO Sergei Bogdanchikov is scheduled to speak at a news conference Friday in Beijing, the Russian Embassy invitation said. Rosneft will export as much as 48.4 million tons of oil to China by 2010, said a 2004 contract between the two countries.
"Significant backlogs" in surveillance testing of several types of nuclear warheads in the aging U.S. stockpile have created gaps in information needed to ensure that the weapons remain reliable, a report released yesterday by the Energy Department's inspector general said.
Every year, a small number of missile warheads and bombs from the nine U.S. nuclear weapons systems are dismantled. Parts are subjected to laboratory and flight tests to verify they are safe, secure and reliable.
"The surveillance program's role in assessing and ensuring confidence in the reliability of the weapons stockpile is increasingly important as the nuclear weapons stockpile ages," Inspector General Gregory H. Friedman wrote to Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman.
But Friedman added: "As a result of the continuing backlog of surveillance tests, the department lacks vital information about the reliability of the stockpile . . . [and] as a result of testing delays, important operating anomalies or other defects could go undetected."
Friedman said the department is "committed" to eliminating most of the testing backlog by September 2007, in part by upgrading facilities, updating safety studies and perhaps eliminating some test requirements. In one case, surveillance activities were delayed for six to seven months in 2004 because operations were halted over the loss of a computer disk containing classified materials.
Last year, the report said, laboratory tests were behind schedule for seven of the nine weapons systems and flight tests for six. Charts contained in the report show the greatest laboratory backlog was in the oldest warhead, the W-62, which was used on the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile and is due for retirement. Of 36 lab tests planned, 13 had been completed by Sept. 30, 2005, the report said.
Of the more modern warheads, the W-88, the newest U.S. warhead found on the Trident submarine-launched ICBM, was scheduled for 29 lab tests -- of which 23 were completed on schedule. The largest gap in flight tests was for the W-87, the warhead that is to replace the W-62 and the Minuteman III. Of eight tests planned for fiscal 2005, three had been completed.
1. Mubarak turns to Russian, Chinese technical assistance
African News Dimension
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Despite the destruction of Iraqï¿½s nuclear program and with US efforts to isolate Iran over its reactors, several countries in the Arab world are looking to nuclear power to provide energy.
And Egypt is leading the pack.
According to the Middle East Economic Digest, Egyptï¿½s program ï¿½ though stalled since 1984 ï¿½ is more advanced than Algeria, Morocco and Saudi Arabiaï¿½s. Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates also recently signaled their interest in developing safe nuclear power generation.
ï¿½Egypt is the most advanced in the Middle East and Africa in terms of nuclear capabilities,ï¿½ says Abdel Hakim Kandil, professor of nuclear and inorganic chemistry and director of the faculty and leadership development program at Helwan University.
Egyptï¿½s program kicked off in 1956, the same year as Indiaï¿½s, when it received a 2-megawatt (MW) nuclear research reactor from the Soviet Union. However, the program slowed down considerably and has since been overshadowed by Indiaï¿½s, which currently uses 16 nuclear reactors to supply the worldï¿½s second most populated nation with 15.7 billion kilowatts of energy.
India is planning to build 10 more.
In 1998, Egypt began using a 22-MW nuclear reactor for research and nuclear medicine purposes.
Last month, Gamal Mubarak, deputy chairman of the National Democratic Party (NDP), suggested it was in Egyptï¿½s long-term interests to turn to nuclear technology for energy supplies.
ï¿½We are planning to build four reactors ... one in Dabaa followed by three more later on,ï¿½ Kandil told The Daily Star Egypt.
He explains that Egyptï¿½s energy needs are growing at a quickening rate and that with only 21 million kilowatts of energy produced, demand could outpace supply.
ï¿½In 12 years we will need three times as much energy. We must work with nuclear reactors,ï¿½ he said.
Last week, the issues of nuclear technologies exchange between Egypt and Russia and China was on the agenda during President Mubarakï¿½s visit to the two world powers.
The move to seek Russian and Chinese technical aid rather than American assistance (the US is currently helping India revamp its nuclear program) was seen as a policy shift by some analysts.
But Kandil said no decision has been made as to which of the three nuclear powers would be approached for help.
Last week, Francis Ricciardone, the US ambassador to Egypt, said his country welcomed Egyptï¿½s prospective nuclear program.
But due to the relatively recent announcement, the two governments have yet to work out the details of the program to include it in American aid to Egypt.
"This project [nuclear plans] isn't included in the general frame of the aid agreements," says Wahid Abdel Magead, analyst at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. Whether this would be subject to change or not is yet to be known, he adds.
1. India to 'honor' nuclear deal with U.S., envoy says
David R. Sands
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India stands firmly behind a major civilian nuclear deal with the United States, despite growing fears that U.S. lawmakers will not approve the deal before Congress adjourns for good at the end of the year, Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen said yesterday.
"We will honor our part of the bargain, I assure you," Mr. Sen said, dismissing speculation in the Indian press that the accord was in trouble because of U.S. delays.
"We have never reneged on any international agreement we have made," he said, answering questions about the nuclear pact after an address to the Arlington-based Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.
U.S. officials tout the nuclear deal, struck by President Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in July 2005, as the centerpiece of a blossoming strategic relationship with the fast-growing South Asian democracy.
The agreement would lift longstanding U.S. bans on supplying nuclear fuel and technology to India, in exchange for India opening its civilian nuclear industry to international oversight for the first time.
U.S. critics of the deal say it could blow a hole in U.S. efforts to control nuclear proliferation in rogue states such as Iran. In India, the deal has proven controversial over fears it would impose too many controls on India's military nuclear program. India never signed the international nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The House of Representatives passed the bill enabling the deal with bipartisan support in July, but the Senate failed to take up the bill before adjourning last month. The Bush administration has been pushing the Senate to take up the measure during the brief "lame-duck" session scheduled after Tuesday's congressional elections.
Failure to vote by the end of the year means that the newly seated 110th Congress next year will have to start from scratch in considering the India deal, a delay that could stretch through much of 2007.
But lawmakers must also deal with 10 unfinished spending bills in the lame-duck session, and it is not clear if there will be room on the calendar for other business.
If Tuesday's vote brings a massive turnover in either chamber, especially if the Democrats make major gains, supporters of the India pact fear the lame-duck session would be unlikely to take up major legislation such as the India nuclear deal.
The pact remains a top priority of the Bush administration. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called new Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee late last month to assure him that the administration was still pushing for passage this year.
Mr. Sen acknowledged there were critics of the agreement in India, including the Communist Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, the leading Hindu nationalist party.
But he said the "lively" debate back home should not cause Americans to question India's commitment to the deal and to the strategic partnership with Washington.
1. UN says it found no evidence of uranium-based munitions in Lebanon
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UN experts have found no evidence to support a press report that Israel used depleted uranium (DU) munitions during the July-August conflict in Lebanon, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has said.
"The samples taken by the UNEP scientists show no evidence of penetrators or metal made of DU or other radioactive material," UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said in a statement Tuesday.
"In addition, no DU shrapnel, or other radioactive residue was found. The analysis of all smear samples taken shows no DU, nor enriched uranium nor higher than natural uranium content in the samples."
In October, the British daily The Independent said samples of soil taken from two bomb craters in Lebanon showed high radiation levels, suggesting that uranium-based munitions had been used.
The craters, at Khiam and At-Tiri, were caused by Israeli heavy or guided bombs and showed "elevated radiation signatures," the Independent quoted Chris Busby, the British scientific secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, as saying.
Britain's ministry of defence had confirmed the level of uranium isotopes in the samples, which were also being tested by mass spectrometry at a laboratory in Oxfordshire, the report had said.
The UNEP statement said a sub-team of inspectors looking specifically at the DU issue had visited 32 sites south and north of the Litani river.
"Following strict field procedures, a range of smear, dust and soil samples were taken. The samples were analysed in October-November at an internationally-recognised laboratory in Switzerland," it said.
UNEP had sent the team as part of an assessment into environmental damage caused by the conflict.
The investigation confirmed that Israel had used artillery and mortar ammunition containing white phosphorus, the statement said.
Israel says that none of its weapons are illegal and acknowledged on October 22 that it used the phosphorus.
Human rights groups have long argued that phosphorus weapons, which cause agonising injuries, should be banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention.
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