1. US to Begin Disabling North Korean Nuclear Programme in Three Weeks
(for personal use only)
US experts are to begin disabling North Korea's nuclear weapons arsenal in about three weeks, the State Department said on Thursday following talks in Pyongyang.
The timeframe was given by Sung Kim, the head of the US State Department's Korea desk, who completed talks with North Korean officials on the nuclear disablement mission, said Tom Casey, a department spokesman.
Kim and his 20-member interagency team that visited North Korea were on their way home after a one week pre-disablement mission, Casey said.
"Work to actually start the process of disablement could begin somewhere in the next three weeks or so. So we look forward to that happening," Casey said, basing it on Kim's assessment.
"And in terms of next steps, what we would be looking for is a technical team to go out and help participate in that actual disablement," he said.
The team would work with the North Koreans "on the actual specific work of disablement" of the atomic facilities, including the key Yongbyon nuclear reactor.
North Korea agreed earlier this month to disable key facilities at the Yongbyon complex and declare all other nuclear programmes by the end of the year.
In exchange for these actions, China, South Korea, the United States, Japan and Russia would supply North Korea with energy and other aid and offer up diplomatic concessions to the isolated nation.
The United States is taking great pains to ensure that North Korea sticks to its plan to declare and disable its nuclear programme 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 programme.
The North responded by throwing out weapons inspectors, leaving the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and resuming its atomic activities.
1. Iran's President Moves to Tighten Grip on Nuclear Policy
Robert Tait and Ian Black
(for personal use only)
Doubts surrounded the future of Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, yesterday after the departure of the country's chief nuclear negotiator appeared to signal a significant power shift to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A day after Ali Larijani resigned as secretary of the supreme national security council, speculation grew that the foreign minister, a career diplomat, may be the next to go as the president tightens his grip on nuclear policy.
Mr Larijani quit after differences with the president over Iran's negotiating strategy. Despite being staunchly opposed to abandoning the country's uranium enrichment programme - which the west suspects is designed to build a nuclear bomb - Mr Larijani favoured diplomatic engagement to relieve international pressure, in contrast to the president's defiant approach.
Western diplomats in Tehran were adopting a "wait and see" approach yesterday to the appointment of Mr Larijani's successor, Saeed Jalili, 42, a hawk and close ally of the president. But analysts said the president, who has declared Iran's nuclear case "closed", had gained control over the issue and predicted a more inflexible posture in the face of UN security council demands to suspend enrichment.
The foreign minister is believed to have been frozen out of major decision-making, and rumours of his impending departure have circulated for weeks. "Mr Mottaki has a diplomatic background, but the president is looking for people with a special military and intelligence background," said a political analyst, Issa Saharkhiz. "They plan to give a tough, uncompromising reaction to the UN security council sanctions, and for this they want people with less diplomatic backgrounds and who least believe in dialogue with western nations."
Mr Larijani played a key role in the release of the 15 British sailors and marines who strayed from Iraq into Iranian territorial waters last spring. That paved the way for a secret meeting in Europe between him and Tony Blair's foreign policy adviser, Nigel Sheinwald.
But the Foreign Office played down the significance of the move. "At the end of the day I don't think it's a question of individuals," a spokesman said. "The Iranians are quite clear on what the international community expects of them."
2. New Iran Negotiator to Hold First Nuclear Talks
(for personal use only)
Iran's new nuclear negotiator will hold Tuesday his first talks with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana on the atomic crisis with the West, amid fresh US threats over the dangers of Tehran's defiance.
Saeed Jalili, who meets Solana in Rome, is a close ally of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and is not expected to offer any concessions to break the deadlock in the four-year standoff over the Iranian nuclear drive.
Jalili took over from Ali Larijani, who held the post for over two years but resigned on Saturday after falling out with Ahmadinejad over the handling of Iran's nuclear case.
"It was no longer possible for Larijani to continue with Ahmadinejad," the deputy speaker of parliament Mohammad Reza Bahonar said, in the first official explanation of his sudden resignation.
The top nuclear negotiator -- whose official title is secretary of the Supreme National Security Council -- has the job of leading talks with the European Union and the UN nuclear watchdog on Iran's nuclear case.
However Larijani will still attend the talks in Rome alongside his successor, officials said, a move that has puzzled observers.
Larijani is still holding on to his seat on the Supreme National Security Council as the representative of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It is in this capacity he will attend the talks.
Adding to the intrigue, the top foreign policy advisor of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all foreign policy matters, said it would have been better if Larijani had stayed in his post.
"In the very important and sensitive situation where the nuclear issue is at the moment it would be better if this (the resignation) did not happen or at least it was prevented," said Ali Akbar Velayati.
It is not clear whether Khamenei approved the resignation, which Larijani had already offered on several previous occasions.
Larijani and Solana met several times in European capitals over the past year but failed to make any headway in the key sticking point in the dispute -- Tehran's insistence it carries on enriching uranium.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki issued an angry letter of protest to France over Paris' support of unilateral sanctions but emphasised such measures merely made Iran "more determined to achieve technical progress."
The United States and Western powers fear that uranium enrichment could be used by Tehran to make a nuclear weapon but Iran insists it only wants to generate energy and has every right to the full nuclear fuel cycle.
Despite two sets of UN sanctions and unilateral economic measures from the United States and European allies, Ahmadinejad and Khamenei have refused to budge an inch.
Larijani was believed to support a more moderate line in the nuclear standoff -- at least over the presentation of policy -- although how far this went is still unclear.
"Larijani was not soft but he was more in favour of negotiating than the others," said a Brussels-based diplomat, who asked not to be named.
The United States, increasingly frustrated by the slow pace of diplomatic action, has never ruled out the possibility of military action and hawkish Vice President Dick Cheney warned of "serious consequences" against Tehran.
"The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences," he said in a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
"The United States joins other nations in sending a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon," he said, without specifically referring to military action.
Iran has insisted that its nuclear policy will not change after the appointment of Jalili, author of a book entitled "The Foreign Policy of the Prophet."
But Western analysts have expressed fear he will take a harder line in the talks and could be less inclined to negotiate with Western powers.
Members of India's troubled coalition were to hold fresh talks over a stalled nuclear deal with the United States, with left-wing parties demanding to know if the accord may still go ahead.
The dominant Congress party of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appeared to buckle last week to opposition from its leftist allies, who had threatened to withdraw their support and force early elections if the pact went ahead.
The prime minister has argued the accord, which will bring India into the loop of global atomic energy commerce, will help meet the future energy needs of an economy steaming along with an annual growth rate of nine percent.
But the communists say the deal, which would involve India being subjected to more international inspections, could harm the country's nuclear weapons programme.
They are also opposed to closer political and strategic ties with Washington.
The deputy head of the Communist Party of India, D. Raja, told AFP that during Monday's talks, left-wing parties "will ask the government to state its position clearly, to tell us whether the nuclear deal is on hold or not."
A senior official from the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which also props up the government in parliament, Sitaram Yechury, told reporters that the left would review its position after Monday's talks.
He said the government needed to make clear "how it wishes to proceed and on that basis, we will take our future decisions."
Singh's Congress party has been giving conflicting signals over the future of the deal over the past week.
Last week he told US President George W. Bush that New Delhi was having trouble implementing the deal due to leftist opposition, and went on to admit that "one has to take certain disappointments."
But once the deal was being described as dead, Singh said he was still hopeful of a compromise with his partners in the cabinet and parliament.
According to political analyst Neerja Chowdhury, there could be three explanations for the prime minister's seemingly contradictory statements.
"One is that he has had enough. He is feeling let down by his alliance partners within the government and the Communists," she said.
"The second is that the Congress is keeping the talks going with the Communists as a face saver to saying that the deal has been shelved.
"The third is that the Congress could keep the talks going till the (state) polls in Gujarat (state)" due in December, she said.
Various opinion polls have indicated that the Congress would win enough seats in the national parliament to form a government on its own -- but Indian opinion polls are also notorious for their unreliability.
"If Congress does well in the (Gujarat) polls, the government could call for elections" even if their allies are not prepared for it, she noted.
DISCLAIMER: Nuclear News is presented for informational purposes only. Readers are encouraged to visit the websites from which the source material originates. Views presented in any given article are those of the individual author or source and not of RANSAC. RANSAC takes no responsibility for the accuracy of information contained in any article presented in Nuclear News.