American and Russian officials have reached an agreement on how to safely dispose of 34 metric tons of Russian weapons-grade plutonium, overcoming a major hurdle in a joint nuclear nonproliferation effort that at times has been close to falling apart.
The two countries, in a joint statement to be issued later Monday, outline a plan where Russia agrees to modify its fast-neutron reactors so that they can burn the plutonium, yet ensure that additional plutonium will not be produced.
In turn, the United States, which also will dispose of 34 tons of excess plutonium from its weapons program, will continue to help Russia pay for construction of a plant in Russia to turn the plutonium into a mixed oxide fuel for the reactors and in research of a more advanced reactor that could speed up the disposal process.
The two countries tentatively agreed to the plutonium disposal program seven years ago when it was hailed as a breakthrough in safeguarding some of Russia's nuclear material. But progress stalled because of a variety of disagreements, most recently over how Russia would destroy the plutonium.
Russia's ambivalence in turn caused Congress to balk at approving money for the U.S. portion of the plutonium disposal effort because of what lawmakers called the apparent inability to get Russia to agree on a disposal plan.
A joint statement being issued by Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and Sergey Kiriyenko, director of Russia's Atomic Energy Agency, Rosatom, outlines a "mutual understanding" as to how Russia's plutonium would be disposed of and reiterates both countries' commitment to the program, officials said.
The statement was being released in both Moscow and Washington.
William Tobey, deputy administrator at DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration, said in an interview that the agreement should resolve some of the key concerns in Congress and keep the U.S. program on track.
"We nailed down some important details," said Tobey.
Among them, he said, was assurance from the Russians that the reactors used to dispose of the plutonium will be modified to burn more than they produce, that the plutonium they produce will not be weapons grade, and that the U.S. contribution will be capped at $400 million.
While viewed as major nonproliferation effort, the plutonium disposition is expected to take several decades and cover only a fraction of the weapons-grade plutonium both countries possess. The United States is believed to have about 100 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium and Russia about 140 metric tons.
1. Indo-US Nuclear Pact Not Out of Woods: Analysts
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A landmark pact with the United States aimed at bringing India into the global nuclear marketplace has won a reprieve, but the deal is not out of the woods yet, analysts say.
In a major turnaround, the government's communists allies said late last week they would allow India to pursue crucial talks with a UN nuclear watchdog body as part of steps to implement the accord. Until then, they had loudly opposed the deal.
"The logjam has been broken but the agreement is still not completely in the clear," said New Delhi-based political analyst Uday Bhaskhar.
The deal would allow nuclear-armed India to buy civilian nuclear technology to help fuel its fast-growing economy, despite not having signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The agreement "is an effort to open closed doors so we can obtain nuclear fuel and technology from other countries such as the USA, Russia and France and remove the shortage of electricity in the country," Premier Manmohan Singh said on Saturday, reaffirming the Congress government's commitment to the deal.
The Left, which says the pact could curb India's weapons programme and harm its sovereignty by drawing New Delhi too close to the US, had threatened to withdraw support for the minority government, forcing early polls.
The communists' fierce opposition forced the government to put the agreement on hold last month and Singh warned Washington the pact might collapse.
But late Friday, the communists agreed to let India enter into talks on nuclear safeguards and inspections with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which must sanction the deal before it is finally approved by the US Congress.
"It's a positive development even if there is some way to go," said Smruti Patnaik at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.
Domestic politics underlie the two sides' reluctance to force a showdown over the deal struck by Singh and US President George W. Bush in 2005 that is regarded as a centrepiece of warmer Indo-US ties, analysts say.
The government is wary of a confrontation as it faces a key election in Gujarat state, ruled by the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which also opposes the deal.
The leftists have come under heavy criticism over the killings of at least half a dozen opponents of industrialisation of farmland in the communist stronghold of West Bengal state.
"The communists are very much on the defensive -- that's why the 180-degree turn," said Rajeshwari Rajagopalan, an analyst at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.
The communists, however, still insist any agreement emerging from the talks with the UN monitoring agency must be approved by a joint panel of coalition and communist leaders.
"The findings of the committee will then be taken into account before the operationalisation of the India-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement," foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee said on Friday.
Leftist leaders such as A.B. Bardhan have rejected the idea that agreeing to the talks with the UN monitoring agency marked tacit acceptance of the deal by the communists.
"It (approval) will go stage-by-stage," said Bardhan, general secretary of the Communist Party of India.
The agreement also still has to be cleared by the 45-country Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which oversees the international nuclear trade.
"The NSG talks will not be a cakewalk as you'll have challenges from countries worried about nuclear non-proliferation," said analyst Bhaskar.
Proponents of the deal say it needs to get through the US Congress before the US presidential campaign enters high gear, which could make it tougher to win bipartisan approval of the agreement.
The U.S. diplomat who signed an earlier deal halting North Korea's nuclear weapons development warned Monday that pitfalls remain in the latest accord with Pyongyang despite recent hopeful signs.
Details of how to implement recent agreements from international arms talks have not been clearly laid out - leaving potential room for North Korea to find loopholes that could leave it still holding material to make nuclear bombs, Robert Gallucci said.
Also, the recent revitalization of ties between North and South Korea after a summit of their leaders last month will only foster peace on the divided peninsula if there is continued movement toward disarmament, he said.
ï¿½The contribution of the summit to peace and prosperity on the peninsula will still be limited by the pace and progress of efforts to implementï¿½ agreements from the arms talks, Gallucci, dean of the school of foreign service at Georgetown University in Washington, told an international conference on the summit.
As an American diplomat, Gallucci signed a 1994 deal with North Korea that collapsed in late 2002 amid allegations Pyongyang was secretly developing a secret uranium enrichment program, in addition to its known plutonium program. Either material can be used to make bombs.
The standoff led to six-nation nuclear talks with the North - also including China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the U.S. - which achieved their first tangible progress this summer when North Korea shut down its sole operating nuclear reactor. The North is moving by year-end to disable its nuclear facilities so they cannot easily be restarted.
Gallucci conceded that recent agreements from the arms talks went farther than the 1994 accord, by calling for nuclear facilities to be disabled rather than just frozen.
Still, he specified a list of unresolved details that could prove troublesome in ridding the communist nation of the world's deadliest weapons.
For example, he estimated the North has about 88.2 pounds of plutonium left after its first-ever nuclear test last year - but questioned what the U.S. and others will do if the North Koreans do not declare the full amount.
Also, it is not yet known how other countries will be allowed to verify the North has fully disclosed its nuclear programs, as it is set to do in a declaration by the end of the year.
ï¿½In light of the North's past record on compliance, if provisions for inspections are clearly inadequate, it will be a great disappointment,ï¿½ Gallucci said.
1. US Secretly Helping Musharraf to Guard Nukes: Report
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The United States is helping Pakistan keep its nuclear weapons secure in a top-secret program that has cost Washington almost 100 million dollars since 2001, The New York Times reported Sunday.
But Pakistan still refuses to allow US experts into its nuclear sites, the newspaper said, revealing information it first obtained three years ago but, due to a White House request, had not reported until now.
Debate is intensifying here about whether Pakistan's reluctance to reveal "critical details" about its arsenal has undercut the cooperation's effectiveness, the report said.
Without addressing the report's substance, White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe told AFP: "At this time, we believe that Pakistan's nuclear weapons and facilities are under the appropriate control of Pakistani authorities."
The US program was reportedly created after the attacks of September 11, 2001 when the United States enlisted President Pervez Musharraf as the main ally in its "war on terror."
Pakistan has been in turmoil since General Musharraf imposed a state of emergency two weeks ago.
The Times report came as US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte warned Musharraf in Islamabad that Washington will review its 10-billion-dollar military aid to his regime unless he lifts the emergency ahead of elections.
Amid the turmoil, some critics have suggested that Pakistan's nuclear arms are at risk of falling into the wrong hands -- at a time when Islamic extremist insurgencies are intensifying in lawless regions near Afghanistan.
Musharraf has dismissed the risk and Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday he was "confident" that Pakistan's nuclear arms remain secure, while stressing he remained "watchful."
The New York Times, citing unidentified current and former senior officials, said that for six years, the United States has provided high-tech equipment and trained Pakistani personnel to ensure that security remains tight.
"I am confident of two things," former CIA deputy director John McLaughlin told the paper, "that the Pakistanis are very serious about securing this material, but also that someone in Pakistan is very intent on getting their hands on it."
The sites where Pakistan keeps its ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads remain off-limits to US experts, the Times said.
It said Musharraf's government has also been unwilling to inform Washington about how or where the US equipment -- including helicopters, night-vision goggles and detection sensors -- is being used.
And US experts have little information on laboratories where weapons-grade uranium is produced -- including one named after disgraced chief scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, who sold nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea.
The report said that after the 9/11 attacks, Washington considered sharing cutting-edge technology with Pakistan designed to prevent misuse of nuclear weapons.
But the administration of President George W. Bush decided "that it could not share the system with the Pakistanis because of legal restrictions," the report said.
"In addition, the Pakistanis were suspicious that any American-made technology in their warheads could include a secret 'kill switch,' enabling the Americans to turn off their weapons."
The New York Times said the nuclear aid program was buried in secret portions of the federal budget.
It said it had known about it for more than three years but had held off publication on a request from the Bush administration, which feared repercussions for national security.
But Pakistani media reports had shed light on the program and the White House had withdrawn its demand against publication last week, while remaining unwilling to discuss details of the program, the paper said.
1. Govt Will Send Team to Work Out Details of IAEA Safeguards
Times of India
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Left's sudden shift of stance in allowing the government to open negotiations with IAEA for India-specific safeguards may have offered a flicker of hope for the nuclear deal just when it appeared doomed.
Seizing upon the opening, the government is set to send a team of technical experts to the IAEA "soon" to work out the text of an "India-specific" safeguards agreement.
Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon will set the ball rolling on Monday with a meeting with US Ambassador David Mulford. The discussions will include a reassessment of the next steps with a new timeline in play after the Left parties allowed the government to hold formal talks with the IAEA.
The earlier timeline envisaged an October-November discussion at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) after a safeguards agreement had been stitched up at the IAEA. It was to end with a US Congress vote on the deal by early 2008.
Obviously, that timeline no longer holds. A fresh timeline will be based on how long India takes to negotiate an IAEA safeguards agreement and when the US and other nuclear powers like UK, France and Russia can get the NSG to meet for a formal discussion on the India waiver.
According to sources, India, if it wants to, will not take more than a few weeks to work out an IAEA safeguards. Informal talks have already happened at various levels between the DAE and the IAEA. Technical experts from the two sides met for discussions on the agreement but that was well before the 123 Agreement had been signed.
The big thing in the safeguards agreement will be the nuancing of the language on the fuel supply assurances and the corrective measures that India will take.
Nuclear expert G Balachandran said, "Fuel supply assurances are not part of any standard safeguards agreement, so that will take some creative interpretation. But since all parties expect that there will be an India-specific agreement, this aspect will be expected."
Director-general of IAEA Mohammed El-Baradei has been one of the strongest supporters of the nuclear deal and during his recent round of talks with the Indian leadership in Delhi, he promised to expedite matters once India decided to approach the IAEA.
The government has committed that the document would be brought to the UPA-Left committee before being initialled and taken to the board of governors. The latter are unlikely to pose a problem, because they will get a peek into the draft when it is being negotiated.
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