1. Iran Could Revive Atom Bomb Bid Due to IAEA Curbs: U.S.
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The United States said on Friday that what U.S. intelligence found to be a secret Iranian nuclear arms programme halted in 2003 could easily be revived because of later curbs on U.N. inspections in the country.
The U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency challenged suggestions that the U.S. intelligence finding disclosed on December 3 reduced the urgency of reining in Iran via IAEA investigations, U.N. sanctions and steely diplomacy.
Tehran says it has never sought nuclear energy for anything but electricity. But it has a history of dodging IAEA scrutiny and is trying to stockpile enriched uranium, of possible use for bombs as well, in defiance of U.N. resolutions demanding a halt.
U.S. envoy Gregory Schulte said Washington's National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) contained "new evidence" of a concerted, clandestine atom bomb project in Iran and there was no reason to relax even if it was shelved four years ago,
"Iran's leaders could choose to restart that programme, just as they restarted uranium enrichment (in 2006, after a two-year pause under international pressure)," he told invited reporters.
"There is no certainty that the IAEA would know, particularly with the (IAEA) director-general twice warning us that IAEA knowledge of Iran's current activities is diminishing. That is a matter of grave concern."
Schulte was referring to restrictions on IAEA inspections beyond a few declared nuclear sites imposed by Iran in early 2006 in retaliation for U.N. Security Council steps to slap the first of two sets of sanctions on Tehran.
"The technology that Iran is mastering today for enrichment, a capability not necessary for Iran to have a peaceful nuclear programme, could be readily applied to building a bomb, should Iran's leaders so decide," he said.
The NIE said Iran was trying to develop the technical means applicable to producing weapons but had stopped trying to build them, contradicting President George W. Bush's position that Iran is actively trying to develop an atomic weapon.
Schulte also said the NIE's findings made it more, not less, urgent that Iran cooperate quickly and completely with an IAEA inquiry to resolve questions about past Iranian nuclear activity that raised suspicions of military involvement.
IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei told the agency's 35-nation board of governors last month that he wanted to wrap up the transparency process by the end of the year. But IAEA diplomats said this week it would probably run into January and February.
"We still expect full disclosure but now we think they have even more to disclose as a result of the NIE," said Schulte.
Western diplomats said they were not surprised by the timeline's slippage but it hardened concerns Iran was rationing cooperation just enough to preserve Russian and Chinese resistance to a Western push for harsher U.N. sanctions.
Analysts say the NIE's finding that there was no current Iranian atom bomb effort could delay moves to broader sanctions anyway.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday called on North Korea to honor its pledge to disable all nuclear weapons facilities and provide a complete declaration of its atomic programs by year's end, although she left room to miss the deadline.
Saying the United States has "no permanent enemies," Rice held open the chance for a fundamentally new U.S.-North Korean relationship. She also said relations with Iran could improve, so long as it complies with international demands for Iran to halt uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities that could make the ingredients for a bomb.
"We have been very clear that we expect a declaration from North Korea that is complete and accurate," Rice said, reiterating Washington's position that Pyongyang must describe all of its nuclear activities, including possible sales of equipment to other nations and its alleged dabbling in uranium enrichment to complement a known plutonium program.
Rice would not comment on a report about the discovery by U.S. scientists of uranium traces on aluminum tubes in North Korea, apparently contradicting Pyongyang's claim that its acquisition of the tubes was for conventional purposes. Such tubes could be used in the process of converting hot uranium gas into fuel for nuclear weapons.
But she said: "We have long been concerned about highly enriched uranium as an alternative (nuclear weapons) route in North Korea."
The declaration is due by Dec. 31, which is also the technical deadline for the disabling of North Korea's plutonium plant at Yongbyon, now under way. However, diplomats have said the North would likely not be safely able to complete one key disablement step ï¿½ removing the fuel rods from its reactor ï¿½ for several months.
"I sincerely hope it will be by the end of the year, but the key is to get this process right," Rice said.
If North Korea meets its commitments, the U.S. has said it will remove the North from terrorism and sanctions blacklists and enter into talks to forge a permanent peace deal to end the Korean War.
"The United States doesn't have permanent enemies, we're too great a country for that," Rice said, explaining the opportunities available to nations like North Korea, Iran and Libya, which renounced weapons of mass destruction and in return won the lifting of U.S. and U.N. sanctions.
"On Iran, I continue to say that if Iran will just do the one thing that is required of it by the Security Council resolutions that have been passed ï¿½ and that is suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities ï¿½ then I'm prepared to meet my counterpart any place and anytime and anywhere and we can talk about anything," she said.
However, she warned that the Iranians would not get a pass on the matter.
Iran has thus far refused to comply with the international demands and Rice said that "as long as the Iranians are talking and practicing enrichment, we're not getting anywhere."
Rice pointed to the fact that she will be meeting in Washington next month with Libya's foreign minister as proof of the benefits that come to countries that change their behavior.
"I'm looking for an opportunity to extend our relationship further," she said, adding that she hopes to visit Libya despite concerns from some lawmakers that Tripoli has still not fulfilled obligations to compensate victims of terrorist attacks. "I actually look forward to the opportunity to go to Libya. I think it will be an important step."
On another matter, Rice, just returned from a trip to Iraq, said progress has been made reducing violence there since 30,000 troops were added earlier this year, bringing the total to more than 160,000.
"Iraq today is a different country than it was a year ago," she said. But she also called the security gains fragile and said long-term success hinges on the Iraqis settling their political differences.
2. President-elect Lee Urges North Korea to Give Up Nuclear Weapons
Yonhap News Agency
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President-elect Lee Myung-bak pressed hard Thursday for North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions and improve human rights in the isolated communist state so that it can get economic aid and diplomatic recognition from the outside world.
Lee's first message to North Korea as president-elect comes amid claims that the liberal administration of President Roh Moo-hyun and that of his predecessor pampered the North with unconditional aid that enabled Pyongyang to detonate its first nuclear device in October last year.
The former Seoul mayor and ex-CEO of Hyundai's construction unit has pledged to seek complete denuclearization and more reforms by the North in a major shift from the Roh administration's policy of engagement.
However, he has said humanitarian assistance and dialogue will continue.
"For North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons is to ensure its development. Through the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the South and the North can open a new era of cooperation," Lee of the conservative opposition Grand National Party said in a press conference a day after his election.
Lee described his diplomacy as "pragmatic."
"I will persuade North Korea that the abandonment of its nuclear program will bring greater benefits for maintaining its regime and for the North Korean people. Persuading North Korea won't be easy, but it is necessary," he said.
Lee sent the double-edged message to North Korea as work is under way to disable the North's key atomic facilities. Pyongyang is also required to submit a declaration of all its nuclear programs and activities by the end of this month.
In a series of six-party agreements struck since 2005, North Korea promised to eventually give up all of its nuclear weapons and programs. The other parties besides the North -- South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia -- are to reciprocate with political and financial incentives, including diplomatic normalization and the opening of ways for international aid to flow in.
Lee promised that South Korea would play an active role in the six-party talks to resolve the nuclear issue, saying "international engagement should be strengthened through the six-party talks."
In another major shift from the liberal Roh administration, the conservative president-elect pressed North Korea to improve its human rights situation.
"Criticism that comes with affection can help make North Korean society healthy," Lee said. "I believe North Korea should now change to reach a level that it understands and that the North has actually changed. I will make a change from the previous administration that completely refrained from criticizing North Korea and pandered to it in a one-sided way."
The next president said his administration will shift from the detached manner Seoul has displayed toward international concern about North Korea's human rights situation.
South Korea abstained last month when a U.N. committee voted on a resolution pressing North Korea to improve its human rights. The Roh administration said it had to consider the "special status of inter-Korean relations".
Lee's conservative party called Seoul's abstention "a shame in front of the international community."
Outgoing President Roh Moo-hyun recognized the glaring political gap with his successor while congratulating him on his election earlier in the day.
"We may be different in our political and policy stances, but many things we will share as you experience the presidential post," Roh was quoted by the presidential office as telling Lee during their five-minute telephone conversation. "Based on my experience in the presidential post, I will cooperate with you as much as possible so that you can successfully carry out state affairs."
It remains to be seen, however, whether Roh will help his successor to march smoothly into the presidential office without facing an investigation.
Lee will be at the center of an investigation into allegations that he was involved in a 2001 financial scam. The move follows the passing of a bill on the eve of the election to launch the investigation even after Lee wins the vote.
The prosecution had earlier cleared Lee while indicting his former business partner.
But suspicions about Lee resurfaced after a controversial video clip was disclosed showing his possible connection to the firm used for the stock embezzlement. Lee has said he had no involvement with the firm.
Following his landslide victory, Lee's opposition party called on Roh to veto the bill, dismissing it as a political maneuvering and suppression of the opposition presidential candidate.
Communist Party leaders say they are trying to keep U.S. influence at bay and protect India's poor from ruthless foreign enterprises by blocking a deal on nuclear energy with the United States.
Critics of the Communists put it a little differently, arguing that they are engaging in political obstructionism in hopes of developing closer ties with China ï¿½ at the expense of the same rural underclass they claim to represent.
The Communists, with enough seats in Parliament to force an election at any time, have staunchly rejected the deal ï¿½ which would allow India to buy U.S. nuclear energy technology without giving up its weapons program ï¿½ ever since it was signed in July 2005 by President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
They describe it as an affront to Indian sovereignty that gives the United States too much power over foreign-policy matters.
"To make India's foreign policy and strategic autonomy hostage to the potential of nuclear energy does not make sense," Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Prakash Karat has written, "except for the American imperative to bind India to its strategic designs in Asia."
Aside from a heavy-handed grip on power for the past 30 years in West Bengal state, the four Communist parties making up the left wing of Indian politics have remained at the fringe of national politics ï¿½ until recently.
The landscape changed in 2004, when Mr. Singh's Congress Party defeated the incumbent Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party but failed to win enough seats to rule on their own.
The Communists agreed to join a 16-party coalition formed by Congress but refused to accept a Cabinet seat ï¿½ a tactical decision that has given them the leverage to fold the government at any time.
The nuclear pact, viewed in Washington as the cornerstone of a new strategic relationship with India to counter China's global ascent, would provide India with "full civil nuclear cooperation."
This includes the assurance of nuclear technologies and reactor fuel for the energy-starved country in exchange for New Delhi's pledge to separate civilian and nuclear facilities and call a moratorium on nuclear testing.
Proponents in the ruling Congress Party and scientific community say it is a vital step away from decades of nonaligned politics, during which India was a byword for poverty and state inertia.
More important, the deal would help India to boost its output of electricity in order to sustain its breakneck economic growth ï¿½ second only to China's over the past 15 years. Mr. Singh thinks the nuclear deal would boost India's nuclear power production from 3 percent to 10 percent of total energy production by 2020.
The Communists have offered no alternative plan to meet energy requirements, instead making known their plans to scale back commercial activity and undo reforms that have gradually integrated India into the global economy.
Some analysts think the Communists' real agenda is to move India away from the United States and closer to China, a theory that Mr. Karat has reinforced with recent remarks.
In October, he said the main problem with the nuclear deal is that it is part of a U.S. plan to "encircle" China. Last month, he praised China as "the most powerful socialist country capable of challenging the might of the United States."
Leftist obstructionism of the nuclear deal was recently undercut by a series of ugly events in West Bengal state, a longtime Communist Party stronghold, in which members of the rural underclass were victimized.
Communist leaders in the state had set up Special Economic Zones, inspired by the Chinese model, to attract business interests after heavily pro-labor policies stalled the economy, but farmers refused to vacate lands designated for the project.
In March, the state government sent armed thugs and police to attack protesters in the village of Nandigram, where a chemical complex was to be built, leaving 14 persons dead.
When protests resumed last month, a second wave of attacks was ordered in which six persons were killed and almost 5,000 were displaced. A wave of anger swept across the country when party leaders declared the violence was "morally and legally" justified.
1. Russian, Kazakh Leaders Pledge to Continue Nuclear Cooperation
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President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia and Kazakhstan had pledged to carry on cooperating in the peaceful use of nuclear power.
Speaking after the signing of a crucial Caspian gas pipeline deal by Russia, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, Putin said: "The fuel and energy sector remains a priority area of our cooperation. Serious efforts have been made to deepen cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear power in line with existing agreements."
Russia and Kazakhstan, which holds 15% of the world's uranium reserves, signed an agreement in May to set up the world's first international uranium-enrichment center in east Siberia. The center is designed to be made available for countries seeking to process nuclear fuel for energy generation and should eliminate the need for them to build own enrichment facilities.
Putin said the two countries also plan to set up a series of joint ventures in the sphere, to promote innovation projects and join efforts on the world market.
The ex-Soviet Central Asian state is set to boost uranium production to 15,000 metric tons a year by 2010. Under the Soviet-era system, Russia and Kazakhstan shared a nuclear power infrastructure.
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