1. US Experts Leave for NKorea to Begin Disabling Nuclear Arsenal
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A team of US experts left Tuesday for North Korea to disable the hardline communist state's nuclear weapons arsenal in a crucial phase of a six-nation disarmament pact.
The eight experts would launch the process of "actual disablement" at the key Yongbyon nuclear complex, the source of bomb-grade plutonium for North Korea, which conducted its first atomic weapons test exactly a year ago, officials said.
The experts are expected to reach Pyongyang on Thursday after a stopover in Beijing. They would stay in North Korea for about a week before another team takes over in a "baton pass," said Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman.
North Korea agreed last week to disable by December 31 the main plutonium producing reactor at Yongbyon and two other key nuclear facilities at the complex, which were shut down in July in the first phase of a February six-party agreement.
The United States, a nuclear weapons state, will lead the disablement drive as Pyongyang makes a full declaration of its nuclear network under the deal clinched by China, the United States, Russia, the two Koreas and Japan.
North Korea was promised energy aid as well as diplomatic and security guarantees if it disbands its nuclear weapons drive.
The United States is taking great pains to ensure that North Korea sticks to its plan to declare and disable its nuclear program and eventually dismantle it and surrender all the atomic material.
North Korea previously shut down the Yongbyon reactor under a 1994 agreement clinched during the administration of then president Bill Clinton, but it withdrew from the pact after the Bush administration in 2002 accused it of developing a secret uranium enrichment program.
The North responded by throwing out weapons inspectors, leaving the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and resuming its atomic activities.
"We don't want a situation like in 2002 ... (when) they were able to turn the plant back on in two months time," said Christopher Hill, the US pointman for the six-party talks, pointing out that there was no disablement then.
"We need many more months and ideally, I'd like to see, you know, around 12 months," Hill said.
He said the disablement process would "make it difficult" for North Korea to restart its nuclear activities.
"You can take certain components out of the facilities and, for example, take things out of a reactor such that they are not so easy to just put back into the reactor," he said.
"For example, if you took a battery out of a car and just left the battery next to the car, that would not be real disablement because you could just put the battery right back in the car.
"But let's say you put the battery somewhere else or let's say it's the only battery in town and the battery is disabled slightly on its own, then it becomes more difficult to do," he said.
President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday that Iran must be encouraged to make its nuclear program fully transparent, but also underscored there is no proof it is pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
"We are sharing our partners' concern about making all Iranian programs transparent," Putin said at a news conference after talks with visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy. "We agreed yesterday, and the president confirmed it, that Iran is making certain steps toward the international community to achieve that."
Putin is to make his first visit to Iran early next week for a summit of Caspian Sea nations.
Sarkozy said Putin's trip to Tehran could encourage Iran to be more cooperative. "After the trip, there could be a will to cooperate - that is essential," he said.
Russia has opposed the U.S.-push for tougher sanctions against Iran and called for more checks and inspections of Iranian facilities by an international nuclear watchdog.
"We have worked cooperatively with our partners at the United Nations Security Council, and we intend to continue such cooperative work in the future," Putin said.
But he said with no "objective data" showing Iran is developing nuclear weapons, "we proceed from an assumption that Iran has no such plans."
Sarkozy has hardened France's stance on Iran in recent months, shifting closer to the United States in his insistence on tough U.N. Security Council sanctions and even his mention of the possibility of war. While the U.S. and European nations are pressing for greater sanctions, Russia and China have resisted.
Sarkozy had criticized Russia of late, recently accusing it of "brutality" in exercising its energy dominance, and courting central and eastern European leaders who bristled at Moscow's renewed influence.
But on his first presidential visit to Russia, he struck a decidedly upbeat note after hours of talks with Putin on a battery of touchy subjects.
Sarkozy pointed at the opportunities of bilateral cooperation in such areas as space and nuclear energy, and added that France wants to be a "privileged partner of Russia." Touching on France's presidency in the European Union next year, he said that Russia and Europe were "natural partners."
Speaking after talks with Putin, he pointed at the need for transparency and respect for free-market rules in the bilateral economic ties and promised to take a non-discriminatory attitude toward Russian companies willing to purchase assets in France.
Putin, grilled by reporters on Russian authorities' attitude toward non-governmental organizations, also sought to moderate his tone.
Western critics long have accused Putin of backsliding on democracy, muffling dissent and free media and harassing NGOs - claims the Kremlin has angrily denied. Sarkozy on Wednesday was set to meet with representatives of Russian NGOs.
Putin said Wednesday that NGOs were important and his government was trying to cooperate with them, but in a steely note warned against foreign interference in Russia's affairs: "It's bad when such organizations are being used by one state against others to achieve some goals."
1. IAEA Will Wait for India on Safeguards Negotiations (Update1)
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The International Atomic Energy Agency will wait until India is ready to hold safeguards talks to take forward a civilian nuclear power agreement with the U.S.
There is no deadline for the talks with the regulator, Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the agency, said in New Delhi today. India needs nuclear power to boost electricity output to achieve a 10 percent economic growth target, he said.
ElBaradei began his visit to Asia's fourth-biggest economy yesterday at a time when tension has risen between the government and its communist allies over the nuclear policy.
ï¿½I know the domestic political dialogue is going on. As and when India is ready we will be happy to interact with them,ï¿½ he said. ï¿½There is no deadline. When India is ready for the safeguards agreement, we'll negotiate.ï¿½
India may be forced to call early elections if the communists, whose support provides Singh with a parliamentary majority, don't yield to the government's plan to start negotiations with the IAEA. The leftists oppose the talks because they say the nuclear accord with the U.S. would weaken the nation's ability to follow an independent foreign policy.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh needs the consent of the IAEA to bring into effect the agreement with the U.S. that would allow India to purchase nuclear reactors from suppliers including France's Areva SA and Japan's Hitachi Ltd.
ï¿½India, a major player in every aspect of international affairs, cannot continue to be sidelined,ï¿½ ElBaradei said. ï¿½I want to see India a full partner, not sidelined.ï¿½
ElBaradei said he supported India's bid to get the 45- nation Nuclear Suppliers Group to remove restrictions on the delivery of nuclear material.
The removal of nuclear trade restrictions ï¿½would be a major step towards regularizing the relationship between India and the international community in nuclear trade,ï¿½ he said.
This won't be the first safeguards agreement with India's government, the agency chief said.
ï¿½This is a standard procedure we apply to make sure that facilities in the civilian sectors are used exclusively for peaceful propose.ï¿½
The U.S. government should replace more than 1,000 irradiation machines used in hospitals and research facilities because terrorists could use the radioactive materials inside to make a ï¿½dirtyï¿½ bomb, a government advisory panel has concluded.
ï¿½Any one of these 1,000-plus sources could shut down 25 square kilometers, anywhere in the United States, for 40-plus years,ï¿½ according to panel documents obtained by The Associated Press.
The machines are in relatively unprotected locations such as hospitals and research facilities all over the country, and may be a tempting source of radioactive materials for terrorists who want bombs that explode and disperse radioactive debris over a large area, rendering it uninhabitable, the board found.
The irradiators contain Cesium-137, one of the most dangerous and long-lasting radioactive materials. They are used for radiation therapy and to sterilize blood and food.
Swapping the Cesium irradiators for X-ray machines or irradiators that use other materials would cost about $200 million over five years, but it would take the most accessible source of dangerous radioactive material inside the United States ï¿½off the tableï¿½ for terrorists, the panel says.
The recommendation is part of an as-yet-unreleased report that describes how unfriendly nations or terrorist groups could undermine the computers and satellites the U.S. military relies on and attack the United States with radiological or biological weapons or blackmail the U.S. government with a threat of a nuclear detonation, all while manipulating world opinion against the United States in the media and on the Internet.
The report comes from the Defense Science Board, a panel of retired military and CIA officials and defense industry experts who offer the Pentagon possible solutions to actual and potential national security problems. It is expected to be released late this year.
The board wants the Pentagon to create a joint military force able to locate and seize illicit nuclear materials and weapons when they are still in transit, and to safely destroy nuclear weapons captured from terrorists or defeated states.
It says U.S. intelligence has failed to determine what countries or groups are developing or trying to obtain nuclear, radiological and biological weapons and how and when they are likely to use them.
ï¿½No adversary can exercise all options; but we don't know which options they can exercise,ï¿½ the documents state.
The report recommends creating ï¿½unfettered X-treme intelligence teamsï¿½ to improve the ï¿½poor intelligence community posture.ï¿½ Exactly what the teams would do is classified.
The board advocates diplomacy and trying to influence world opinion so the United States is less likely to be attacked or lured into a foreign war it might not win.
ï¿½We are unprepared,ï¿½ state the documents. ï¿½At best we will be deterred. Worse, we will enter the fray and then quit when we appreciate the cost of success. Instruments of national power other than the military, such as strategic communication, will assume greater importance.ï¿½
The U.S government should be promoting universally accepted values like human dignity, economic well-being, health care and education rather than ï¿½democracyï¿½ and ï¿½freedom,ï¿½ the panel states.
ï¿½What we say is often not what others may hear -- concepts such as 'democracy,' 'rule of law' and 'freedom' have different meanings in different cultures and at different stages of their development,ï¿½ the documents state. ï¿½It is about them, not only about us.ï¿½
It recommends that the State Department spend $250 million over five years to create an independent ï¿½Center for Global Engagementï¿½ to conduct opinion research and analyses on media and culture that the government can use to design projects and messages that will advance those values.
It also recommends deploying more hospital ships for medical and humanitarian relief; releasing spy imagery to help other countries in crop management, weather forecasting, and environmental studies; and adopting policies that will help create jobs in key strategic nations such as Lebanon, Pakistan and Iraq.
1. U.S. Treasury-Insurers Won't Cover Nuclear Risks
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Private insurers are unlikely to develop a functioning market for coverage of nuclear, biological, chemical and radiological attack risk despite a U.S. House of Representatives bill requiring them to offer it, a senior U.S. Treasury official said on Tuesday.
David Nason, assistant secretary for financial institutions, said the provision in the House-passed Terrorism Risk Insurance Act renewal bill might even make it more difficult for insurers to provide conventional terrorism risk insurance.
"If insurers must offer NBCR-terrorism risk coverage, insurer capacity might draw from conventional attack capacity," Nason told an insurance group conference in Amelia Island, Florida.
"Moreover, some insurers are concerned about taking on such exposure and the effect on credit ratings and more importantly, their solvency in the event of an actual attack," he added.
The Bush administration has threatened to veto the TRIA reauthorization bill if it is approved by the U.S. Senate without changes.
TRIA was created in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks to make the federal government the insurer of last resort for damages from a terrorist attack too massive for private insurers to handle. It is due to expire on Dec. 31 unless it is extended by Congress.
Even with the current TRIA law, there is little availability of NBCR coverage, Nason said, adding, "We at Treasury are not convinced that the House's approach will lead to the development of a NBCR market."
He added that the federal government already shoulders some NBCR risk, given expectations that uninsured losses from such an attack would likely be compensated through federal disaster aid programs.
Nason said the Treasury objects to the 15-year extension of the program, which he called a "de facto permanent extension". The Treasury wants to phase out TRIA to increase private sector participation in terrorism risk coverage.
The Treasury also objects to the bill's failure to increase private sector retentions and to a new backstop for group life insurance.
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