1. U.S., Allies Press UN Agency on Iran Nuclear Program
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The United States and key allies are pressing the UN nuclear monitoring agency to find Iran in violation of its commitment to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty over Tehran's refusal to allow remote monitoring of its underground uranium enrichment plant, diplomats said Thursday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency ï¿½ the UN monitor ï¿½ has itself increased the pressure on Tehran, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because their information was confidential. The diplomats, who are accredited or otherwise linked to the agency, told The Associated Press that a senior IAEA official recently told the Iranians to respond positively to an agency request for additional cameras at the Natanz enrichment site by the end of this week.
At issue is Teheran's refusal to allow comprehensive monitoring of its expanding enrichment program at the underground facility at Natanz, where it has linked up hundreds of centrifuges. Although enriched uranium can serve as the fissile core of nuclear weapons, Iran insists it wants the technology only to generate power.
In a February report to the IAEA's 35-nation board and the U.N. Security Council ï¿½ which has imposed sanctions because of Tehran's refusal to freeze enrichment ï¿½ IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei said Iran ï¿½declined to agreeï¿½ to his agency's call for remote monitoring, including cameras.
A compromise was reached in which IAEA inspectors were allowed increased access to the plant, but the agency said that remote monitoring would have to be implemented once 500 centrifuges had been installed at Natanz.
The agency's request for a positive response on the part of Iran was made recently by Olli Heinonen, the IAEA deputy director general of the Iran file. Diplomats said he delivered it both in written form as well as verbally in stronger terms.
It was unclear on Thursday whether Mr. Heinonen's move was prompted by agency concerns that Iran was approaching the 500-centrifuge limit stated in Mr. ElBaradei's report.
While the number of centrifuges that are partially or totally assembled underground at Natanz is thought to have exceeded that number, some agency officials argue that the definition of 500 assembled centrifuges means that the machines are hooked up in series and running ï¿½ although not necessarily enriching material ï¿½ a stage that one Western diplomat said had not yet been reached.
Still, the United States, the strongest proponent of tough sanctions against Iran for its nuclear defiance, was already sounding out other board nations about their readiness to meet in special session to find Tehran in violation of agreements linked to the Nonproliferation Treaty because of its refusal to heed the agency request, the diplomats said.
Agency experts were withholding judgment, pending examination of Iran's agreements to see if its refusal to allow installation of extra cameras giving a full overview of its Natanz operations was a violation of the treaty, they said.
A full picture of Natanz operations is important to the agency to be able to ascertain what grade of enriched uranium the plant will be producing if and when the Iranians decide to start production of such material. Low-level enriched uranium is used to generate power ï¿½ which Iran asserts is its only goal. But with minor modifications, such plants can also churn out weapons-grade uranium as part of a nuclear arms program.
North Korea's nuclear test last October was a failure and gives no credence to Pyongyang's claim to being a nuclear weapons state, US CIA director Michael Hayden was quoted as saying by a South Korean paper on Wednesday.
North Korea said in October it had successfully conducted an underground nuclear test. US and South Korean officials and experts have said the blast produced a relatively low-yield explosion, and some questioned the North's nuclear capability.
"The US does not recognise North Korea as a nuclear weapons state," Hayden was quoted as saying by a South Korean defence official in the Joong Ang Ilbo paper. "It's because the nuclear test last year was a failure."
Hayden was speaking to South Korean defence minister Kim Jang-soo on his stop in Seoul as part of visits to South Korea, Japan and China, Joong Ang Ilbo said.
South Korea's defense Ministry declined to confirm Hayden's comments but said Hayden had visited Kim on Tuesday. The US embassy declined to comment. The test last year led to a UN Security Council resolution slapping financial sanctions on Pyongyang.
But North Korea agreed to a breakthrough deal in February with South Korea, the United States, Japan, Russia and China to end its nuclear programme in return for aid worth about $330 million.
Meanwhile, the World Food Programme appealed to donors on Wednesday to separate nuclear diplomacy from humanitarian needs and step up assistance to North Korea to stop millions of people from going hungry. North Korea is facing a food gap of 1 million tonnes, or about 20% of its needs, of which the UN agency can only fill a fraction.
1. Progress, but More Time Needed for India Nuclear Deal
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The United States says some progress has been made on resolving a number of issues on the India-US nuclear deal at the just concluded talks in New Delhi, but it is going to take a little bit of time to work out.
"I know that there have been ongoing discussions on some of the specific items that need to be arranged. Certainly there is no final agreement that's been reached, though I do believe they've made some progress on resolving a number of issues there," state department spokesman Tom Casey said Wednesday.
"And this is something that I believe is going to take a little bit of time to work out. These are complex arrangements and it's important that we produce ultimately an agreement that conforms with US law and allows us to move forward with the confidence that both sides need," he said.
Asked if with India insisting on some conditions that are at odds with the US position and law, had they come any closer, Casey said, " Well again, this is something that people are actively discussing and negotiating now. I'd leave it to the folks out there in Delhi that are doing that to describe exactly where the process stands."
The head of the Yucca Mountain project said Wednesday that although 2017 is the goal for opening the Nevada nuclear waste dump, it will likely happen three or four years after that.
There could be more litigation and delays in getting construction authority from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said Edward F. ``Ward'' Sproat, director of the Energy Department's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management.
The program is already long delayed and the Energy Department keeps revising the opening date. The 2017 date was announced last summer; Sproat said he still hopes to make it.
Sproat warned lawmakers at a hearing that annual funding for Yucca must rise above the level it's been at for recent years - around $500 million - for the program to happen at all.
``If all we can do is continue to fund the repository at that level the repository will never be built, it will never happen,'' he told the House Appropriations energy and water development subcommittee.
Project managers already have had to adjust to getting $100 million less in the 2007 fiscal year than President Bush requested. The final 2007 figure was $444 million.
Once construction starts on the repository in the desert 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas costs will soar past $1 billion per year, according to Energy Department projections.
With Yucca Mountain's toughest foe, Democratic Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, running the Senate as majority leader, Sproat has been working hard to convince other lawmakers of the need to push the dump forward.
Yucca Mountain would be the first national repository for radioactive waste. It is meant to store at least 77,000 tons, but there are already roughly 50,000 tons waiting at reactor sites in dozens of states.
1. Bush Offers Putin Olive Branch over Missile Defense Shield
Washington Post & Associated Press
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The Czech government announced Wednesday that it will open formal negotiations with the United States to build part of a missile-defense shield, even as opposition to the idea has stiffened elsewhere in Europe.
The United States wants to build a radar station in the Czech Republic and a missile battery in Poland to defend against possible missile attacks from what it calls "rogue states" such as Iran or North Korea.
Russia has opposed stationing elements of the missile shield close to its borders. It says the plan is a threat to its national security and does not believe U.S. assurances it is designed to defend against Iran. Russia has questioned whether the unarmed missile interceptors could be replaced by warheads in the future.
Speaking at a February security conference in Munich, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the proposed shield "could provoke nothing less than the beginning of a new nuclear era."
U.S. officials have tried to assuage Russia's concerns, as well as those of European allies.
After the Czech government's announcement Wednesday, President Bush called Putin in an attempt to persuade him that the missile interceptor was defensive in nature and not aimed at Russia, according to the Kremlin.
The call apparently succeeded in cooling the dispute, at least temporarily.
"The U.S. president's expression of readiness for detailed discussion on this subject with the Russian side, and for cooperation in the interests of joint security, was received with satisfaction," the Kremlin said in a statement.
The proposed U.S. defense system has drawn especially heavy criticism in Germany, where members of Chancellor Angela Merkel's government have questioned whether Europe should play any role in development of the shield.
Last week, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned that the defense system could divide Europe politically and warned of "a new Cold War between the USA and Russia."
In their phone call, Bush and Putin also discussed Iran's nuclear program.
According to the Kremlin, Putin said last week's U.N. Security Council vote adopting a new sanctions resolution against Iran "unambiguously rules out the use of force."
Kosovo also came up. Russia opposes Kosovo being split off from Serbia as proposed by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari in a plan the Security Council is expected to discuss next month.
Dimitri Simes, president of the Nixon Center, a foreign-policy think tank, said U.S. support for Kosovo's independence despite Serbia's objections and Russia's insistence on more negotiations is a source of "growing tensions and mistrust" between the two countries.
As for Iran, Simes said Russia does not want to see it armed with nuclear weapons.
"But Russia also does not want to see a U.S. military action against Iran, no matter what," Simes said.
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