1. Iran Welcomes Arab Uranium Proposal but Says it Will Not Stop Enrichment
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Iran welcomed a recent Arab proposal to set up a consortium to provide Mideast countries with enriched uranium but said it would not halt its own enrichment activities, the official news agency IRNA reported.
"We welcome proposals for our participation in joint enrichment projects with other countries, but it won't be acceptable if the condition is to stop enrichment in Iran," IRNA quoted Javad Vaeedi, a top nuclear negotiator, as saying Saturday.
Vaeedi was responding to a proposal outlined Thursday by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal under which Arab states in the Persian Gulf would set up a consortium to provide Iran with enriched uranium to help resolve the country's standoff with the West over its controversial nuclear program.
The Saudi official told the Middle East Economic Digest that the six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council ï¿½ Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE ï¿½ would develop a uranium enrichment plant in a neutral state outside the Mideast, such as Switzerland, to provide nuclear fuel to the region.
"Raising such ideas is no problem as long as they don't contradict Iran's rights," IRNA quoted Vaeedi as saying. "All of Iran's resistance has been to preserve its rights regarding uranium enrichment."
The U.S. and several of its Western allies believe Iran is using its nuclear program as a cover for weapons development, but Tehran denies the charge, insisting it is focused on electricity generation.
Iran says it is now operating about 3,000 centrifuges at its Natanz uranium enrichment plant in central Iran and plans to expand it up to 54,000 centrifuges, the level of a full scale enrichment program.
Two rounds of U.N. Security Council sanctions have failed to persuade Iran to halt enrichment, a technology that can be used to produce nuclear fuel to generate electricity or fissile material for a warhead.
The five permanent Security Council members, plus Germany, agreed Friday to come up with a new sanctions resolution if November reports by the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency do not show improved Iranian cooperation.
Earlier this week, Iran and the IAEA ended a third and final round of talks aimed at resolving remaining questions on Iran's P-1 and P-2 centrifuges, machines used to enrich uranium.
Bahrain's crown prince has claimed that Iran is developing atomic weapons or the capability to do so, British press reports said on Friday, the first time an Arab state in the Gulf has openly accused Tehran of lying about its controversial nuclear drive.
In interviews with correspondents for British newspapers in the capital Manama, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa also urged a diplomatic solution to the standoff between the West and Bahrain's close neighbour.
"While they don't have the bomb yet, they are developing it, or the capability for it," the crown prince said, warning that "the whole region" would be drawn into any military conflict.
"There needs to be far more done on the diplomatic front," he added, according to The Times. "There's still time to talk."
"We need to be very well aware that this could escalate. And we think that is not advisable," The Daily Telegraph quoted him as saying.
Bahrain is a Sunni Muslim-ruled dynasty with a population that is 60 per cent Shiite, the same branch of Islam that dominates in Iran.
"I want to see the region being fully consulted," The Independent quoted the crown prince as saying. "We were not fully consulted when the Iraqi regime was removed.
"Iran is an even bigger issue... We want to be part of any arrangement that deals with Iran. We don't want to wake up one day and suddenly find our skies darken and sirens blaring on every street."
Bahrain hosts the US Fifth Fleet, the main American carrier battle group tasked with securing the Strait of Hormuz through which much of the world's oil supplies must pass.
Despite already being under UN sanctions, Tehran refuses to suspend its controversial programme of uranium enrichment, which the West fears to be a cover for atomic weapons development, a charge Iran denies.
On October 25, Iran's arch-foe the United States announced new sanctions aimed at punishing Tehran over its nuclear ambitions and alleged sponsorship of terrorism.
The sanctions targeted the Revolutionary Guard Corps, accused of spreading weapons of mass destruction, and its elite Quds Force, which was designated as a supporter of terrorism.
On October 29, a top Revolutionary Guards general warned that his forces were ready "if necessary" to carry out suicide operations in the Gulf.
Washington has never ruled out military action against Iran to end its defiance over uranim enrichment.
Tehran has vowed never to initiate an attack, but has also warned of a crushing response to any strike against its territory.
On Thursday influential former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani warned Iran to be alert in the face of "unprecedented" actions by the United States.
"The movements and the presence of US forces and their supporters in the region is unprecedented, as is the creation of a menacing climate of fear," he told army commanders.
The Left is likely to give the green signal for the government to proceed with negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for an agreement on India-specific safeguards. The concession, however, would come with a condition that the government would seek the Left's approval again before approaching the Nuclear Supplierï¿½s Group (NSG) for clearance.
It has been reliably learnt that a compromise on the issue was reached between the UPA and the Left on Friday. The formal announcement of the agreement between the two is likely to be made in the meeting scheduled on November 16.
While this does appear to be a major step back for the Left from its earlier stance that no negotiations should take place with the IAEA, a closer look would reveal it to be far less than dropping its objections.
For the Indo-US nuclear deal to bear fruit, India must freeze the text of the needed agreements with the IAEA and the NSG, and based on this progress, the US Congress ratify the 123 Agreement negotiated between the government of India and the Bush administration.
Even if the government succeeds in reaching an agreement with the IAEA, if it is prevented from going to the NSG, the deal would still be aborted. The government would appear to have persuaded the Left that if it has not prejudged the issue while attending the joint UPA-Left meeting on the nuclear deal, it should not behave in a fashion that would leave no time for completion of the complex negotiations required with IAEA and NSG.
Supposing, hypothetically, the Left is finally convinced that the 123 agreement is indeed in Indiaï¿½s national interest, but that conviction comes too late in the day for ratification of the deal under president Bush, that would be a collective setback including for the Left.
So, as token of its good faith in the UPA-Left talks on the nuclear deal, the Left should allow the government to proceed with some part of operationalising the deal even as joint examination of the dealï¿½s implications proceeds apace. At the same time, the next crucial step of approaching the NSG would still await a consensus being reached in the Left-UPA talks.
Significantly, CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat has toned down the hostility quotient in his most recent pronouncements on the UPA government, made in Kolkata. Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger met West Bengal chief minister and CPI(M) leader Buddhadeb Dasgupta in a closed door meeting that lasted 50 minutes. Mr Kissinger has been vocally backing the deal and urging all Indian political factions to support the 123 agreement.
1. Palo Verde 'Back to Normal' After Bomb Discovery
Ryan Randazzo, Allison Denny, Beth Duckett
The Arizona Republic
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Operations at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station have bounced back after a pipe bomb was found in a contract worker's pickup bed Friday, triggering a lockdown of the facility.
"Nothing is going to change" at the nation's largest nuclear power plant following the seven-hour lockdown, said Jim McDonald, spokesman for Arizona Public Service Co., which operates the plant.
"We're back to normal operations," McDonald said Saturday.
Guards discovered the 5-inch-long capped explosive at a checkpoint early Friday in Roger William Hurd's truck.
Hurd, an engineer, told investigators he had no idea how it got there, and was released later that day.
APS officials said the 61-year-old is among about 400 long-term contractors at the plant, and had access to security clearance without an escort.
The bomb contained an explosive used in commercial fireworks, said APS Chief Nuclear Officer Randy Edington.
"It appears it would have done some damage in about a 20-foot radius to people and equipment," Edington said.
While Hurd was not arrested, he was detained for questioning before leading investigators to his Goodyear apartment.
Maricopa County Sheriff's detectives continue to investigate the incident, but found nothing connecting Hurd after the apartment search, said Sheriff Joe Arpaio on Friday.
"We feel the person driving the truck, according to him and the investigation so far, didn't have anything to do with it," Arpaio said.
Arpaio did not expect Hurd to face charges.
Capt. Paul Chagolla, a sheriff's spokesman, said it does not appear that Hurd is a terrorist.
"No nexus with terrorism is in our investigation at this point," Chagolla said.
APS security found no more explosives after searching the plant and its grounds, located about 50 miles west of downtown Phoenix.
The search was prolonged because an estimated 3,600 workers, many more than usual, were on-site making repairs, Edington said.
Hurd is a Vietnam-war veteran who normally drove a motorcycle to work, but chose to drive his truck that day. It had been parked at his apartment complex for a week since he last drove it, Arpaio said.
Utility executives said the event shows how effective security is at Palo Verde, which serves about 4 million people in the southwest United States.
The facility is under the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's microscope for safety problems related to plant operation. The NRC had 20 inspectors at the facility in October.
Victor Dricks, an NRC spokesman, said the agency plans to review how APS handled the lockdown.
"From what we have seen so far, it would appear the security force was attentive and vigilant and appropriately identified a potential problem and took the correct action," Dricks said.
Palo Verde declared it an "unusual event," which is the lowest of four emergency categories for a nuclear plant.
While such events occur "every few days" among the nation's 104 nuclear plants, Dricks they are typically not credible threats.
Edington said he did not think the incident should damage the plant's NRC standing.
"Everything worked the way it should have worked," Edington said. "The guards found it at the very first of our checks."
Two elementary schools and a high school in the area were locked down briefly when an employee inside the plant called the district at about 8 a.m., said Robin Berry, Saddle Mountain Unified School District superintendent.
The notice was not an official lockdown alert from law enforcement or the power plant, but Berry decided to close up the schools as a precaution when the parent called, she said.
The incident shows how interwoven the facility is with nearby Tonopah, where many residents either work at the plant know someone who does.
Annette Turner, a Tonopah resident who worked at Palo Verde for six years, said the emergency didn't rattle her sense of security.
Egypt has emerged at the forefront of a new push by Arab nations to build nuclear power plants in the volatile Middle East even as the West is locked in a standoff with Iran over its atomic drive.
President Hosni Mubarak announced on Tuesday that Egypt planned to construct a series of nuclear power plants, relaunching a programme shelved 20 years ago following the Chernobyl disaster.
Egypt's move follows similar announcements by other Arab nations including the oil-rich Gulf states and former international pariah state Libya -- despite growing tensions between Iran and the West over its own nuclear programme.
"There is an internal political dimension to the decision by Mubarak, who is telling Iran that they will not allow Tehran to be the sole regional power to control the atom," said Antoine Basbous, director of the Arab World Observatory based in Paris.
Cairo's announcement that it would seek nuclear capabilities to ensure its future energy security while ruling out any military ambitions, received the immediate backing of Iran's arch-foe Washington.
"It is a right for all Arabs," Mubarak thundered at the Arab summit in Riyadh in March, sparking talk it was time for an "Arab nuclear family".
Among those seeking nuclear power are Algeria, Jordan, Libya, the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council including OPEC powerhouse Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.
GCC heads of state are due to report on the feasibility of a regional nuclear programme at their annual summit in Qatar in December.
Last week, the specialist Middle East Economic Digest reported that the GCC had proposed to Iran the creation of a multinational consortium to provide enriched uranium to the Islamic republic as a way of resolving the standoff.
No Arab countries currently feature on the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) list of the 31 countries with a nuclear capability, which together have 435 working power stations and 29 under construction.
The United States has 103 nuclear power stations, followed by France with 59, Japan with 55 and Russia with 31 fully operational facilities and seven being built.
Asia is also investing heavily in atomic energy and experts argue that should an alliance develop between Egypt and China -- and possibly including Russia -- this could weaken Washington's ties to Cairo, its traditional ally.
While Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world with 76 million people, and energy-poor Jordan could justify the switch to nuclear energy, the choice is more difficult for the Gulf countries, sitting on huge oil and gas reserves.
"It is Iran's desire to accelerate its suspect nuclear programme that has encouraged its Arab neighbours to push forward and pursue a nuclear course," said Basbous.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which vie for leadership of the largely Sunni Muslim Arab world, have never hidden their concerns over the nuclear ambitions of Iran -- a Shiite power -- and its influence in Iraq.
Iran has been slapped with two sets of UN sanctions for failing to halt uranium enrichment, a process the West fears could be diverted to making a nuclear bomb.
The claims are vehemently denied by Tehran which insists it has a right to atomic technology as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
But IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei said late last month that he had no evidence Iran was engaged in a "concrete active nuclear weapons programme".
Egypt, which is a signatory to the NPT, officially supports the scrapping of atomic weapons in the Middle East and regularly criticises Israel for its nuclear policy.
The Jewish state, which has never admitted possessing nuclear weapons, has some 200 warheads, according to experts, and is the only Middle East country to have refused to sign the NPT.
In September, Israeli warplanes hit a site in Syria that press reports said was a nuclear facility under construction with North Korean help, although this was vehemently denied by Damascus and Pyongyang.
Libya itself abandoned a secret atomic programme in 2003 just as it claimed to be "on the point of producing a nuclear bomb," according to Tripoli's leader Moamer Kadhafi, but France is now helping to build nuclear facilities there.
"The big problem is that you can tip over from civil to military uses once you have learned how to control the atom," said Basbous, "so the risk of proliferation makes it truly essential to have an international watchdog."
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