The United States and three European nations moved closer to agreement with Russia and China on another package of sanctions against Iran that are not nearly as harsh as Washington and its allies would have liked.
The Security Council may vote on the proposed sanctions by the end of the week, the U.S. envoy to the world body said.
Council diplomats say the six powers - including Britain, France and Germany - have ruled out a ban on international travel by Iranian officials involved in nuclear and missile development. They also are unlikely to ban arms imports or export credit guarantees for companies doing business in Iran.
But diplomats say the new sanctions resolution is expected to include an embargo on arms exports, a ban on government loans to Iran and an asset freeze on more individuals and companies linked to Tehran's nuclear and missile programs.
``It's a package approach, and so there are things that we're very pleased about, and things that we're less pleased about - and likewise for probably every delegation involved,'' said acting U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff.
The United States and the Europeans favored all the measures but Russia and China, which have close commercial ties with Iran, are reluctant to impose tough new sanctions.
The measures are intended to force Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, which Washington and some allies say is aimed at producing nuclear weapons.
Iran, which has the second largest oil and gas reserves in the world, says it's enriching uranium for power stations.
On Monday, the ambassadors emerged from a closed-door meeting optimistic but also cautious because of potential problems with every proposal in the package.
``This is the best meeting we have had since the beginning of these negotiations,'' said France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere. ``We are now very close, and we have made today (much) progress.''
Wolff said ambassadors would report to their capitals on the possible elements for a new resolution.
``There are still some concerns, and some delegations have not given full agreement. But we have, I think, made overall good progress,'' he said.
``If everything goes well, our hope would be to get it done by the end of the week - a vote,'' the U.S. envoy said.
In December, the Security Council voted unanimously to impose limited sanctions against Iran for its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment. It ordered all countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs, and to freeze assets of 10 key Iranian companies and 12 individuals related to those programs.
Iran responded by expanding its enrichment program, provoking proposals for new sanctions. Except for Germany, the nations involved in the negotiations are permanent members of the Security Council, a status that entitles them to veto power.
China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said the six countries agreed to impose an embargo on arms exports from Iran - but not on imports. The six are still debating whether to ask the 191 other U.N. members states to ``exercise vigilance or restraint'' in selling seven categories of heavy weapons to Iran.
There also appears to be agreement on expanding the list of individuals and entities subject to an asset freeze. Li Junhua, a senior diplomat in China's U.N. mission, said a much bigger list of individuals and entities was now being studied by the six governments in their capitals.
Wolff said ``one of the trickiest issues that we're still discussing'' is a proposal to freeze the assets of companies controlled by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, which oversee vital Iranian interests including oil and natural gas installations and the nation's missile arsenal.
Russia has raised concerns that mentioning the Revolutionary Guards would amount to censuring the entire institution.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin cautioned about possible problems saying ``the devil is in the details.''
To win unanimous council approval of the December resolution, a mandatory travel ban was dropped.
The resolution that was adopted calls on all states ``to exercise vigilance'' regarding the entry or transit through their territory of the Iranians on the U.N. list. It asks U.N. member states to notify the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions when those Iranians show up in their country.
Li said the new resolution would generally follow that language, calling on countries to ``exercise vigilance and restraint.''
In the financial area, China has resisted proposed cutbacks on loan guarantees for companies doing business in Iran, a measure strongly supported by the United States.
Wang indicated that the only financial or trade measure likely to be approved is the ban on government loans to Iran.
``This is an incremental effort to try to get Iran back to negotiations by suspending its enrichment activities and in addition demonstrating that violating U.N. Security Council resolutions and remaining in non-compliance comes with a price,'' Wolff said.
The chief U.N. nuclear inspector expressed hope for progress in relations with North Korea as he arrived Tuesday in Pyongyang for talks on implementing a landmark nuclear disarmament agreement.
``We hope we can make progress in our relationship,'' Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said after arriving in the North, Associated Press Television News reported. ``I hope the outcome will be positive.''
In 2002, the North kicked out IAEA inspectors after U.S. officials accused it of running a secret uranium enrichment program, a charge denied by the North.
Under the Feb. 13 agreement, the North is to ultimately give up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for economic aid and political concessions.
Meanwhile, former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung urged North Korea not to miss the opportunity to get aid and other concessions for ending its nuclear weapons program. Kim said if the North goes back on its promises that it could face strong collective sanctions from the U.S. and its four regional partners - South Korea, China, Russia and Japan.
``North Korea also has a reason to seize the opportunity to achieve success in the six-party talks,'' Kim said at a meeting of international journalists in Seoul. He said ``North Korea's survival could be threatened'' if it faced tough sanctions.
Kim, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his engagement policy toward the North, also asked the U.S. to give North Korea what it wants and embrace the isolated country as part of international society.
The U.S. has agreed to resolve a dispute over its financial restrictions on a Macau bank that was accused of complicity in counterfeiting $100 bills and money laundering by North Korea. The U.S. move led Macau authorities to freeze about $24 million in North Korean assets.
Kim's comments come as officials from the U.S. and the North prepared to meet their counterparts from South Korea, China, Russia and Japan this week in Beijing to start working group talks aimed at putting the Feb. 13 agreement into effect.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said China would head the group on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, while South Korea would lead the economic and energy cooperation group and Russia would take charge of the group on peace and security in Northeast Asia.
A session on economic and energy cooperation will be held at the South Korean Embassy in Beijing on Thursday, the South's Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.
The North held separate working group meetings with the U.S. and Japan on normalizing diplomatic ties last week.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the main American nuclear envoy, was scheduled to arrive Wednesday in Beijing for the working groups and will stay at least a week, said Susan Stevenson, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman in Beijing.
Hill is likely to meet ElBaradei who is expected to return Wednesday to Beijing, though no official meeting has been set, according to the embassy.
The working group sessions will be followed by a full session of the six-nation North Korea nuclear talks set to convene Monday.
1. Putin Moves a Step Closer to Ratifying CTR Umbrella Agreement
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Russian President Vladimir Putin has submitted a protocol to the State Duma to increase nuclear, chemical and biological weapons security cooperation with the United States by extending the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) programme, which has been dismantling these threats in the former Soviet Union for the last 15 years.
The protocol, if passed, will also give force to a document known as the CTR Umbrella Agreement, which outlines liability terms setting the fault for any accident occurring during any CTR-run nuclear remediation project ï¿½ from acts of terrorism to US CTR workers being injured in minor accidents - squarely on Moscow.
Despite this onerous liability factor for Moscow, however, Putinï¿½s protocol is expected by experts in Moscow and Washington to pass through the Kremlin-controlled Duma with flying colors.
But while many observers have noted that the Dumaï¿½s traditional submission to Putinï¿½s wishes is hardly an ideal democratic process, they also agree that approving CTR is a good sign in a time of deteriorating East-West relations and the erosion of demilitarisation programmes between Russia and other countries.
ï¿½I see (Putinï¿½s backing of extending CTR) as a positive sign when Russia-American relations are as bad as they recently have been,ï¿½ Paul Walker, director of the Legacy Programme at the Washington-based Global Green USA, said in a telephone interview with Bellona Web.
ï¿½CTR is going bad. The Russians donï¿½t like working with the Americans and the Americans donï¿½t like working with the Russians ï¿½ there is a semi-divorce going on, and the window may close,ï¿½ he said.
The CTR agreement itself - also known as Nunn-Lugar for the US Senators who drafted it - ran out in 1999, and was extended by a protocol granting it seven more years, meaning the agreement is currently being used on a temporary basis. Because the agreement was signed in 1992, former Russian legislation dictated that it came into force immediately, without ratification by the Duma.
Now that the temporary protocol has expired, the CTR programme must be resubmitted to the Duma for formal ratification. But debate within the hawkish establishments in the Bush and Putin administrations has made CTR a hard sell in both capitals.
The Bush White House just slashed CTRï¿½s traditional funding allocation of about $450m to $350m for the 2008 fiscal year. In Moscow, Walker noted, the winding down of the Putin administration has dissipated interest not in only CTR, but in many other bilateral nuclear, chemical and biological weapons remediation programmes as well.
ï¿½It like herding fighting cats,ï¿½ said Walker.
Past debate about Umbrella Agreement
The accompanying Umbrella Agreement has been in the past a hotly contested issue between Russia and the United States, and many analysts interviewed this week found Putinï¿½s capitulation to its strong terms surprising.
ï¿½I canï¿½t blame the Russians for their opposition to the Umbrella Agreement,ï¿½ said Raphael Della Ratta, project leader for the Washington-based Partnership for Global Security in a telephone interview with Bellona Web.
ï¿½The language of the agreement is worded very strongly ï¿½ as a result, bi-lateral liability agreements (for nuclear, biological and chemical weapons) written subsequently use language that is less strong.ï¿½
Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent Moscow-based defense analyst also said the wording of the Umbrella Agreement was distinctly in favor of the United States.
ï¿½The liability for Russia is extreme,ï¿½ said Felgenhauer in a telephone interview with Bellona Web.
Smooth sailing predicted
Though Russia has long grumbled over the liability issues contained in the CTR Umbrella Agreement, analysts nonetheless predict that Putinï¿½s protocol will pass ï¿½ even with all the ugly liability warts it contains.
ï¿½If it is sent to the Duma with Putinï¿½s blessing, I see no reason why it will not be passed,ï¿½ said Della Ratta.
Felgenhauer was more categorical in his assessment of the Duma and its politics: ï¿½The Duma is just a rubber stamp for Putin, and they will pass anything he sends to them.ï¿½
The only question, as far as Felgenhauer was concerned, was how quickly the protocol will pass. ï¿½It all depends on when the Duma gets the phone call from the Kremlin telling them to pass it,ï¿½ he said.
Why is Putin getting under the Umbrella?
Felgenhauer said that Russia had little choice but to accept the terms of the CTR Umbrella Agreement if it wanted to collect much needed cash to dismantle submarines, other lingering nuclear installations and ï¿½ most pressing at the moment ï¿½ to destroy 5,400 tons of Soviet-produced nerve agent held in a ramshackle barn in the Siberian town of Shchuchye by April 2012, as required by the Chemical Weapons Convention.
ï¿½Simply, the situation cannot be left as it is,ï¿½ said Felgenhauer.
According to Walker, who has special expertise in the Shchuchye programme, Russia and America, led by CTR chief, Rear Admiral John Byrd, have tensely been negotiating for more than six months over turning the project entirely over to Russia to complete.
One of the current contractors at the Shchuchye site is the US engineering giant Bechtel. Money for the programme is managed via the Denver-based Parsons firm. But the Russians want the money to flow directly to their own federal agencies, which, Walker said, would ï¿½get a piece of the pieï¿½ that they are not receiving under the current payment structure. Putinï¿½s new-found enthusiasm for renewing CTR and accepting the liability terms that come with it - when viewed in this context - are the Russian governmentï¿½s effort to obtain that unspent funding to pay Russian contractors to complete the chemical weapons destruction facility, Walker said. Furthermore, the White House mark-up of the CTR budget request zeroed out funding for Shchuchye for the 2008 and 2009 fiscal years.
As a result of this wrangling, money for Shchuchye programme has been stalled, and unspent funding from the years 2005, 2006 and 2007 - amounting to $270m - still remain in CTR coffers.
ï¿½The United States is backing out of this programme,ï¿½ said Walker. But Putinï¿½s play for the unspent funding may not be enough. In Walkerï¿½s estimation, the project could run as much several million more dollars over the current $1.4 billion projection, so the left over $275m could fall well short of covering additional expenses, and Walker said that Russia may have to cover significant financial shortcomings on its own ï¿½ funding that is not easily found in Moscow.
Some not aware Umbrella Agreement was up for ratification
According to Washington and Moscow insiders, one of the most surprising facts about Putinï¿½s submission of the protocol was that the Umbrella Agreement was not already under review for ratification. According to popular opinion, the document had been submitted for review years ago.
ï¿½I donï¿½t think it was ever submitted for ratification,ï¿½ said the US source who asked for anonymity because he was not authorised to speak publicly on the issue.
President George W. Bushï¿½s 2008 fiscal year budget request calls for more cuts in programs related to nonproliferation activities in the former Soviet Union, although some individual threat reduction programs would see gains or maintain funding.
Some proposed reductions reflect the winding down or closure of programs, while other cuts may reflect a shift in priorities away from traditional U.S.-Russian programs such as Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) to more regional or international programs.
Department of Defense
Money requested for the CTR program in the Department of Defense budget is down again this year to $348 million. The $24 million reduction for fiscal year 2008 follows a $44 million cut the previous year. The CTR program seeks to better control the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) complex in the former Soviet Union by securing chemical, biological, and nuclear facilities and finding employment for former weapons scientists and technicians.
The Pentagon budget would increase spending by $75 million in fiscal year 2008 for biological threat reduction efforts, including securing pathogens and facilities and setting up monitoring equipment for border posts and customs. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), however, said he plans to offer an amendment to increase funding for biological weapons nonproliferation by $100 million. If approved, this would bring overall spending to $244 million in the next fiscal year.
Nonetheless, in a Jan. 25 interview with Inside the Pentagon, Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C.), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, said broader increases for CTR funding were unlikely. Spratt said that although he wanted to see increased funding for securing fissile material and a more ï¿½rigidï¿½ scheme of accounting for sites in Russia and the United States, ï¿½I donï¿½t think the budget will come to usï¿½with enough money in [in it] to do these extra things.ï¿½ He said he would work to find an offset for increased funding of nuclear nonproliferation activities but would not take it out of funding for the war in Iraq or other essential activities.
Indeed, money proposed for the Nuclear Weapons Storage Security program was down to $23 million for fiscal year 2008, a decrease of $64 million from current spending. This reflects the completion of a number of significant upgrades to Russian facilities and a shift to maintenance.
No funds were requested for the chemical weapons destruction program in fiscal year 2008. Although work on the weapons destruction facility at Shchuchï¿½ye in Russia is still unfinished, the program is scheduled to end this year. Independent experts estimate the facility needs at least another $200 million to be completed.
The Nuclear Weapons Transportation Security program, on the other hand, is slated to receive $38 million for fiscal year 2008, a $5 million increase over the current spending. This will help to transport 48 trainloads of nuclear warheads to more secure facilities for storage and dismantlement.
The administration also requested a $2 million increase in funding for the Strategic Offensive Arms Elimination program. The $78 million in funds requested for fiscal year 2008 would be used to carry out such tasks as eliminating 65 ICBMs, defueling and storing another 20 ICBMs, and decommissioning or eliminating 44 ICBM silos.
The request for the WMD Proliferation Prevention Initiative to create better monitoring facilities on the borders of former non-Russian Soviet states was slightly higher than the previous year, at $38 million.
Department of Energy
The administrationï¿½s fiscal year 2008 budget request for a number of Department of Energy nonproliferation programs would also be below current spending. The International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation (INMP&C) program was cut by $41 million to $372 million.
The INMP&C program works to secure the former Soviet nuclear complex, both personnel and material. Part of its funding is dedicated to goals agreed to in a 2005 joint statement between Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Bratislava. The Energy Department has explained that the decreases reflect completion of many of the upgrades.
The Energy Department cut $40 million out of the Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF) and 12th Main Directorate program, citing contractor and technical access problems as well as poor weather conditions. The program seeks to secure vulnerable nuclear weapons and weapons usable materials at SRF and 12th Main Directorate sites in Russia. The Bush administration also indicated that it projects further large cuts in funding to programs in ï¿½closedï¿½ Russian cities once dedicated to designing and testing nuclear weapons. In 2005 at Bratislava, however, the United States promised to continue to support such programs.
The Elimination of Weapons Grade Plutonium Production program also will receive less funding this year as its projects in Russia continue to wind down. Some $182 million is requested for fiscal year 2008, down $25 million from current spending. The projects were created to replace Russian plutonium reactors with generators powered by fossil fuels at Severnsk and Zhelenznogorsk. They are on schedule to be completed by fiscal year 2008 and fiscal year 2011, respectively.
Funding for the Russian Fissile Materials Disposition program will be cut to zero for fiscal year 2008. This comes after a dispute over Moscowï¿½s refusal to pay for a mixed-oxide fuel-fabrication facility. This refusal angered Congress and halted the program, which converts weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for civilian nuclear reactors. The greater Fissile Materials Disposition program, which focuses on cutting stockpiles in the United States through similar techniques, was slightly increased to $609 million after the Senate concluded it was still worthwhile.
By contrast, funding for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) continues to increase, up $13 million to $119 million. The program works to reduce and protect nuclear and radiological material internationally.
Department of State
The administration requested $464 million for the Nonproliferation, Anti-terrorism, De-mining and Related Programs line item in the Department of Stateï¿½s budget. Funding for all of the subprograms within this section devoted to nonproliferation were down, something that was noted by Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Lugar in a Feb. 8 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Export Controls and Border Related Security was set at $41 million, the Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund at $30 million, and the Global Threat Reduction Program, formerly the Nonproliferation of WMD Expertise Program, is presently allocated $53.5 million.
Obama in particular took issue with the cuts, saying that these are ï¿½modest, but cuts nevertheless.ï¿½ He added, ï¿½Now, I recognize that budgets are about priorities, but given how important, potentially, interdiction and some of these other programs are, you know, Iï¿½d like to see us at least stay constantï¿½not go backwards.ï¿½
In response, Rice, while noting that these programs may be in less demand than in past, said, ï¿½I donï¿½t think that we want to be complacent, and obviously weï¿½ll keep examining it.ï¿½ The administration, however, requested a $36 million increase for small arms and light weapons destruction activities globally. This proposed boost would raise future spending to $44.7 million.
1. Design Selected for Reliable Replacement Warhead
National Nuclear Security Administration
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The Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced today that the Nuclear Weapons Council (NWC) approved a design for a joint NNSA and U.S. Navy program to provide a replacement warhead for a portion of the nation's sea-based nuclear weapons that will provide means to ensure long-term confidence in a more secure, smaller and safer nuclear weapons stockpile.
The design team from NNSA's Lawrence Livermore and Sandia National Laboratories was selected to develop the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW). NNSA and the national laboratories have determined that this design can be certified without requiring underground nuclear testing.
NNSA and the Navy will now work together to develop a detailed RRW project plan and cost estimate for developing and producing the system. This work will support a future decision to seek congressional authorization and funding in order to proceed into system development and subsequent production.
"The RRW design concept utilizes modern technology that was not available during the Cold War when our nuclear weapons were designed and built. This will permit significant upgrades in safety and security features in the replacement warhead that will keep the same explosive yields and other military characteristics as the current ones. RRW will take advantage of today's science to ensure the long-term confidence in the future stockpile," said Thomas P. D'Agostino, NNSA's acting administrator. "RRW builds on the successful scientific accomplishments of our Stockpile Stewardship Program, which helps to maintain our nuclear weapons without underground testing."
This announcement comes at a time when there is a sharp increase in the number of U.S. nuclear weapons being dismantled, permanently removing them from the stockpile. NNSA has accelerated its dismantlement process, following President Bush's 2004 decision to cut the number of U.S. nuclear weapons dramatically.
"Our RRW effort is in parallel with our efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons from the stockpile that are no longer needed for national security purposes. We have increased this year's dismantlement rate to 50 percent above last year, and in just five years, the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile will be at its lowest point since the Eisenhower administration," D'Agostino said.
Teams from NNSA's Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories partnered with Sandia National Laboratories to submit design proposals to the NWC. In late 2006, the NWC evaluated the proposals and determined that the RRW concept was feasible to sustain the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile.
"Both teams developed brilliant designs," said D'Agostino. "Because of the superior science across the nuclear weapons complex with assets like supercomputers, and the early design engagement with the production facilities, the laboratories were able to develop designs in nine months that were much more mature than they would have been after two years of work during the Cold War. This is an amazing scientific accomplishment that should not be overlooked."
The two nuclear weapons laboratories both submitted designs that fully met all RRW requirements. However, D'Agostino noted that higher confidence in the ability to certify the Livermore design without underground nuclear testing was the primary reason for its selection. That design was more closely tied to previous underground testing. While one of several factors, it was an especially important one to assure long-term confidence in the reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile.
Several features of the Los Alamos design are highly innovative and will be developed in parallel with the Livermore effort. As they mature, the features may be introduced into the RRW design as it progresses.
An important aspect of RRW is its ability to exercise and maintain the critical skills of the country's nuclear weapons design, engineering and production personnel. An integrated team of designers and engineers led by Livermore will work with the production plants to develop the nuclear explosive component of the weapon. Sandia will develop the non-nuclear components and ensure compatibility with the Department of Defense's Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile delivery system. The U.S. Navy will lead the overall project team.
For the first time, NNSA's production facilities fully participated in the design process to ensure that components and materials used in RRW will be safer and that parts will be easier to maintain and manufacture, moving NNSA towards a more efficient and smaller nuclear weapons complex.
The RRW will: ï¿½ Assure long-term confidence in the reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile; ï¿½ Enhance security and prevent use by terrorists, rogue nations or criminal organizations through state-of-the-art technology; ï¿½ Improve the safety of the stockpile; ï¿½ Help to develop a nuclear weapons infrastructure that is more responsive to future national security needs; ï¿½ Utilize and sustain critical nuclear weapons design and production skills; ï¿½ Enable a reduced stockpile size by increasing confidence in the infrastructure to produce weapons if they are needed; and ï¿½ Decrease the likelihood that a nuclear test will be needed.
The NWC is a group of senior officials from the Defense Department and NNSA established by law to oversee nuclear weapons programs. It is chaired by Kenneth Krieg, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. The other members, in addition to D'Agostino, are Admiral Edmund Giambastiani, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Eric Edelman, under secretary of defense for policy; and General James Cartwright, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command.
Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the United States and abroad.
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