1. Progress Made on Solving N.Korea Uranium Issue: U.S.
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Progress has been made towards answering suspicions North Korea tried to enrich uranium for atom bombs but the issue is "by no means" solved, the chief U.S. negotiator on Pyongyang's nuclear disarmament said on Wednesday.
Christopher Hill was speaking after talks with Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which has monitors in North Korea verifying the process to disable Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.
ElBaradei said the six-party deal to dismantle the program by the end of 2007 was "moving in the right direction".
The Washington Post reported on Saturday that North Korea was offering Washington evidence that it had never intended to refine uranium for atomic bomb fuel parallel to its known production of plutonium for warheads.
Quoting unnamed South Korean and U.S. officials, the paper said Pyongyang was granting U.S. experts access to equipment and documents in confidential talks to beef up its case that there was no clandestine enrichment effort.
"I can say we have made some progress but by no means have we solved the issue up to now," Hill, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, told reporters.
"We are continuing to work with them to resolve the matter. I don't think it's very helpful to get into details at this point. We are very much in the middle of a process," he said.
"But I think (North Korea) understands very well that this matter must be resolved to mutual satisfaction."
The six-nation agreement requires North Korea to disable its three key nuclear plants by the end of 2007, provide a list of all nuclear arms activity, account for all its fissile material and answer U.S. suspicions of a clandestine enrichment drive.
In exchange, the destitute Stalinist country will receive 1 million tonnes of heavy fuel oil or equivalent aid and steps to end its international isolation.
"They have shown us some things, and we are working it through," the Washington Post quoted a unidentified senior U.S. official as saying regarding the enrichment issue. "Some explanations make sense; some are a bit of a stretch."
It quoted an unnamed South Korean official as saying North Korea was trying to show that materials it had imported had been intended for conventional weapons programs and other dual-use projects, not for nuclear weapons.
The Washington Post said Pyongyang was hoping Washington would lift its sanctions against the reclusive Communist state when Pyongyang makes the declaration as part of the disclosure of its nuclear activities.
The Bush administration branded North Korea part of an "axis of evil" and accused it in 2002 of seeking to enrich uranium to the high level required for the core of nuclear weapons.
The U.S. charges of a large-scale uranium program ended a 1994 Clinton administration agreement that had frozen a North Korean reactor that produced plutonium. Either plutonium or highly enriched uranium can be used to produce nuclear weapons.
Hill also said the five powers dealing with North Korea -- including Russia, China, Japan and South Korea -- expected to get a list of Pyongyang's nuclear materials and equipment soon.
"We want to make sure this list is very complete and we will be working very closely with the IAEA on that matter," he said.
Iran has turned over a long-withheld blueprint showing how to mould uranium metal into spheres for nuclear warheads, meeting a demand of U.N. investigators ahead of a watchdog report, diplomats said.
But some diplomats said while the report was likely to say Iran has improved cooperation with a long-running inquiry into its nuclear program, this might not yet be enough to resolve any key questions about the scope and nature of the effort.
The timing and toughness of any further U.N. sanctions against Iran will hinge on world powers' interpretation of the International Atomic Energy Agency report and a parallel report by the EU's top diplomat on recent dialogue with Tehran.
Diplomats have little doubt the European Union's Javier Solana will confirm that Iran remains unwilling to suspend uranium enrichment, which Iran says is to generate electricity but the West suspects is to make atom bombs.
Tehran's continued defiance of U.N. Security Council demands to stop enrichment alone would trigger moves to wider sanctions in the view of the United States, Britain, France and Germany, citing a game plan agreed in September with Russia and China.
A senior diplomat close to the IAEA said a top Iranian nuclear official turned over the uranium metals document at a meeting in the agency's headquarters in Vienna last week.
IAEA inspectors came upon the document accidentally in 2005 while examining Iranian nuclear facilities suspected to have military dimensions. Iran had allowed inspectors to look at but not make copies of the document for investigative purposes.#
Iran has said it received the blueprint unsolicited from the former nuclear smuggling network of Pakistan's A.Q. Khan, which laid the groundwork for Iran's program, but did nothing with it. IAEA experts have said the document's instructions could have uses other than in a quest for nuclear weapons.
Iran's concession on the metals blueprint highlighted what diplomats accredited to the IAEA said were some signs of Iranian transparency as the agency put finishing touches on its report, due to be issued on Wednesday or Thursday.
"(But while) we may well see some clear cooperation from Iran but it's unclear whether it will be enough to actually move forward in the 'work plan'," one diplomat said, referring to IAEA questions Tehran promised in August to resolve one by one.
Still, any new show of Iranian cooperation could spur Russia and China to persist in delaying harsh sanctions at the Security Council. They could argue for more time for the IAEA process to reach fruition and against steps to isolate Tehran which they regard as a slippery slope to war.
Iran said on November 3 it gave the IAEA all information needed to remove ambiguities about the first major question on the list -- the extent of work to develop centrifuges which enrich uranium -- and there would be no more discussions about it.
Diplomats said there were indications Iran had turned over centrifuge documentation that was withheld for years, among various indications of efforts to militarize the program.
It was unclear, they said, whether Iran had granted the IAEA long-sought interviews with certain nuclear program leaders believed to have had military links, or visits to workshops developing a high-performance centrifuge known as the P-2.
Both steps would be key to closing the centrifuge file. Iran so far has been refining uranium with an old, erratic P-1 model.
"Whether everything was put on the table (by Iran) that needs to be there remains to be seen," said an EU diplomat.
1. India's Coalition 'Near Compromise' on US Nuclear Deal
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India's troubled coalition is close to a compromise over the future of an atomic energy deal with Washington that had threatened to bring down the government, an official said.
The official close to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said left-wing politicians, who prop up the dominant Congress party, may allow the government to engage in talks on moving the deal forward while retaining their veto right.
"From their recent comments, it would seem there is a softening of their position," the top government official said of the Communists and other left-wing coalition members who are opposed to the deal.
The deal, clinched in August, aims to bring New Delhi into the loop of global nuclear commerce after a gap of three decades and is seen as the cornerstone of India's rapidly warming ties with the United States.
But left-wingers argue the pact -- which would involve India allowing international inspections of some of its nuclear sites -- could also restrict India's nuclear weapons programme.
They are also opposed to closer ties with Washington, and had threatened to force early elections.
But the official, who asked not to be named, said the government may now be allowed to open talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on a nuclear safeguards agreement that needs to be signed before the pact can be implemented.
Left-wing parties could then examine any proposed accord and then make a decision on whether they should veto it, he said.
The official said the Communists are "unlikely to have any objections to the IAEA pact." "Their objections are to the India-US agreement," he said, referring to the wider pact that critics here view as going against India's traditional position as a non-aligned country.
Fresh talks on the issue between the government and its allies are scheduled to take place in New Delhi on Friday.
According to political analyst Rasheed Kidwai, the sign of a compromise means the government is likely to stay intact for some time to come -- with all the parties saving face rather than facing uncertainty in elections.
"The immediate threat to the government's survival has disappeared," he said.
In striking ways, this is America's deepest worry: an Islamic nation in the world's most unstable region, home to al-Qaida's global headquarters, engaged in a shooting war with insurgents and radical terrorists, now beset with escalating political turmoil - and at the center of it all, an arsenal of nuclear bombs.
Pakistan's growing turbulence is raising fears that al-Qaida and allied Islamist extremist groups, which have had deep roots inside Pakistan's intelligence services, will renew their determination to acquire a nuclear device, or that control of Pakistan's prized nuclear arsenal could be seized as a bargaining tool by a political faction or be used as a threat in a conflict inside Pakistan or in the region.
"We will watch it quite closely," Army Lt. Gen. Carter F. Ham, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said yesterday. "Any time a nation that has nuclear weapons experiences a situation such as Pakistan is at present, that is a primary concern," he told reporters at the Pentagon, "and that's probably all I can say about that." Related links
"This is a bad one," agreed Robert S. Norris, a nuclear weapons expert at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Pakistan was thrown into a state of emergency Saturday when the president and military chief, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, suspended the constitution, shut down independent news media and arrested thousands as violent demonstrations erupted across the country.
Pakistan's estimated arsenal of between 45 and 60 nuclear weapons is controlled by a 10-man National Command Authority (NCA) headed by Musharraf, said Pakistani Brig. Gen. Naeem Salik, who retired two years ago as a senior officer within the NCA.
Pakistan's warheads "are kept under tight security. They are more than adequately guarded," Salik said in an interview yesterday. He said there is "a standard two-man rule" to authenticate access to nuclear release codes, a standard that is "universally" used by all nuclear weapons powers.
Salik, currently a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, scoffed at the idea that the political crisis threatened the security of the nuclear arsenal. "A firecracker goes off, and the media starts jumping all over us," he said. "By the same analogy, when 9/11 happened, one could have asked what would become of America's nuclear weapons."
The United States counts Pakistan as a close ally in what President Bush terms "the global war on terror" and has provided $10.58 billion in mostly military aid. Even so, U.S. officials seemed unclear about the outcome of the current crisis.
A senior White House official, asked this week if it is "just a matter of time" until Musharraf is violently deposed, said: "You don't really know until it happens."
The White House declined yesterday to comment on Pakistan's nuclear weapons.
Military experts said U.S. options to intervene, if Pakistan's nuclear weapons are threatened or go missing, are limited. Any armed intervention would be met by stiff opposition from Pakistan's powerful military forces, said Dakota Wood, a retired Marine officer who is a senior analyst at the independent Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington.
By any measure, Pakistan is under considerable strain. Aside from the political crisis, Pakistani military units recently have suffered humiliating defeats in the Northwest Frontier Province against Taliban and al-Qaida forces, raising questions about morale within the armed forces under Musharraf's direction. Suicide bombings sweeping Pakistan in recent months have killed more than 600, according to the Pakistani government.
Since he seized control of Pakistan in 1999, Musharraf has survived at least four assassination attempts by Islamist radicals, most recently a week ago when a suicide bomber killed seven people in a blast near Musharraf's headquarters in Rawalpindi.
Amid this turmoil, U.S. officials and private analysts acknowledged that little is known about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, begun when Pakistan tested a nuclear device in 1998.
Pakistan's National Command Authority, which controls the arsenal, consists of the president and prime minister, the civilian heads of major ministries, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and other senior military officers. "They sit in times of crisis, they have the codes with them," Salik said. "It is a clear-cut and defined line of authority."
Pakistan's nuclear stockpile is thought to consist mostly of aircraft bombs fitted for U.S.-supplied F-16 fighter bombers, though Pakistan has recently tested the Shaheen-II missile, which can carry a warhead about 1,500 miles. In addition, Pakistan operates at least one nuclear reactor producing weapons-grade plutonium and is building a second plutonium reactor at a site in the Punjab, surrounded by six antiaircraft missile batteries, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental action organization that tracks U.S. and foreign nuclear weapons and facilities.
The nuclear warheads are separated or "de-mated" from the missiles or bomb casings that would carry them in an attack, said Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, and might be stored in bunkers or a tunnel at the Sargodha air base and weapons complex west of Lahore near the Indian border.
Nuclear weapons security at these sites has been beefed up considerably in the past five years, spurred by revelations that from the 1980s through 2003, Pakistan's senior nuclear scientist, A.Q. Khan, and some of his top associates had provided nuclear weapons designs and material to North Korea, Libya and Iran.
Each Pakistani warhead is fitted with a permissive action link (PAL), a code-lock device that prevents unauthorized release of the weapon, Salik said. Pakistan has also set up a personnel reliability system of the type used by the United States to continually monitor the financial status, marital condition, mental health and other aspects of officials in the nuclear system to ensure they are not disloyal or vulnerable to bribery or blackmail. Also, Pakistan has a 10,000-member security force for its nuclear facilities, commanded by a two-star general.
Many safety issues have been discussed at joint U.S.-Pakistani conferences in the United States in recent years, including one in April sponsored by the nonprofit Partnership for Global Security, a Washington organization dedicated to improving nuclear security.
"The United States has been engaged with Pakistan on the question of nuclear security," said Kenneth N. Luongo, director of the organization. "It's not been widely publicized. The Pakistanis themselves have become quite serious about trying to provide assurances to the rest of the world that they're on the ball, and I think they've made some progress."
But Salik stressed that Pakistan has not accepted U.S. technical advice on PALs or any other aspect of its nuclear program. "We have developed our own systems," he said. "The problem is that people won't grant that we can produce PALs even if we can produce our own nuclear weapons."
Southeast Asian leaders will promote the use of civilian nuclear power, along with other alternative energy sources, when they meet in Singapore next week, a draft statement obtained Tuesday said.
Leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will also agree to establish a "regional nuclear safety regime" to ensure that plutonium, a key ingredient for making atomic weapons, does not fall into the wrong hands.
A draft of an ASEAN Declaration on Environmental Sustainability, obtained by AFP, said the leaders will agree "to take concrete measures to promote the use of renewable and alternative energy sources such as solar, hydro, wind, tide, biomass, biofuels and geothermal energy."
They will also support "civilian nuclear power" for interested countries -- a move which environmental campaigners see as worrying.
But the draft says ASEAN will ensure "safety and safeguards that are of current international standards and environmental sustainability".
Heads of state and government from the 10-member ASEAN bloc are to sign the document next Tuesday during their annual summit.
Summit host Singapore has said it wants climate change to be the focus of the meeting, instead expected to be dominated by rogue ASEAN member Myanmar's deadly crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in September.
The document commits ASEAN states to implement environmentally sustainable practices, improve cooperation to fight trans-boundary pollution and to take action against illegal logging.
Weak law enforcement to control the use of fire for clearing agricultural land in ASEAN's biggest member, Indonesia, has been identified as a main cause of the haze that blankets wide swathes of the region each year.
ASEAN leaders will also pledge to improve energy efficiency, reduce the loss of biodiversity in the region and halve the number of people without access to safe drinking water by 2010, according to the draft.
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