1. Trial of Russia's ex-nuclear head put off till Nov. 21
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A Moscow district court has adjourned until November 21 hearings in the case of Russia's ex-nuclear power minister, who has been charged with embezzlement and abuse of office, a RIA Novosti correspondent said Wednesday.
The Zamoskvoretsky District Court delayed the retrial of Yevgeny Adamov, 67, who is being prosecuted along with two co-defendants, Vyacheslav Pismennyi, former director of the Troitsky research center, and Revmir Freishut, former director of TechSnabExport, due to the illness of one of the defendants.
An international arrest warrant has been issued for a fourth defendant, Alexander Chernov, president of the Swiss company Nuclear Services and Supply Ltd, which was created by TechSnabExport in 1991 to market Russian products abroad.
Adamov has been accused of leading an organized criminal group that inflicted damage worth over 3 billion rubles (about $110 million) to the Russian budget, enterprises and organizations.
"Preliminary hearings cannot by law begin in the absence of a defendant," said Genri Reznik, who represents Adamov's interests.
The trial was already adjourned October 26 because Adamov's lawyers did not appear in court, and one of the defendants was in the hospital.
Adamov was originally arrested in Switzerland in May 2005 at the request of the United States, where authorities accuse him of misappropriating $9 million given to Russia for nuclear safety projects. If convicted in the U.S., Adamov would have faced 60 years in prison.
He was extradited to Russia in early 2006 to face charges, but was released by the Russian Supreme Court July 21, after a total of 15 months in prison, to await trial.
Adamov, who served from 1998 to 2001 as Russia's nuclear power minister, said in October he will insist on a trial in a U.S. court, although the U.S. authorities have accused him of a crime they said was committed in Russia.
"It is surprising that Russia's jurisdiction has been transferred to another state," Adamov said. "I think proceedings in the U.S. will be adjourned until the process is completed here [in Russia]."
He also said he will not ask the court to close his case because the statute of limitation has expired. "I will not use the expiration of the statute of limitations [to ask for a dismissal], because it would imply an indirect admission of guilt," Adamov said then.
On October 16, the Moscow City Court canceled the Zamoskvoretsky District Court's decision to send Adamov's case back to the Prosecutor General's Office to correct shortcomings in the investigation and clarify the charges.
The city court thereby upheld an appeal by prosecutors against the district court decision. Prosecutors demanded that the case should instead be sent for retrial in the district court.
1. Iran insists on returning its nuclear file to IAEA-ambassador
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Iranian Ambassador to Russia Goliamreza Ansari, speaking in an interview with Itar-Tass on Thursday in connection with the coming Moscow visit by Secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council Ali Larijani, said that Teheran ï¿½insists on returning the Iranian nuclear file to the IAEAï¿½.
According to the ambassador, ï¿½the transfer of the Iranian file to the UN Security Council, apart from interfering with consolidation of the nuclear non-proliferation regime, will aggravate the situation still moreï¿½. ï¿½What we can say to the Six countries (five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) is that talks are the most advantageous and reasonable way of settling the question,ï¿½ the ambassador emphasized. ï¿½Iran insisted on talks from the very outset,ï¿½ he added.
ï¿½The IAEA Charter and rules are the best grounds for work with Iran,ï¿½ Ansari claimed. ï¿½We insist that this group of countries (the Six) should take efforts for the earliest direction of the Iranian file to its correct channel, that is to the IAEA.ï¿½
ï¿½A return of the Iranian file to the IAEA will be the best and most sensible way, while its transfer to the UN Security Council leads to whipping up the atmosphere,ï¿½ the diplomat claimed. In this situation, he went on to say, ï¿½a mechanism will be put into action, and it will operate under a principle ï¿½measures ï¿½ countermeasuresï¿½ï¿½. ï¿½This will undoubtedly bring a murky situation for settling the entire problem,ï¿½ the Iranian ambassador concluded.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Wednesday his country would continue to acquire nuclear technology and challenge what he called ``Western fabrications.''
Speaking before a crowd of thousands in Semnan, 155 miles east of Tehran, Khamenei said most countries believe ``nuclear energy should be taken away from the hands of a few powers,'' state media reported.
``The Americans open their mouth and close their eyes and say whatever they want, such as 'the world opposes enrichment,''' Khamenei said, referring to Iran's enrichment of uranium, which the United Nations has said must cease.
The supreme leader, whose word is final on key decisions, spoke as the U.N. Security Council is wrangling over how to respond to Iran's refusal halt uranium enrichment.
``In a glorious way, the Iranian nation - with awareness, an informed generation and reason - has challenged Western fabrications and will go ahead strongly,'' Khamenei said.
The United States and its European allies fear that Iran could use enrichment to build nuclear weapons, and have proposed a raft of sanctions to try to curb the country's nuclear development. Russia and China share those concerns, but seek much softer measures to induce Iran's cooperation.
Last week, Russia said it would only support U.N. sanctions on Iran if they were for a limited time and included a clear mechanism for their removal.
Iran, which has praised Moscow for its ``softer policy,'' denies plans to build atomic bombs, saying it is merely trying to harness nuclear energy to generate electricity.
A senior Russian nuclear official said Moscow would soon assess the timetable for completing construction of Iran's first nuclear power station. Experts say that Moscow, which has refused to back the European-proposed U.N. sanctions, could be using its $1 billion project in Bushehr, southern Iran, as a lever of influence on Tehran.
Sergei Shmatko, head of the Russian state company that is in charge of constructing Bushehr, said that work so far was on schedule, according to ITAR-Tass. Later this month, he said, officials would ``determine the final timetable for its launch.''
1. Iran's top nuclear negotiator to hold talks in Moscow Nov. 10
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Iran's top nuclear negotiator will hold talks on the country's nuclear problem in Moscow on November 10, Iranian news agency ISNA said Wednesday.
Ali Larijani will meet with Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov, the agency said.
Following Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment, European powers have proposed a draft UN Security Council resolution on sanctions against the country, which the United States wants toughened, but which Russia and China want reduced.
Iran has been at the center of an international controversy over its uranium enrichment work, which some countries suspect is a cover for a nuclear weapons program.
Russia's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that the working visit to Moscow of another Iranian diplomat for talks on the nuclear issue has been postponed. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was expected to visit the Russian capital on November 9-10.
Two weeks ago, the EU-3 - Britain, France and Germany - proposed a set of sanctions against Iran, which includes banning sales of missile and nuclear technologies to the country, freezing its military bank accounts, and imposing visa restrictions on officials linked to the nuclear industry.
Russia has consistently supported Iran's right to nuclear power under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and is building a $1 bln nuclear power plant in the country.
The Bushehr NPP would not be banned under the EU-3 draft resolution, but nuclear fuel supplies to the plant would be restricted, a proposal that Russia wants removed from the document.
Last Friday Russia proposed its amendments to draft.
On Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that as long as the resolution focuses on measures to prevent the transfer of nuclear-related technologies (uranium enrichment, heavy-water reactors, nuclear fuel reprocessing), "we could quickly agree on the text of the resolution, provided the measures have a clear-cut time frame and a mechanism for lifting these measures is spelled out. This should also be linked with Iran's consent to IAEA terms."
2. No delay in Iran's Bushehr NPP launch - Russian nuclear exporter
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Reports of a possible delay in launching the reactor Russia is building for Iran's first nuclear power plant in the southern city of Bushehr are unfounded, the Russian nuclear equipment export monopoly, Atomstroiexport, said Wednesday.
Atomstroiexport chief Sergei Shmatko said the NPP will be launched on schedule in September 2007, dismissing Tuesday's statement from a nuclear industry official who said the launch may be postponed if the Iranian side fails to meet some unspecified commitments.
Both announcements come ahead of the Iranian Foreign Minister's trip to Russia. Manouchehr Mottaki is due in Moscow Thursday for a two-day visit that will include talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.
The Bushehr facility has been a source of international dispute in the context of Iran's controversial nuclear ambitions, with the United States and other Western countries raising concerns that Iran may use the project to develop nuclear weapons.
To assuage those concerns, Russia suggested earlier this year setting up a joint venture for enriching Iranian uranium on it soil. But the nuclear industry official said Tuesday that the idea may never materialize, citing lack of interest on Iran's part.
Following Tehran's refusal to halt its uranium enrichment activities in exchange for a package of incentives, European countries proposed a draft UN Security Council resolution introducing sanctions, including restrictions on nuclear fuel supplies to the Bushehr plant.
As a veto-wielding permanent Council member consistently defending Iran's right to generate nuclear power for civilian use, Russia spoke against the European draft and proposed amendments to soften it.
3. Russia reassures Europeans on Iran's nuclear aims
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Russia has told European envoys it is committed to ensuring Iran does not make nuclear bombs, even though Moscow gutted a draft U.N. resolution on sanctions against Tehran, diplomats said on Wednesday.
The envoys, close to negotiations on the Security Council draft resolution, said some of the numerous changes Russia has proposed in the text could be for bargaining purposes, as a trade-off for concessions on a nuclear power plant it is constructing for Iran at the Gulf port of Bushehr.
The Russian amendments, obtained by Reuters on Tuesday, would cross out about half of the 24 paragraphs in the European draft which is generally backed by the United States. The extensive changes put forward by Moscow diminished prospects for a quick agreement.
The sanctions seek to punish Iran for refusing to suspend all nuclear enrichment, as demanded by an August 31 Security Council resolution. Washington believes enrichment is a cover for bomb-making while Tehran says it is for generating electricity.
The European draft resolution exempts from sanctions the construction of Bushehr but not the delivery of nuclear fuel to the plant. The $800 million facility is expected to go into operation next year.
Russia's draft crossed out all mention of Bushehr. Its U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, argued the plant was legal and did not contribute to nuclear proliferation.
"They appear to want to move slowly and ratchet up pressure later if Iran doesn't comply," said one envoy, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the negotiations. "And they want Bushehr out of the resolution."
Still, the diplomat, said Russia was seeking to reassure its negotiating partners it wanted to prevent Iran from producing a nuclear weapon.
MORE TALKS DUE THIS WEEK
Talks were due to resume later this week among the five Security Council members with veto power -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France -- and Germany.
The European draft -- drawn up by Britain, France and Germany -- demands nations prevent the sale or supply of any equipment, technology or financing that would contribute to Iran's nuclear or ballistic missile programs.
Russia says this provision should focus only on "enrichment-related and reprocessing activities," heavy-water reactors and the development of "nuclear weapon delivery systems." Russia also wants sanctions to be left to national governments rather than imposed by the Security Council on all nations.
The European draft says Tehran should suspend a heavy water research reactor at Arak that Iran wants to complete by 2009. The reactor can produce plutonium that could be used in making nuclear weapons, but the Russian text asks Iran only "to reconsider its construction."
The European draft also bans travel and freezes the assets of people and entities involved in the nuclear and ballistic missile programs, a provision that Russia wants stricken from the text.
China's U.N. envoy Wang Guangya, whose country supports Russia on Iran, was pessimistic about the progress in the negotiations. Other ambassadors were more upbeat.
"Clearly I think in a number of difficult areas the difference cannot be bridged so I believe there should be more reflections in capitals," he told reporters after Tuesday's meeting.
1. Detained Iran-bound North Korea ship baffles India
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India has detained an empty North Korean cargo ship bound for Iran after it strayed into Indian waters, baffling coast guard officials and police about the purpose of its voyage.
"MV Omrani-II" developed a snag and entered Indian waters on October 29 and was towed to the Mumbai Port where the crew was being questioned by Indian intelligence and customs officials.
"The crew has not been able to explain why they were sailing an empty vessel to Iran," a senior coast guard official told Reuters on condition of anonymity on Thursday.
However a senior official at the Directorate General of Shipping said: "They have told us that because it is a new ship they were testing it. But it is strange that they should need to sail as far as Iran."
Officials said documents for the new 45-meter vessel were in order, although life-saving equipment was found to be deficient.
A U.N. Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on North Korea after its October 9 nuclear test calls on U.N. members to take steps, including "as necessary" the inspection of cargoes to and from North Korea to prevent illicit trafficking in nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
But Indian officials said they were not acting at the behest of the U.N. but simply because a suspicious ship had entered Indian waters.
"The investigations are part of standard procedures that are followed when a ship strays into our waters," A. Banerjee, a top shipping official told Reuters.
In 1999, a North Korean ship was seized off western India after a search revealed it was carrying missile components, metal casings and technical manuals to Pakistan. The ship's manifest had listed sugar and water purification equipment.
Indian officials said they wanted to ensure that the ship was not hiding any contraband or being used to ferry material related to North Korea or Iran's nuclear programs. Pyongyang said last month that it had tested a nuclear device, while Iran says it is enriching its uranium to build nuclear power plants, rejecting Western concerns that it was planning to build a bomb.
Military experts say Iranian missile technology is partly based on modified versions of equipment from other countries, such as North Korea.
Along with Libya, the three countries are believed to have bought nuclear parts and know-how from the former head of Pakistan's nuclear program, A.Q. Khan.
The new Congress should avoid turning North Korea's nuclear challenge into a partisan issue by resorting to mutual recrimination.
In the campaign leading up to the November 7 voting, the Democrats accused the Republicans for refusing to negotiate directly with North Korea. In doing so, they conveniently overlooked the fact that the 1994 Agreed Framework signed between the Clinton administration with the North, designed to stop it from moving ahead on its plutonium-extraction operation, failed to achieve its purpose, largely because of Pyongyang's subterfuge. Even while the U.S., South Korea and Japan were building the lightwater reactor plant under this accord, the Kim Jong Il regime was moving secretly to develop a uranium-enrichment program.
Direct negotiation with the North will be a long, drawn-out process taking years of exhaustive talks which will enable it to produce more bombs. It is useful to remember that it took three long years to negotiate an end to the Korean War. Two-way talks are intended to leave South Korea out of the process, allowing the Kim Jong Il regime to acquire a measure of legitimacy and drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul.
That's the formula which North Vietnam used successfully at the Paris peace talks leading up to withdrawal of American troops. They then launched a lightening attack on Saigon. Judging by their continuing attempts at subverting the South and penetrating it with agents for this purpose, North Korea hasn't given up the idea of retaking the South by violent means.
Besides, the issue of proliferation is not a bilateral matter. It should involve all regional powers such as the U.S., Japan, China and Russia for the simple reason that they should be the guarantors of the peace process on the Korean peninsula. The North Korean nuclear threat is too serious a matter to be made a subject of partisan squabbling in Washington.
3. Myanmar finds no problem goods on NKorea ship ï¿½Japan
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Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said on Tuesday that Myanmar had inspected a North Korean ship in one of its ports and found no suspicious goods on board.
Japan's NHK television had said earlier that both Japan and the United States had asked Myanmar's government to search the ship, which U.S. authorities had tracked after it left North Korea last month, because it might be carrying military goods prohibited under a U.N. resolution.
"I'm aware that Myanmar's government conducted inspections and did not find anything suspicious," Aso told reporters.
A U.N. Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on North Korea after its Oct. 9 nuclear test calls on U.N. members to take steps, including "as necessary" the inspection of cargoes to and from North Korea to prevent illicit trafficking in nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
Japan's Mainichi newspaper reported that Japan, the United States and Australia have decided not to carry out inspections on the high seas for now, due to a reluctance on the part of China and Russia, who worry such action would escalate tensions.
Officials from the three countries decided at talks in Tokyo on Monday to limit the searches to ships docked at their ports and to step up surveillance of cargo vessels travelling to and from North Korea, the newspaper said.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki confirmed the three-way talks had taken place but declined to elaborate on the details of the discussions.
4. Pyongyang: Letï¿½s Talk, But Change the Subject
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With its two-steps-forward one-step-back approach, North Korea has fulfilled its long-held nuclear ambition and for now holds back on further tests in return for an easing of UN sanctions. Diplomats suspect that in the long months of negotiations ahead North Korea will try to change the subject while carrying on production of fissile material. North Korea agreed to return to the Six-Party Talks on the condition that the US would negotiate about Macau bank accounts blocked by the US Treasury on charges of money-laundering. Even when the bank account issue is resolved, tortuous negotiations lie ahead while Pyongyangï¿½s nuclear arsenal is likely to grow.
Commonly accepted interpretation credits China for pressuring North Korea back to the negotiating table. But many seasoned observers see the North Korean move as a tactical shift to consolidate its gains and not a prelude to making concessions.
According to Paik Jin-Hyun, professor of international relations at Seoul National University, North Korea has agreed to return to the Six-Party Talks because the country has accomplished what it has long wanted to do. ï¿½It is time to shift gears,ï¿½ he says. The agreement to return to talks could also be due to Chinese pressure, he adds, ï¿½but one would never know.ï¿½
Privately South Korean officials and analysts are skeptical about the US claim that resumption of talks is a major concession by North Koreans who had insisted on returning to the talks only if Washington lifted financial restrictions. When the talks resume in December, the subject will be restrictions imposed a year earlier on the charge of the North Korean counterfeiting US currency.
A senior US official said that, after a working lunch with his Chinese and North Korean counterparts, US negotiator Christopher Hill held a bilateral meeting with Kim Kye Gwan. Although the resumption of talks has been labeled unconditional, the North Koreans agreed to return only if the US would discuss and resolve the issue of frozen bank accounts. The US responded that the resolution would depend on North Koreaï¿½s response, but was willing to hold the talks.
ï¿½We do want to resolve these, but it also depends on the DPRK's [Democratic People's Republic of Korea) willingness to get out of the illicit activities business," Hill said.
The Chinese-sponsored Six-Party Talks involving North Korea, the US, South Korea, Japan and Russia started in 2003 and seemed to attain some success during the fourth round, in September 2005, when the parties agreed on a statement calling for Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees, energy and other assistance. However, the talks broke off last November after the US froze North Korean bank accounts.
North Korea is already benefiting from this shift in position. South Korea, which froze shipments of rice and fertilizer after the missile test in July, said it would resume sending aid. ï¿½North Koreans after all are our cousins,ï¿½ says a South Korean journalist critical of Pyongyang, ï¿½no matter what Kim Jong Il does, we simply cannot see them starve or ask international community to help.ï¿½
An official of China's largest oil company, the state-controlled China National Petroleum Corp., was quoted as saying that China's oil exports to North Korea were likely to return to normal when talks get under way.
Meanwhile the only pressure on North Korea seems to be UN sanctions on imports of weapons-related components and luxury goods. South Korean officials make it clear that they will not halt their export-zone and tourism projects that bring foreign exchange to the cash-starved nation. South Korean domestic laws also stood in the way of that nation participating in the American Proliferation Security Initiative, which requires inspection by boarding vessels carrying North Korean goods. Now that North Korea has agreed to the talks, Seoul would be doubly reluctant to provoke North Korea with aggressive inspections at sea and, worse, provoke naval clashes with Pyongyang.
Will the application of UN sanctions now be softened? "No one has to worry about anybody going wobbly,ï¿½ US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said. But Paik believes Pyongyang will use its agreement to talk to deflect pressure and delay and elude sanctions.
Highly critical of South Koreaï¿½s sunshine policy, Paik says North Korea is applying salami tactics. By returning to the negotiating table, Pyongyang will turn the talk itself into another card to play. While preparation goes on for talks, the 6-megawatt reactors continue to function, accumulating plutonium to make more bombs. By the end of 2008, North Korea might have enough material for five or six bombs.
Meanwhile despite the strong American backing for South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon to assume the position of UN secretary general, US relations with its treaty-ally South Korea are showing signs of strain. US Assistant Secretary of State Hill kept Korean officials in the dark about his Beijing trip and quietly slipped into China from Hong Kong, where he had traveled ostensibly to discuss sanctions enforcement. Kept in the dark, officials in Seoul felt isolated when the news broke in Beijing about the resumption of talks.
As the North Korean news agency explained, Pyongyang decided to return to the Six-Party Talks ï¿½on the premise that the issue of lifting financial sanctions will be discussed and settled between the DPRK (Democratic Peopleï¿½s Republic of Korea) and the US." North Korea, which had agreed in 2005 to discuss dismantling its nuclear program in exchange for material and security guarantees, now claims that the nuclear test was a ï¿½self-defensive counter-measureï¿½ against a gathering threat from the US. "The present development clearly testifies to the justice of the decision made by the DPRK to have access to nuclear weapons."
The tactic that Pyongyang is likely to adopt when talks resume was revealed in its statements made in the wake of the agreement for negotiations. While dispensing the usual invective toward Washington, the North Korean news agency reserved special insult for Japan, calling for its removal from the Six-Party Talks. With South Korea smarting at being kept in the dark ï¿½ itï¿½s not known if Tokyo and Moscow had prior knowledge ï¿½ China, the original convener of the talks, has emerged as an even more important player. China delivered North Korea to the negotiating table and gained brownie points in Pyongyang by arranging the US-North Korea bilateral talks that Kim Jong Il had long wanted. When the Six-Party Talks resume later this year, they are likely to serve as a backdrop for these bilateral negotiations.
The question is: After succeeding in getting an American interlocutor face to face, will North Korea try to change the original purpose of the conversation, fighting to unfreeze the bank accounts and presenting that as the first tangible benefit from the nuclear test? More importantly, after the bank issue is resolved, will North Korea be more amenable to making concessions on the nuclear front or will it return to earlier demands that the Bush administration rejected? North Korea watcher Paik suspects that the opening gambit of the DPRK might be to present itself as a nuclear-weapon state and an equal partner of the US, asking for the global disarmament that his father Kim Il Sung had long demanded.
Whatever course the talks take, one thing is certain: While diplomatic jousting continues, Asiaï¿½s newest nuclear state will continue to accumulate plutonium for its bombs.
1. IAEA, Asian Countries Discuss Security of Nuclear Weapons
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Diplomats, bureaucrats and nuclear experts are meeting in Japan to discuss how to strengthen nuclear security in Asian countries. The International Atomic Energy Agency has called the group together amid continuing fears that terrorists have designs on obtaining or building nuclear weapons.
The two-day meeting, which began Wednesday in Tokyo, comes amid growing concerns about nuclear proliferation. Iran faces possible sanctions for continuing to enrich uranium, which could be used to build an atomic bomb. North Korea tested its first nuclear weapons device last month, prompting punitive United Nations sanctions. As a result of North Korea's test, some leading conservative politicians in Japan say that Tokyo should discuss the building of its own nuclear arsenal.
This meeting is focusing on how Asia can keep nuclear materials and weapons out of the hands of terrorist groups, says the head of the IAEA's Office of Nuclear Security, Anita Birgitta Nilsson.
"We are building a sustainable way of hindering these acts from happening in the first place. And then, of course, if something happens to be able to take care of the results in the most effective and efficient manner," said Nilsson.
Concerns about terrorists using nuclear weapons were heightened by the September 2001 attacks by Al Qaeda in the United States. The threat persists, says Matthew Bunn of Harvard University's Managing the Atom Project. He says Osama bin Laden and others remain active in trying to obtain nuclear materials and weapons.
"We have seen in Russia terrorist teams actually casing nuclear weapons storage facilities. We have seen repeated attempts by Bin Laden to purchase the essential ingredients of nuclear weapons [and] to recruit nuclear weapons scientists to help him with a nuclear bomb," noted Bunn.
The IAEA is facing skepticism that it can do much, if anything, to hinder the quest for weapons of mass destruction. Critics say the agency has failed to prevent North Korea and Iran from pursuing their nuclear weapons programs. But Harvard University's Matthew Bunn defends the agency, saying recent developments demonstrate the effectiveness of the agency's safeguards. Bunn recalls that North Korea first threatened to pull out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty when they were caught cheating by the agency's inspectors.
"You can't blame the IAEA for what's happened since [in North Korea] because the IAEA has been kicked out," continued Bunn. "In the Iran case, I think that the IAEA has done a very professional job of peeling back one layer of the onion after another of the, frankly, lies Iran was telling."
Washington and Moscow on Wednesday are expected to push for wider enforcement of a U.N. resolution intended to stop the proliferation of nuclear and other weapons. The call is to come at a meeting in Vienna of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The IAEA says that between 1993 and 2004 there were 18 confirmed cases of trafficking of plutonium or highly enriched uranium in Europe alone.
At the Vienna meeting, efforts will be made to push nations in Africa and the Pacific region, where export controls are weak, to rely on assistance from other countries to prevent the spread of nuclear materials.
Russia will strengthen export control shortly as required by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1540.
The document aims to prevent weapons of mass destruction, means of their delivery and related materials and technologies from falling into the hands of terrorists, the head of the Russian delegation to the talks on military security and arms control in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, told Itar-Tass on Wednesday.
He spoke at a seminar on the implementation of the resolution. The seminar is taking place at the OSCE Headquarters and involves representatives from all 56 member-states as well as some international structures operating in the field of arms control.
Russia exercised export control by ï¿½carrying out designated procedures in accordance with control lists of goods and services,ï¿½ Ulyanov said.
These include nuclear materials, technologies and equipment; dual-purpose materials and technologies; goods and technologies that can be used in the manufacture of arms and military hardware; dangerous disease-causing germs, chemicals, equipment and technologies that can be used in the production of chemical weapons.
Russiaï¿½s export control is based on the ï¿½comprehensive controlï¿½ principle that applies to goods and technologies that are not included in the above-mentioned lists if there is information that they may be used for the production of weapons of mass destruction or means of their delivery, Ulyanov said.
3. U.S., Russia push for wider enforcement of nonproliferation resolution
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The United States and Russia pushed Wednesday for wider global enforcement of a U.N. resolution meant to choke the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
U.N. Security Council Resolution 1540, adopted in April 2004, requires all U.N. members to pass laws preventing terrorists and black marketeers from dealing in weapons of mass destruction, the materials to make them and the missiles and other systems to deliver them.
Wednesday's mostly closed door meeting is being organized by the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe at Vienna's historic Hofburg Palace. With 56 member states from Europe, Central Asia and North America, the OSCE is the globe's largest regional security organization.
"Terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction is one of the gravest threats today to the world community," Gregory L. Schulte, the chief U.S. delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the opening session of the meeting. "The threat is real, the consequences would be enormous.
"We have to assume that terrorist groups will continue to try and acquire the sensitive materials they need to produce weapons of mass destruction," said Schulte, adding that any "dedicated group with some knowledge of science and engineering and access to the Internet and some funding can construct such a device."
Schulte said recent nuclear developments in Iran and North Korea had heightened concerns about the spread of materials used to make weapons of mass destruction.
Between 1993 and 2004, the IAEA, also based in Vienna, recorded 18 confirmed trafficking incidents involving plutonium or highly enriched uranium ï¿½ material used to build nuclear weapons ï¿½ in the OSCE area, Schulte said.
He acknowledged that both within the OSCE and outside member countries there are "gaps that need to be filled," noting that enforcing the resolution was a long-term process. He suggested the OSCE prepare a best practices guide so that countries could learn from each other.
"I hope every country will leave this conference understanding that every country has a stake in preventing WMD terrorism, every country has a role to play in preventing WMD terrorism," he said.
Before the meeting opened, Mikhail I. Ulyanov, Russia's chief representative at Wednesday's meeting, touched on similar themes.
Ulyanov said it was important that countries that didn't have the relevant national laws needed to put the resolution in effect should be able to count on others, such as Russia or the United States, for support.
Some countries in Africa and the Pacific were among those who were having trouble enforcing the resolution, he said, without naming specific nations.
"They have no idea about export controls," Ulyanov said, adding it was important to be patient and provide assistance.
North Korea is the first country to withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and test a nuclear weapon. It has agreed to return to six-party talks about its nuclear status, but skeptics expect little progress.
Some doomsayers are predicting the collapse of the nonproliferation regime, but that kind of fatalism is mistaken. There are many things we can do to prevent such a future.
We are, in fact, doing better at slowing the spread of the bomb than might be expected. In 1963 President John F. Kennedy predicted that there would be 15 to 20 states with nuclear weapons within the next decade. Every country has a right of self-defense, and today some 50 countries have the technical capacity to produce nuclear weapons. Yet only nine do -- the original five grandfathered in the 1968 treaty, along with India, Pakistan and Israel, which have never signed the treaty, and now North Korea. Some countries, such as South Africa, developed nuclear weapons and later gave them up. Many, such as South Korea, Brazil, Argentina and Libya, terminated active nuclear weapons programs.
Today is not the first time the nonproliferation regime has been threatened with collapse. In 1973 India exploded a nuclear device, and a rapid rise in oil prices fueled great expectations about the rapid expansion of nuclear commerce. France was selling a reprocessing plant to Pakistan, and Germany began to sell enrichment technology to Brazil. Many parties to the treaty planned to import or develop enrichment and reprocessing facilities. By the middle of the decade, South Korea and Taiwan had covert nuclear weapons programs. There was widespread concern that the nonproliferation regime was unraveling.
The Ford and Carter administrations prevented such a collapse with a combination of instruments. One was American security guarantees. Our allies in Europe and Japan were protected by our nuclear umbrella, and we told South Korea and Taiwan that our willingness to defend them would be jeopardized if they developed the bomb. We also strengthened institutions such as the NPT and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by persuading France and Germany to curtail their exports and by getting countries as diverse as the Soviet Union and Japan to join us in forming a Nuclear Suppliers Group. We negotiated an agreement in London in 1977 not to export enrichment and reprocessing facilities. We also engaged dozens of countries in an International Nuclear Fuel Cycle Evaluation, which developed more realistic estimates of the benefits and dangers of nuclear commerce. While this did not prevent Pakistan from developing a bomb in the next decade, expectations about nonproliferation were stabilized.
What are the lessons for today? We again need to use a combination of instruments, starting with security guarantees. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has correctly reassured Japan and South Korea of our commitment to their defense, and it is unlikely that Japan will follow the North Korean example unless we make the grave mistake of withdrawing our forward presence in the region. We can also strengthen international institutions. For example, recent U.N. Security Council sanctions reinforce the norm of nonproliferation and show that violation of the NPT is costly.
In addition, we should increase the IAEA's budget and inspection capabilities. We should also support IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei's plan for an international bank of enriched uranium that would be made available with guarantees and concessionary terms to countries that do not develop their own enrichment plants.
With regard to North Korea, the Bush administration is correct to warn Pyongyang of dire reprisals if we discover any nuclear exports. Since blockading North Korean ports would not prevent nuclear exports by land or air, we must work to stiffen the resolve of Beijing and Seoul in the enforcement of sanctions, particularly those related to the nuclear program. At the same time, we should be realistic in our expectations regarding sanctions. Both of North Korea's neighbors and major trading partners fear a chaotic collapse in Pyongyang and are unwilling to cut off the country completely. Moreover, Kim Jong Il has a record of allowing his people to suffer. Within a year or so, broad sanctions would be likely to erode.
A long-term strategy will require a carrot as well as a stick. We can offer recognition and economic integration in return for a freeze in the production of fissile material, IAEA inspections and a renewed commitment to a long-term denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Someday, probably within the next decade, the North Korean regime will disappear (probably more rapidly through integration than isolation) and prospects will improve that Korea could follow the South African example.
North Korea's nuclear test is not the end of the nonproliferation regime if we develop such a strategy. The resumption of the six-party talks is a first small step. For those who believe that the horse is out of the barn, the answer is that it matters how many horses are out and how fast they are running. This race is far from over.
1. US dead set against 'Islamic bomb': William Cohen
M.R. Narayan Swamy
Indo-Asian News Service
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The US opposes any 'Islamic (nuclear) bomb' and is worried what will happen to Pakistan without President Pervez Musharraf at the helm of affairs, says former secretary of defence William S. Cohen.
Here on a five-day visit, Cohen also said that while Washington prayed for democratic rule in Pakistan, 'one may anticipate that another strong military man may come forward should Musharraf not be there'.
In an exclusive interview with IANS, Cohen, who headed the Department of Defence from 1997 to 2001 under Bill Clinton, reiterated that India's nuclear weapons could not be compared to those of North Korea or a bomb Iran might want to develop.
'We don't want to see an Islamic bomb being developed,' he said, speaking about concerns over the nuclear ambitions of Pyongyang and Tehran.
Pointed out that an 'Islamic bomb' already exists in Pakistan, he said: 'And there is always concern about that. We are thankful that President Musharraf has been working with the US, and I know this from my own experience when I was Secretary of Defence.'
'He was very helpful in impeding, in stopping a major terrorist operation from occurring. He has been committed to that. We always worry about what happens without him.
'Musharraf is someone who is strong to control any leakage of that technology in the hands of messianics or motivated by other concerns.'
Musharraf, Cohen pointed out, 'is always at risk. So we are concerned about that (Pakistani nuclear weapons). The fact is that they have it. We worry about it.'
He said Washington was trying to encourage Musharraf with a view to marginalising Islamic extremists in Pakistan.
'It should be of concern to everybody if the extremists were to gain power (in Pakistan). India has to be concerned; the US has to be concerned.'
What if Musharraf ceased to be Pakistan's ruler?
'We have hopes there will be a return to democratic rule. That continues to be our hope; whether it becomes a reality remains to be seen. One may anticipate that another strong military man may come forward should Mush not be there.'
Lack of democracy, he warned, would only end up encouraging extremism.
Cohen, who will be meeting a range of Indian business and political leaders, said although Cold War suspicions between New Delhi and Washington had not completely disappeared, bilateral relations were getting stronger and stronger.
India's nuclear arsenal, he went on, could not be compared to North Korea's nuclear weapons.
'India has gone on record against Iran getting (nuclear) weapon... I don't think people in the US associate India with North Korea or Iran. They see India as a democracy, a country we want to have strategic relationship with.'
Cohen said it would be in India's interests to see that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons, notwithstanding the historic relationship between New Delhi and Tehran.
Once Iran went nuclear, the Saudis and Egyptians might want to have a nuclear weapon. 'There will be more and more countries developing the nuclear weapon and the risk of it getting into the hands of terrorist groups becomes greater.'
Cohen denied that the US was courting India so as to contain China - an assessment that he said was 'completely off the mark'.
'China cannot be contained,' he declared. 'We are not able to contain China; our assessment is to engage china.'
He underlined that it was in Washington's interests that India should also have good relations not just with the US but with Japan, Australia and China as well.
Cohen admitted candidly that the US war on Iraq had greatly hurt America's standing in the world. 'There is no question that Iraq has impaired the reputation of the US,' he said, but expressed the opinion that the image could still be redeemed.
He was also confident that the US policy on Iraq was going to change as the current strategy was simply not working.
'We have been unable to control the insurgency, it takes different forms... We have to change our strategy... The American people have patience, but it is not infinite.'
The Iraq war had also forced the US to neglect other parts of the world. 'Iraq has consumed much of our resources and energy.'
1. Are thorium reactors the solution? Coal and renewable energy are the road for now
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Lately the debate over whether Norway should develop nuclear reactors based on thorium is growing in intensity. Since Norway sits on the worlds third largest resource of thorium, the Progress party argues that this could be an important future source of income, and that it would be a more secure card for Norway to bet on then carbon capture.
This raises some questions. The most important question is to what extent thorium reactors are a responsible and sensible solution for the global climate challenge and defense policy questions. Another question is whether the radioactive element thorium has a potential for profitable industrial development in Norway. Let us analyze the latter question first:
According to the US Geological Survey, Norway has a thorium resource of 170,000 tonnes or about 15 percent of the worlds total resources of 1,200,000 tonnes. This means that Norway is sitting on the third largest thorium resource in the world, which again is the basis for Norwegian interest in thorium reactors.
Professor Egil Lillestï¿½l at the University of Bergen has been speaking out on how Norway has to take the initiative for financing, planning and building a prototype of an accelerator driven thorium reactor. This type of reactor uses a particle accelerator to transform thorium to uranium, which is used as fuel in the reactor. The total cost for this type of a project is at least EUR 500 m.
The advantage of this type of a reactor is that it is easier to stop if anything goes wrong, and it produces less long-lived waste than todayï¿½s traditional uranium reactors. However, there is a wide range of unsolved technical challenges connected to this type of a reactor, which, to date, exists only in the planning stage.
Even if thorium reactors produce less long-lived radioactive waste, they do produce waste that has to be handled for a thousand years. After more than 50 years with nuclear power, there is still no country in the world that has a repository for long-lived radioactive waste. Even in Norway, we have no adequate solution for our relatively small amounts of radioactive waste in either the short or long term.
At this point there are no accelerators that are powerful enough for use in these types of thorium reactors. Some of the proposals for reactors are based on the use of melted lead as a cooling agent, which is highly corrosive. Today there are no technical solutions to prevent corrosion at 700 Celsius, which is required by this kind of a reactor.
A number of countries have invested large economical resources in traditional uranium reactors, and will use these reactors as long as possible. There is today a large amount of cheap uranium available on the world market, and the nuclear industry estimates that there is at least enough uranium to last until 2040. Prior to this time, there will be little interest from the large nuclear nations to find a competitive nuclear technology.
If Norway is going to contribute to the development of new thorium reactors, we are dependent upon the research and the development happening internationally as we do not possess that type of competence and technology. This is something that the thorium advocates in Norway understand too. If the Progressive Partyï¿½s proposal to grant funds for research on thorium reactors is accepted, we will be in a situation where Norwegian tax money contributes to subsidizing the international nuclear industry.
Bellona therefore has little belief that thorium will be a profitable industry for Norway. In relation to this, it is interesting to note that the otherwise nuclear-friendly Institute for Energy Technology (IFE) has shown a rather lukewarm interest in thorium reactors.
Then to the question as to whether thorium reactors are anything the world needs: Climate change is the biggest challenge confronting the world community. Fossil energy is responsible for more than 90 percent of the worlds energy use, and consumption is increasing. At the same time we know that greenhouse gas emissions have to be reduced by 50 ï¿½80 percent within the next 50 years. The worldï¿½s coal-fuelled power plants need therefore either to be cleaned or replaced with something else, and nuclear power plants without CO2 emissions can, under these conditions, appear tempting. Bellona does not think so.
The challenge concerning nuclear waste, which is dangerous for future generations for an unforeseeable amount of time, remains unsolved. The likelihood for accidents is not big, but the consequences for health and environment are very big when they first happen. Both the risk and the time perspective raise ethical questions that nuclear power supporters have not answered.
There are a number of unsolved proliferation questions with more than a few of the thorium reactors that are now presently on the drawing board, particularly connected to the accelerator, which can relatively easily be used for the generation of weapons-grade plutonium from natural uranium, and which is found available in large quantities. This is technology we do not wish to end up in the wrong hands.
To reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 80 percent globally, we need technology that is globally pertinent. We register that the development of nuclear power in countries with other political regimes than ours raise significant challenges to defense policy. To solve the climate problem, we need solutions that are applicable in all countries. Renewable energy, energy efficiency and CO2 management for the use of fossil energy are such solutions.
According to Professor Lillestï¿½l the first prototype of thorium reactor will first be available in about 20 years. And only then can we begin to talk about large-scale implementation. With the climate situation the world is confronted with today, we do not have time to wait ï¿½ it is urgent! Prototypes for CCS (Carbon Capture & Storage) are about to be built now, and full-scale implementation of CCS will be a reality long before the first prototypes for thorium reactors are in place.
If Norway is to contribute to solving the worldï¿½s climate challenges, it is important that we invest in what we are good at. Through our experience from the metallurgical industry and our access to clean power, we can play a role in the development of solar technology. Through our experience in oil and gas, we now take the leading role in the production of clean power from fossil energy resources. Coal is the worldï¿½s fastest growing source of energy, and the known reserves of coal are large and will last for some centuries with the current use. The road to cleaner energy is therefore through coal and renewable energy.
A founding treaty to set up the Uranium Mining Company was signed on November 2 at Russia's Federal Agency for Nuclear Power (Rosatom). The event marked the beginning of a new era in the Russian nuclear industry, aimed at consolidating all the branch's uranium production assets.
The agency has proposed to invest between $60 and $70 million in the construction of dozens of nuclear power plants by 2030. These measures and money are expected to prevent a shortage of electric power and increase the share of nuclear energy in Russia's energy balance to 25%. The plan envisages the construction of two generating units annually with 1 gigawatt capacity each. But the nuclear industry's ambitious plans both in Russia and abroad may be thwarted by a shortage of uranium raw materials. To tackle the problem, the agency has begun actively implementing its own raw materials program.
The overall volume of discovered uranium reserves whose production costs do not exceed $130 per kilogram is about 4.7 million metric tons, which is enough for 85 years of operation of all the world's nuclear power plants.
The overall volume of all uranium reserves in the world is probably much greater and is about 35 million tons, says the "Uranium 2005: Resources, Production and Demand" report, prepared by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Country-by-country data differ a great deal. According to some Russian sources, discovered uranium reserves in Russia amount to 615,000 tons (15% of world reserves), and probable reserves to 830,000 tons. U.S. Energy Department data show that the largest reserves are in Australia (about 27% of world reserves, although Australia does not have a single nuclear plant), Kazakhstan (17%), Canada (15%), South Africa (11%), Namibia (8%), Brazil (7%), Russia (5%), and the United States and Uzbekistan (4% each). Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, which possess sizable uranium reserves, are not included in the report.
Russia produces over 3,000 tons of uranium annually (2004 data), and consumes about 9,000 tons. If the nuclear reform goes through, by 2020 the uranium demand will grow to 16,000 tons. There is a plan to increase its production by a thousand tons by 2010. This is clearly not enough even for home consumption. If, however, production is not increased approximately fivefold, Russia will finally turn from a uranium exporter (a country supplying dozens of foreign reactors) into an importer.
The optimum method of supplying nuclear projects inside and outside the country is for Russia to restore the nuclear industry that existed in the U.S.S.R. With that purpose in view, the Federal Agency for Nuclear Power has begun negotiations with Ukraine and Central Asian countries, above all Kazakhstan. All founding documents are already prepared to set up an international uranium enrichment center based on the Angarsk Electrolysis and Chemical Plant. The center will be set up jointly with Kazakhstan, but third countries interested in uranium enrichment will be able to use its services. Shareholders of the joint venture will have open access to all aspects of its operation, but the enterprise will not be allowed to "touch" military technologies.
Besides, steps have been taken to consolidate the branch's production, financial, intellectual and raw materials resources to raise natural uranium output and processing to meet the growing requirements of the country's nuclear industry. The signing of the founding documents of the Uranium Mining Company, which will combine the uranium assets of two large Russian state-owned companies - TVEL and Techsnabexport - is significant in this respect. The world's third largest uranium mining company has been created.
TVEL will contribute three mining assets to the company: Hiagda, Priargunskoye Production Mining Chemical Association, and Dalur. Techsnabexport will contribute the Elkonskoye deposit in Yakutia and its share in the Russian-Kyrgyz-Kazakh JV Zarechnoye. In addition, the company may include Kazakhstan's Yuzhnoye Zarechnoye and Budyonnovskoye deposits, and set up JV Akbastau to develop them. Additionally, Techsnabexport is continuing talks to start up a uranium operation in Uzbekistan. The new uranium company might tap world uranium markets and even hold an IPO.
The new mining company will do several things: follow up exploration and exploitation of deposits located in Russia and development of the country's raw materials, including geological prospecting. The company is also expected to set up joint ventures to produce uranium in and outside the country, and import uranium.
In addition, it will channel Russian and foreign investments into uranium production. The new company may form a partnership with western investors to develop uranium deposits.
For example, Japan's Mitsui, which signed an agreement with Techsnabexport to finance the advanced development of the Elkonskoye deposit, may become a minority shareholder of the new company. The list also includes Canadian Cameco, and world giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. The presence of foreigners in a traditionally off-limits sector is not an attempt to follow the fashion, but a financial necessity. By establishing a joint mining company, the agency ensures the construction of nuclear power plants in Russia and abroad. Discovering and developing deposits involves massive resources, and the only way to increase processing and to prevent uranium shortages in the future is to attract private foreign investments.
To be competitive the Russian nuclear industry must offer its projects on the world market and work together with its CIS neighbors. In addition to building nuclear facilities abroad, the industry also exports enriched uranium, nuclear fuel, and stable and radioactive isotopes, i.e. has a full spectrum of high-technology services available on the international market.
Supplying raw materials calls for complex organizational, technical and investment decisions. Restoration of Soviet-era cooperation in uranium production and processing might benefit all participants in the process, and make CIS countries producers and exporters of advanced nuclear materials.
Russia is considering mining uranium in Bulgaria after its nuclear services exporter won a tender to build a power plant outside Sofia, a senior nuclear official said Wednesday.
Russia's newly-formed uranium production company will study the issue.
"If the recently established Uranium Mining Company carries out the economic study together with Bulgarian colleagues, and uranium production proves to be economically attractive, the project will be launched," said Pyotr Lavrenyuk, vice president of Russia's nuclear fuel producer and supplier TVEL.
The TVEL company and the state-owned uranium trader Tekhsnabexport (Tenex) merged into the Uranium Mining Company on November 2 to develop uranium deposits inside and outside Russia, and import uranium.
Russia's nuclear power equipment and service export monopoly, Atomstroiexport, won a tender on October 30 to build two 1,000-megawatt reactors for an NPP in Belene, about 150 miles from Bulgaria's capital, Sofia.
Russia's uranium production accounts for around 8% of the global output. Up to 90% of the profit in Russia's nuclear sector comes from nuclear fuel, power and services exports, according to nuclear chief Sergei Kiriyenko, but the country is seeking to import more nuclear fuel.
The TVEL official said the company already imported uranium from other east European countries, including the Czech Republic.
TVEL's cooperation in uranium production with other countries takes various forms. For example, Ukraine produces uranium independently, sends it to Russia for enrichment, and Russia in turn supplies uranium fuel for 15 nuclear power generating units in Ukraine.
Russia and Kazakhstan established a joint venture in October to enrich uranium near Irkutsk, about 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) east of Moscow.
Under the Soviet system, the three countries shared a nuclear power infrastructure under the Ministry of Medium Machine Building, a complex that Russia's nuclear chief wants restored.
Kiriyenko also said in mid-September that nuclear energy must replace natural gas in Russia's energy balance, as the country's reserves of coal and natural gas will be depleted in 50 years.
He also said Russia plans to meet 60-70% of its uranium demand domestically by 2015.
Russia on Tuesday offered to upgrade Slovakia's nuclear power plants and the two countries pledged to extend an agreement on the transit of Russian natural gas to Western Europe.
"Russian organizations are ready to take part in modernizing and finishing building a whole range of [nuclear] power-generating units," President Vladimir Putin said a joint news conference after talks with his Slovak counterpart, Ivan Gasparovic.
"A number of projects are already under way," Putin said.
Gasparovic welcomed the offer. "In the future we see prospects of building new units at nuclear power plants. Views on nuclear energy are changing ... and we see prospects of our cooperation with the Russian Federation in this sphere," Gasparovic told reporters.
Putin said the leaders agreed to sign a new long-term contract on the transit of Russian gas through Slovakia, since the current agreement expires in 2008.
"Our energy deliveries to consumers on the European continent depend largely on the effectiveness of our cooperation [with Slovakia]," Putin said.
Earlier, Putin said Russia met up to 90 percent of Slovakia's energy needs.
"The importance of your country is not limited to the volume of our energy resources you consume," Putin said. "You are also a most important transit country for our gas to Europe."
Military cooperation was also on the agenda. Russia is upgrading Slovakia's MiG-29 fighter jets and Putin said that was an example of partnership between the two countries.
During his five-day visit, Gasparovic was set to attend the opening of a joint venture for tire production and a business forum in Siberia, Itar-Tass reported.
4. Russia to raise nuclear fuel prices for Ukraine in 2007
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Russia plans to increase the price for enriched uranium it supplies for Ukraine's nuclear power plants in 2007, the Federal Nuclear Power Agency (Rosatom) said Tuesday.
"We have agreed [with Ukraine] to revise prices annually," a spokesman said. "Since spot prices on uranium have increased several times, the price for uranium fuel for Ukrainian NPPs will be revised correspondingly."
Russia is supplying uranium fuel for 15 nuclear power generating units of Ukraine's NPPs in 2006 under a contract signed in January by Russia's TVEL, one of the world's largest nuclear fuel producers and suppliers, and Ukraine's national nuclear energy generating company Energoatom.
1. Russia launches SS-19 Stiletto missile from Baikonur
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Russia has tested an RS-18 (SS-19 Stiletto) intercontinental ballistic missile by launching it from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan, the Missile Forces said Thursday.
Russian Missile Forces regularly launch missiles to test their performance characteristics and decide whether they can remain in service.
"At 14.35 Moscow time [11.35 GMT], the RS-18 missile was successfully launched," the Missile Forces press service said.
The main performance characteristics of the missile make it possible to extend its service life to 30 years, the press service said.
RS-18 ICBMs have been in service for 28 years. Last year's test launch led to the missile's service life being extended to 29 years.
Following numerous test launches, RS-18 missiles are considered to have high reliability. About 360 silo-based Stiletto missiles are currently in operation in the Russian Strategic Missile Forces, with each missile carrying six warheads.
China and Egypt agreed to co-operate on the peaceful use of nuclear energy, state media said Wednesday, in a development that could rile the United States, a traditional Cairo ally.
The agreement was announced in a joint communiquï¿½ following talks in Beijing Tuesday between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
"Egypt is not going to produce nuclear weapons," said He Wenping, an expert on Africa relations at the Beijing-based Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the top government think tank. "It won't affect the international community, because Egypt will use the nuclear energy peacefully," she said.
No details were immediately available on how the two nations planned to co-operate, according to Xinhua.
The agreement comes at a time when both have announced plans to step up their nuclear energy capacity.
China has an ambitious plan to increase its combined nuclear power capacity to 40,000 megawatts by 2020, a plan that will require about two 1,000 megawatt nuclear power plants to be built annually for the next 15 years.
Egypt, meanwhile, is reviving its nuclear program two decades after it was frozen, following an accident at the Chernobyl power plant in what was then the Soviet Union. According to reports, Egypt is now looking to build at least one nuclear power station within 10 years.
He said that Egypt is in fact pursuing two separate purposes.
Although it is an exporter of oil, it wants to seek solutions to longer-term worries about energy security, but just as important, it also hopes to learn technological know-how from the Chinese, He said.
When Mubarak visited Russia last week, his Moscow hosts also signaled a willingness to cooperate with Egypt on nuclear energy. "Egypt has made a decision to transfer to nuclear energy and build four stations," said Boris Alyoshin, head of Russia's federal industry agency.
"It is beyond doubt that we will take part in the tender and I think we have good chances of winning," Alyoshin said.
It is not the first time that nuclear cooperation has been on the trilateral agenda between Cairo, Moscow, and Beijing.
In the 1960s, Egypt sought technical assistance from China and the former Soviet Union as it attempted to develop a nuclear program to match research by archrival Israel. However, both Beijing and Moscow turned down the request.
In a shift of strategy, Cairo became a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968 and now officially supports the elimination of nuclear weapons in the region.
It has sought to reassure the international community by insisting that it would not import enriched uranium, amid the tense climate generated by the standoff with Iran and North Korea's October 9 nuclear test.
Nonetheless, analysts said that a nuclear alliance between Egypt and China - and possibly including Russia - risked affronting Washington, Egypt's major ally.
"Egyptians know that this step can irritate the United States, but they don't want to be under the influence of the Americans on this issue," Emad Gad, of the Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, said earlier.
1. Congress may clear US-Indian nuclear deal despite Republican poll setback
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A key US-India nuclear deal could be cleared by US Congress before year's end despite the drubbing of President George W. Bush's Republican party in mid-term legislative elections.
Bush and Harry Reid, the Senate leader of the Democratic party, agreed Wednesday to give the accord top priority during a brief Congress session next week before it adjourns for the year.
A failure to pass the deal in 2006 would mean that the newly seated Congress next year will have to start from scratch in considering the accord, which aims to lift a three-decade US ban on supply of nuclear fuel and equipment to energy-hungry India.
Bush, speaking at a White House news conference after Democrats won control of the House of Representatives and came close to taking over the Senate, said that he wanted the nuclear pact and a deal granting Vietnam normal trading status to be cleared during the "lame duck" session.
"I'm trying to get the Indian deal done, the Vietnam deal done, and the budgets done," he said.
Bush is anxious to get the bill granting "permanent normal trade relations" (PNTR) status to Vietnam passed before he visits Hanoi for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit on November 18-19.
Reid said, "I think it is important we do something with the Indian nuclear agreement.
"India is the largest democracy in the world. We want to work with them, and it is important we move along the lines," he said, indicating the Democrats would not impose any major roadblocks to the deal.
The agreement, clinched during Bush's March visit to India as the centerpiece of a bilateral strategic relationship, is a controversial component of the Republican administration's foreign policy.
Under the proposal, India, a non signatory of the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), would be allowed access to long-denied civilian nuclear technology in return for placing its atomic reactors under international safeguards.
As Congress has to amend the US Atomic Energy Act, which currently prohibits nuclear sales to non NPT signatories, some legislators want to first study the international safeguards being negotiated between India and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the global nuclear watchdog.
The safeguards would be incorporated together with other key technical details in another bilateral agreement, which the lawmakers also wanted to study before endorsing the deal.
American weapons experts also have warned that forging a civilian nuclear agreement with non-NPT member India would not only make it harder to enforce rules against nuclear renegades Iran and North Korea, but also set a dangerous precedent to other countries with nuclear ambitions.
The US House of Representatives gave its thumbs-up to the deal in July but a vote had been delayed in the Senate ahead of Tuesday's legislative elections.
Backers of the deal were worried there would be little time left for the accord to be considered by the Senate, which has to grapple with nearly a dozen unfinished spending bills.
2. India fails to convince NSG: US arms control body
Indo-Asian News Service
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An American arms control association claims that India has failed to address all the concerns and questions raised by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) members on the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal.
Indian officials made their case on October 12 when the 45-member group met in Vienna for a regular Consultative Group meeting to assess worldwide nuclear developments, said Arms Control Today (ACT), a publication of the Washington-based Arms Control Association.
The confidential presentation, which reportedly stressed India's need for nuclear energy and determination not to cap its nuclear weapons sector, did not assuage all the concerns of critics and sceptics, it said citing two NSG member officials.
Suppliers also failed at the October meeting to align on two additional proposals. One calls for criteria to govern exports of uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing technologies, both of which can be used to produce nuclear fuel or fissile material for nuclear bombs.
The other would block nuclear trade with a country unless it had enacted an additional protocol delegating the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) greater powers to uncover illicit activity, an article in the November issue of the journal said.
Suppliers conducted no vote on the US-India initiative, it said. The group, which operates by consensus, typically makes decisions at a once-a-year plenary; the next one is scheduled for April in South Africa.
Much remains unsettled about the US-India deal, so the NSG may not face an April decision, it suggested. Congress has not passed legislation changing the US law to authorise full civilian nuclear trade with India.
In addition, the IAEA and New Delhi have not started negotiations on the duration and scope of the agency's oversight because India is balking at the notion of permanent IAEA safeguards for its entire civilian nuclear sector, ACT said.
Moreover, US and Indian negotiators have not completed the so-called 123 agreement, which codifies the terms of US nuclear trade with a foreign state. Such an agreement is required by section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.
Negotiators first met in June but have not reconvened. New Delhi has been waiting for Congress to pass a final bill on the deal, which could occur in November or December.
The NSG, ACT said, convened two days after North Korea announced its first nuclear test and authorised an October 12 statement urging all countries to "exercise extreme vigilance" to prevent trade that might benefit Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme.
The NSG's origins go back to another test: India's 1974 nuclear blast, which used plutonium produced by a Canadian-supplied reactor using US-origin heavy water designated for peaceful purposes. Several countries formed the group the following year to enact stricter export standards.
In 1992, at US instigation, the NSG adopted a rule applying to all but the five recognized nuclear-weapon states - China, France, Russia, Britain and the US - under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The dictate said that, for other countries to enjoy full nuclear trade, they must open up their entire nuclear enterprises to the IAEA, which is charged with enforcing safeguard agreements.
India, which has never signed the NPT, refused, resulting in NSG members significantly limiting exports to India. The IAEA safeguards agreements help verify that countries do not exploit civilian nuclear facilities, materials, and technologies to build bombs.
As part of their July 2005 initiative to expand nuclear trade, Washington and New Delhi are seeking to persuade the NSG to exempt India from the 1992 rule. Several group members, including France, Russia, South Africa, and the UK, have expressed their support, the magazine noted.
Some suppliers, however, worry that exempting India might send the wrong signal to other countries that have accepted the NPT basic bargain of forswearing nuclear weapons in return for full civilian nuclear trade.
They contend that some states might reconsider their restraint if India is granted the same trade privileges while retaining and possibly expanding its nuclear arsenal.
1. Pakistan minister raises fear of nuclear exchange
Indo-Asian News Service
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The danger from a nuclearised subcontinent and the unresolved Kashmir issue came to the fore when a Pakistani minister told a Kashmiri gathering in Washington that in a dispute over the issue his country will not "make first use of nuclear weapons, but human beings make errors."
"We won't make first use of nuclear weapons, but you know human beings make errors," Pakistan's Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas Tahir Iqbal told a Kashmiri gathering in Washington.
Consequences of an unresolved Kashmir issue could be grave. "Should we wait for another 60 years?" the minister asked at an open forum sponsored by the Kashmiri American Council (KAC), adding that Jammu and Kashmir remained the "nuclear flashpoint" of South Asia.
Like his colleague, Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri, recently claiming that India and Pakistan had come close to "an understanding" on scaling down military presence on the Siachen glacier, Iqbal also made some 'revelations' at the conference.
"The minister also revealed that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had made some fresh proposals on the Kashmir dispute but they have not yet been made public. He mentioned that Singh was due to visit Pakistan in December although a date had not been decided," Daily Times quoted him as saying.
The minister repeatedly asked India to be "more flexible" and stop "finger-pointing" at Pakistan, a reference to India's allegations that Islamabad was fomenting terrorism.
Reporting about the same conference, The News said the minister's prescription for a solution to the Kashmir issue was the same as enunciated by President Pervez Musharraf, of a single government for the entire territory now divided between India and Pakistan, with both Indian and Pakistani leaders thinking "inbox".
The newspaper said this expression puzzled the participants till it became evident that the minister meant to say the two leaderships should think "out of the box".
Iqbal did not say whose responsibility the three subjects - defence, foreign affairs and currency - would or should be.
The Department of Energyï¿½s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) is implementing President Bushï¿½s policy to provide reliable access to nuclear fuel for civilian reactors to countries that refrain from pursuing their own enrichment and reprocessing technologies. NNSA is announcing its intent to seek proposals to down-blend 17.4 metric tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) into reactor grade fuel for use in the Reliable Fuel Supply program. This program also contributes to the Administrationï¿½s proposed Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.
ï¿½Establishing a reliable fuel supply supports the Administrationï¿½s twin goals of expanding the use of nuclear power and curbing nuclear proliferation,ï¿½ said Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman. ï¿½This will help countries to pursue nuclear power confidently, without the burden of producing their own fuel, while curbing the spread of sensitive technology.ï¿½
Last year, Secretary Bodman announced that the United States would set aside 17.4 metric tons of HEU declared excess to the U.S. nuclear weapons program. The material will be down-blended to about 290 metric tons of low enriched uranium, worth approximately $750 million. The fuel will be available to qualifying countries that face a disruption in supply that cannot be corrected through normal commercial means.
ï¿½Down-blending this HEU will mark an important milestone in implementing the reliable fuel supply arrangement. Such a mechanism is essential if we are to avoid the uncontrolled spread of fuel cycle capabilities needed for producing nuclear fuel that can also be used for manufacturing nuclear weapons,ï¿½ said Linton F. Brooks, NNSA Administrator.
NNSA today published on the website www.fedbizopps.gov a notice of intent to request proposals from companies interested in competing for the contract to down-blend the material. NNSA plans to award a contract in early 2007. The material is expected to be down-blended and available as a back up reserve in 2010.
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