1. US Envoy Hopeful NKorea will Keep Nuclear Promises, but Says Process May Be Tough
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Progress on disabling North Korea's main nuclear facility was on schedule to be completed by year's end, but the toughest step ï¿½ getting the North to give up existing weapons material ï¿½ was still to come, the chief U.S. negotiator said Tuesday.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said six-party negotiations to end the North's nuclear programs were proceeding step by step, but that persuading the country "to give up all its weapons in one fell swoop is probably not going to happen."
North Korea in February agreed to abandon its nuclear ambitions in return for 1 million tons of oil aid and political concessions, as part of long running negotiations with the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.
Under the initial phase of the deal, North Korea in July shut down its Yongbyon nuclear complex, which is believed to have produced enough plutonium for perhaps more than a dozen bombs ï¿½ including the device North Korea detonated a year ago to prove its long-suspected nuclear capability.
A U.S. team of nuclear experts has been in North Korea since Thursday to map out a disablement plan, and Hill said Tuesday during a trip to Australia they were making progress.
"So far so good," Hill told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio. "I mean, the North Koreans have been pretty good about granting access. It's been pretty collegial, if I can use that expression to talk about the North Koreans."
"The hope is by the end of this year we will have a disabled nuclear facility, we will have a full catalog of what all their facilities are," Hill said.
"And then, next year, we will try to get to the last step, which is to get them to give up, to abandon, the 50 kilos of plutonium that they have already produced," he said. "That will be the tough part."
In an interview with CNN in June, Hill estimated that North Korea possesses "about 110 pounds" (50 kilograms) of reprocessed plutonium, which he said the country must give up.
In remarks to the Sydney Institute think tank earlier Tuesday, Hill said he believed the communist regime would terminate by the end of this year any programs it has on enriching uranium.
"I think by the end of the year we will have good reason to believe that whatever uranium enrichment program they have going, they will not have going by the end of the year," he said.
Uranium enrichment, a process needed to prepare materials for atomic weapons, has long been suspected as being part of the North's programs.
Meanwhile, working-level officials from the two Koreas, the United States and their regional partners were expected to meet as early as next weekend to discuss details of the aid-for-disarmament deal, South Koreas Yonhap news agency reported, citing unnamed government officials.
1. Khamenei Tells Putin Iran Avoids Adventurism but is Serious on Uranium Enrichment
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Russian President Vladimir Putin made an unspecified proposal concerning Iran's controversial nuclear program to the country's top leader at a private meeting during his brief stay in the country, Iran's state news agency said Wednesday.
Russian officials could not immediately be reached to verify the report and the Iranian news agency provided no details on what Putin had proposed.
The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told Putin in turn that Iran avoids adventurism and cooperates with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, but is serious about continuing with uranium enrichment, the news agency said.
Khamenei, who has the final say on all government matters in Iran, said Iran will give Putin's proposal serious thought before giving a response, the news agency said.
"We will ponder your words and proposal," IRNA quoted Khamenei as saying. Today in Africa & Middle East
Officials close to hard-liners within Iran's ruling Islamic establishment said they believed the proposal by Putin was a type of "timeout" on sanctions against Iran, if Tehran suspends uranium enrichment.
The five permanent U.N. Security Council members, plus Germany, have been working together to try to find a way to get Iran to abandon its disputed uranium enrichment program.
"The main reason for Putin's visit to Iran was to convey this message personally to the ultimate power in Iran," one official close to hard-liners said on condition of anonymity.
Putin's visit, during which he met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and attended Tuesday's summit of Caspian Sea nations, was a first. No Kremlin leader has traveled to Iran since Josef Stalin in 1943, for a wartime summit with Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Before visiting Iran, Putin held extensive talks on Iran's nuclear activities with some Western leaders including French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Putin has bluntly spelled out his disagreements with Washington, saying last week that he saw no "objective data" to prove Western claims that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.
At talks Friday with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, he ridiculed U.S. plans for a missile defense system in eastern Europe, supposedly to stop an Iranian attack.
On Tuesday in Tehran, Putin warned the United States not to use a former Soviet republic to stage an attack on Iran.
Iran insists the nuclear program is only for developing energy, and it has touted the program as a sign of its technological prowess. But the United States and its allies contend Iran is secretly pursuing nuclear weapons.
The Security Council permanent members group in June 2006, offered a package of economic and political rewards to Iran and a suspension of the implementation of sanctions, but only if Tehran agreed to suspend enrichment before the start of negotiations. Iran rejected that proposal.
The U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran in December for refusing to suspend enrichment, and modestly increased them in March after Tehran stepped up the program. Iran responded by giving the U.N. nuclear watchdog less access to its nuclear facilities.
IRNA, the official news agency, reported Wednesday that Khamenei had told Putin that U.S. demands had no limits but that Iran won't seek adventurism.
"Iran ... has chosen a lasting logic in defending its national interests because it is certain that excessive demands of the enemies of this nation has no limits.
"Due to this reason, the Iranian nation and government, while avoiding adventurism and not giving pretexts to the enemy, will pursue this wise logic," IRNA quoted Khamenei as telling Putin.
Khamenei also said Iran will continue cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to scrutinze Iran's nuclear program.
"Iran's cooperation with the IAEA is a logical and correct path and will continue. We are determined to meet our country's need for nuclear energy. That's why we are taking the issue of enrichment seriously," IRNA quoted Khamenei as saying.
Khamenei said an "independent Iran" was in the interest of Russia, while a "powerful Russia" served the interests of Iran.
Russia has resisted the U.S. push for stronger sanctions against Tehran and strongly warned Washington against using force against Iran.
But its position is carefully hedged: It has delayed completing the Bushehr nuclear power plant, Iran's first, and is urging the country to comply with international controls on its nuclear activities.
Putin refused to set a date Tuesday for the start-up of Iran's first nuclear power plant, but stressed that Moscow would not back out of its commitment to complete the project.
Setting a date by Putin to quickly complete the power plant could embolden Iran and further cloud Russia's relations with the West.
Notwithstanding the current uncertainty over the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, Washington has asserted that the agreement is "not dead" and expressed confidence it could "still" be operationalised by the original timeframe of 2008.
The US will continue to work to meet its commitments under the agreement, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said but left it to the Indian government to "describe their interaction with the IAEA".
There were some "internal discussions" on the deal in India, he noted, adding that "in terms of the timing of those discussions and the outcomes of them, frankly, we don't want to interfere in this internal matter for the Indian government and we'll leave it to them to comment on it".
"We would hope that India would be able to move forward with this agreement and that we would be able to complete it in 2008, which was in general keeping with the original timeframe we had outlined for it," Casey said at a briefing.
"It is an issue that we have talked about with the Indians in addition to the conversation that the President and the Prime Minister had. Under-Secretary Burns has spoken with his counterparts over the weekend and continue to do so on Wednesday. We've also had conversations between Ambassador Mulford and some officials in India as well about this. So this is something I expect is going to continue to be the subject of discussion," the official said.
Asked again if the agreement can be completed by 2008, he said, "We believe it's still possible for that to happen. Obviously, a number of things would have to occur for that to be ultimately implemented. But it's a long time between now and the end of 2008 and we'll see where we are".
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday told US president George Bush that his government would not be able to hold safeguards negotiations with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in what brings down the curtain on a long and painstaking push for operationalisation of the deal during his tenure.
ï¿½ï¿½The Prime Minister explained to president Bush that certain difficulties have arisen with respect to the operationalisation of the India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement,ï¿½ï¿½ tersely noted the official press release issued after the talks.
Save a three-line reference to the deal, the one-page statement focussed exclusively on the deadlocked WTO talks and how to take them forward. The shyness reflected the governmentï¿½s embarrassment in being forced to cast aside, at least for now, what it sincerely felt was going to be a historic and honourable agreement for India.
Singh conceded his failure to get past the obstacles raised by the opponents of the deal, as well as allies leery of a confrontation with the Left on the matter, after Bush responded to the PMï¿½s efforts to reach him.
Singh had, early on, failed to get through to Bush who was on Air Force One.
The conversation with Bush after the UPA government blinked in the face-off with the Left was necessary because he was, on the American side, the chief catalyst for the successful negotiation of the 123 Agreement. Bush defied strong resistance from non-proliferation hardliners, as well as lobbyists for Pakistan, in the state department and Pentagon who argued that ï¿½ï¿½concessionsï¿½ï¿½ to India would tip the scales in the sub-continent towards India and annoy the old-time ally.
The US president had also vowed to lug the deal through the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the US Congress in the face of continued opposition.
The statement said that the two leaders also discussed the divergences holding up the Doha Round. Reiterating that India was committed to the successful conclusion of the Doha Round, the statement said trade liberalisation had contributed immensely to the growth of the world economy.
The statement said the draft texts in circulation could be the basis for discussions towards an agreed outcome in agriculture and industrial tariffs (non-agricultural market access or NAMA). Although there were grey areas in the text and specific numbers which needed to be agreed upon, the texts gave a broad indication of the range of possibilities on most issues, the statement added. Singh said that India was comfortable with most of the elements of these texts.
It was a reasonable compromise between differing positions of various countries. As is true of any trade deal, it involved give and take by all and India was ready to do its share of giving in this regard.
1. Syria Denies it Confirmed Target of IAF Strike was Nuclear Facility
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Syria denied Wednesday its representatives to the United Nations had confirmed that an Israel Air Force strike last month targeted nuclear facility, and added that such facilities do not exist in Syria, state-run news agency said.
The Syrian Arab News Agency, SANA, quoting a foreign ministry source, said that Syria had made it clear in the past that there are no such facilities in Syria.
On Tuesday, a UN press release sent after a meeting of the First Committee, Disarmament and International Security, in New York paraphrased Syria's UN ambassador, Bashar al-Jaafari, as saying that a nuclear facility was hit. "Israel was the fourth largest exporter of weapons of mass destruction and a violator of other nations' airspace, and it had taken action against nuclear facilities, including the 6 July attack in Syria," the release paraphrased al-Jaafari as saying, in an apparent error as to the date of the September 6 air strike.
Syria has confirmed that the target of an IAF raid deep within its borders last month was a nuclear facility, Israeli Foreign Ministry officials said Wednesday.
The comments were first reported to Israel by Foreign Ministry Deputy Director General for Strategic Affairs Miriam Ziv, who took part in the UN meeting.
In an official response, the Foreign Ministry confirmed the content of Ziv's report, but declined further comment.
The comments follow a Saturday New York Times account, which said that the attack targeted a partially built nuclear reactor that was years away from completion.
Israeli officials have been largely silent about the affair. The military only recently relaxed censorship to allow Israel-based journalists to report that Israeli aircraft attacked a military target deep inside Syria.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has maintained that Israel bombed an "unused military building" in the raid.
The Times said the nuclear reactor was modeled on one North Korea had used to create its stockpile of nuclear weapons fuel. North Korea has denied involvement in any such activities in Syria.
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