Iran will not suspend uranium enrichment, the key U.N. demand in a nuclear row with Tehran, Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said the day before talks with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
The Group of Eight (G8) industrial nations said on Wednesday they will support "further appropriate measures" if Iran fails to comply with U.N. resolutions demanding that it suspend nuclear enrichment.
"If Iran continues to ignore demands of the Security Council we will support further appropriate measures as agreed in Resolution 1747," G8 foreign ministers said in a statement issued at a meeting in Potsdam, Germany.
Thursday's meeting between Larijani and Solana, acting on behalf of world powers, will be the first since U.S. and Iranian officials held rare face-to-face discussions in Iraq, although atomic affairs were not on the agenda for the Baghdad meeting.
The United States, which accuses Tehran of seeking to build an atomic bomb, has been leading efforts to isolate Iran over its nuclear program and also says Iran is stirring up violence in Iraq. Iran denies both charges.
"Suspension is not a solution to Iran's nuclear issue ... Iran cannot accept suspension," Larijani told reporters at a Tehran airport before his departure for Madrid, where he will meet Solana.
"We have no conditions and we are ready for constructive talks but we will not accept any preconditions. We are ready to remove concerns over Iran's atomic issue."
Previous meetings have failed to persuade Tehran to obey U.N. resolutions demanding it halt enrichment, a process which can be used to make fuel for power stations or bomb material.
"We are ready to hold talks without preconditions, any day, any time, but they (the Europeans) should change their logic and use this opportunity which Iran has created for constructive talks. Previous methods will lead them nowhere," Larijani said.
"We are not against discussing such solutions during talks but the ground should be paved for Iran to continue its nuclear work," Larijani added.
He said Iran was staying within regulations laid down by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The U.N. watchdog says Iran has to answer questions to clarify its intentions.
The U.N. Security Council has imposed two sets of sanctions on Iran since December for failing to heed U.N. demands. Washington has threatened more steps if the demands are ignored.
U.S. and Iranian envoys to Iraq met in Baghdad on Monday to discuss Iraqi security issues, the sole issue on the agenda. Washington told Tehran to stop backing militias in Iraq, although Tehran denies any such activity.
"The nuclear issue and Iraq talks are two separate issues. Of course, in politics, you cannot separate two issues, it will have some affect," Larijani said without elaborating. Both sides, which have not had diplomatic ties since Washington cut relations after the 1979 Islamic revolution, described Monday's discussions as positive.
Iran insists its atomic program is aimed at making fuel for a network of nuclear power stations it is planning. The country's first such plant is still being built, with Russian help, and has faced years of delays.
Iran temporarily suspended enrichment under a previous deal with the European Union but that pact collapsed in 2005.
Solana is empowered by the world's major powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany as well as the EU -- to explore the scope for formal negotiations on a package of economic, technological and political initiatives if Iran suspends enrichment.
1. Russia Makes U-Turn, Joins UN Sanctions against N. Korea
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Russia has agreed to impose UN sanctions on North Korea following its nuclear bomb test last October, the Kremlin Web site said Wednesday.
President Vladimir Putin signed a decree Sunday prohibiting Russian state and government agencies, industrial, commercial, financial and transport companies, and enterprises, firms and banks from exporting or transiting military hardware, equipment, materials, or know-how which could be used in the Communist state's nuclear or non-nuclear weapons programs.
It also prohibits any financial operations with legal entities or individuals who have been identified by the UN as being directly or indirectly involved in North Korea's nuclear arms program.
This marks a U-turn on Russia's previous position. Earlier this year, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov said that sanctions against North Korea must be lifted.
North Korea agreed to stop its nuclear reactor and give International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors access to the country in a six-party agreement on February 13 after boycotting disarmament talks with China, the U.S., South Korea, Russia and Japan for more than a year.
It has pledged that it will fulfill its February commitments with the five countries involved in a protracted nuclear dispute, as soon as it receives funds frozen in a Macao bank.
North Korea's $25 million deposited in Banco Delta Asia was unfrozen in March in an attempt to win Pyongyang's promise to close its nuclear reactor. But the fund transfer has been stalled, and in response the Communist regime has delayed shutting down its Yongbyon reactor expected in April.
The impoverished state has been cut off from global financial markets for several years and has used cash or complicated barter schemes to pay for supplies and services from other countries.
The North Korean BDA accounts were frozen in October 2005 at the request of the United States, which accused the regime of counterfeiting and money laundering.
Washington also blacklisted the Macao bank earlier this year, making other banks wary of handling Korean funds and dealing with the BDA.
1. Burns Arrives Thursday for Talks on Nuclear Deal
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Indicating that differences on the India-US civilian nuclear deal are being ironed out, key US interlocutor Nicolas Burns is arriving here Thursday for talks on the 123 agreement that is expected to take their path-breaking pact forward.
During the three-day visit, Burns, the under secretary for political affairs, 'will review bilateral relations and developments of mutual interest' with Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon, a statement issued here Wednesday by the external affairs ministry said.
'The visit will also be the occasion for further discussions on the proposed bilateral civil nuclear co-operation agreement,' the statement added.
The US embassy here made a similar announcement.
'There is considerable work to be done on what is a very technical and detailed agreement. We want to finish as soon as we can and both sides are positive we can do this,' US Ambassador David Mulford said in a statement.
The announcement sets at rest speculation about Burns' visit that had arisen after a remark Tuesday by State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey in response to a question about the trip
'Well, Nick, as far as I know, was on the plane with the Secretary (of State Condoleeza Rice) headed to Berlin for G-8 meetings.
'And as far as I know, while he's spoken about his willingness to go on to India if it's appropriate to continue those discussions on India's nuclear deal, I don't believe that he's scheduled a trip there as of yet,' he said.
Asked if Burns would return home after the Berlin trip, Casey said: 'At this point, I certainly know if there is a reason for him to go later this week or next week, then he will certainly do so.
'I know originally, they were hoping to have him go out somewhere in the next couple of weeks, but there's no confirmed travel plans at this point,' he said.
Wednesday's simultaneous announcements from New Delhi and Washington have now cleared the air.
Burns, who was earlier expected to visit India in mid-May after Foreign Secretary Menon's visit to Washington raised hopes that the deal may be closed by month end, indefinitely put it off as the 123 agreement was still a 'work in progress'.
Speculation about the trip was revived after Indian and US technical experts held two-day talks on the nuclear deal in London May 21-22 during which India clarified its concepts on key issues like nuclear testing and demand for access to reprocessing technologies.
Burns' visit indicates that the two sides are attempting to clinch the 123 agreement before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George W. Bush meet on the sidelines of the G-8 summit in Germany early next month.
As Iran races ahead with an illicit uranium enrichment effort, nearly a dozen other Middle East nations are moving forward on their own civilian nuclear programs. In the latest development, a team of eight U.N. experts on Friday ended a weeklong trip to Saudi Arabia to provide nuclear guidance to officials from six Persian Gulf countries.
Diplomats and analysts view the Saudi trip as the latest sign that Iran's suspected weapons program has helped spark a chain reaction of nuclear interest among its Arab rivals, which some fear will lead to a scramble for atomic weapons in the world's most volatile region.
The International Atomic Energy Agency sent the team of nuclear experts to Riyadh, the Saudi capital, to advise the Gulf Cooperation Council on building nuclear energy plants. Together, the council members ï¿½ Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the seven sheikdoms of the United Arab Emirates ï¿½ control nearly half the world's known oil reserves.
Other nations that have said they plan to construct civilian nuclear reactors or have sought technical assistance and advice from the IAEA, the Vienna-based United Nations nuclear watchdog agency, in the last year include Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Yemen, as well as several North African nations.
None of the governments has disclosed plans to build nuclear weapons. But Iran's 18-year secret nuclear effort and its refusal to comply with current U.N. Security Council demands have raised concerns that the Arab world will decide it needs to counter a potentially nuclear-armed Iran. The same equipment can enrich uranium to fuel civilian reactors or, in time and with further enrichment, atomic bombs.
"There is no doubt that countries around the gulf are worried ï¿½ about whether Iran is seeking nuclear weapons," Gregory L. Schulte, the U.S. representative to U.N. agencies in Vienna, said in an interview. "They're worried about whether it will prompt a nuclear arms race in the region, which would be to no one's benefit."
The United States has long supported the spread of peaceful nuclear energy under strict international safeguards. Schulte said Washington's diplomatic focus remained on stopping Iran before it could produce fuel for nuclear weapons, rather than on trying to restrict nations from developing nuclear power for generating electricity.
But those empowered to monitor and regulate civilian nuclear programs around the world are worried. Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the IAEA, warned Thursday that the surge of interest in sensitive nuclear technology raised the risk of weapons proliferation. Without singling out any nation, he cautioned that some governments might insist on enriching their own uranium to ensure a steady supply of reactor fuel.
"The concern is that by mastering the fuel cycle, countries move dangerously close to nuclear weapons capability," ElBaradei told a disarmament conference in Luxembourg.
Iran is the obvious case in point. Tehran this week defied another U.N. Security Council deadline by which it was to freeze its nuclear program. The IAEA reported that Iran instead was accelerating uranium enrichment without having yet built the reactors that would need the nuclear fuel. At the same time, the IAEA complained, Iran's diminishing cooperation had made it impossible to confirm Tehran's claims that the program is only for peaceful purposes.
That has unnerved Iran's neighbors as well as members of the Security Council.
"We have the right if the Iranians are going to insist on their right to develop their civilian nuclear program," said Mustafa Alani, a security expert at the Gulf Research Center, a think tank based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. "We tell the Iranians, 'We have no problem with you developing civilian nuclear energy, but if you're going to turn your nuclear program into a weapons program, we'll do the same.' "
Iran sought to rally Arab support for its nuclear program at the World Economic Forum meeting of business and political leaders this month in Jordan.
"Iran will be a partner, a brotherly partner, and will share its capabilities with the people of the region," Mohammed J.A. Larijani, a former deputy foreign minister, told reporters.
Arab officials were cool to his approach, however, and openly questioned Iran's intentions.
The IAEA team's weeklong foray to Saudi Arabia followed ElBaradei's visit to the kingdom in April. The Gulf Cooperation Council plans to present the results of its study on developing nuclear plants to the leaders of council nations in the Omani capital of Muscat in December.
"They don't say it, but everyone can see that [Iran] is at least one of the reasons behind the drive to obtaining the nuclear technology," said Salem Ahmad Sahab, a professor of political science at King Abdulaziz University in Jidda, Saudi Arabia. "If the neighbors are capable of obtaining the technology, why not them?"
Officially, leaders of the Arab gulf states say they are eager to close a technology gap with Iran, as well as with Israel, which operates two civilian reactors and is widely believed to have built at least 80 nuclear warheads since the 1960s. Israel does not acknowledge its nuclear arsenal under a policy aimed at deterring regional foes while avoiding an arms race.
Advocates argue that the gulf states need nuclear energy despite their vast oil and natural gas reserves.
The region's growing economies suffer occasional summer power outages, and the parched climate makes the nations there susceptible to water shortages, which can be offset by the energy-intensive processing of seawater.
"The promising future of nuclear energy in electricity generation and desalination can make it a source for meeting increasing needs," Abdulrahman Attiya, the Kuwaiti head of the Gulf Cooperation Council, told the group this week in Riyadh.
Attiya also cited long-term economic and environmental advantages to nuclear energy.
"A large part of Gulf Cooperation Council oil and gas products can be used for export in light of expected high prices and demand," he said. "It will also help to limit the increase in carbon dioxide emissions in the gulf region."
It remains unclear how many countries will carry through on ambitious and enormously expensive nuclear projects. In some cases, analysts say, the nuclear announcements may be intended for domestic prestige, and as a signal to Iran that others intend to check its emergence as a regional power. As a result, some analysts say fears of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East are overblown.
"Those who caricature what's going on as Sunni concern about a Shiite bomb are really oversimplifying the case," said Martin Malin, a nuclear expert at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, referring to Sunni Muslim-led Arab countries and Shiite Muslim-led Iran.
Aggressive international monitoring, he contended, could ensure that nuclear energy programs don't secretly morph into weapons capabilities.
"If what Jordan is really concerned about is energy, and the U.S. is concerned about weapons, all kinds of oversight can be provided," Malin said.
A Russian diplomat here similarly cautioned that Iran's influence on other nations' nuclear plans might be overstated. "I should be very cautious about any connection between these two things," he said. "We don't deny that even Iran has the right to peaceful nuclear activities."
Although enthusiasm for prospective nuclear programs appears strongest in the Middle East, governments elsewhere have displayed interest in atomic power after years of decline in the industry that followed the 1979 reactor accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania and the far worse 1986 radiation leak at Chernobyl in Ukraine. About 30 countries operate nuclear reactors for energy, and that number seems certain to grow.
"There's certainly a renaissance of interest," said an IAEA official who works on the issue. "And there's likely to be a renaissance in construction over the next few decades."
IAEA officials say the largest growth in nuclear power is likely to occur in China, India, Russia, the United States and South Africa, with Argentina, Finland and France following close behind. The United States has 103 operating plants, more than any other country, and as many as 31 additional plants are under consideration or have begun the regulatory process.
And there are other nations in line. Oil-rich Nigeria and Indonesia are preparing to build nuclear plants. Belarus and Vietnam have approached the IAEA for advice. Algeria signed a deal with Russia in January on possible nuclear cooperation. Morocco and Poland are said to be considering nuclear power. Myanmar disclosed plans to purchase a Russian research reactor.
Even Sudan, one of the world's poorest countries, has expressed interest.
"When Sudan shows up, we say, 'You're in a real early stage and here's what you need. A law. Get people trained. Build roads. And so on,' " the IAEA official said.
So far, the nuclear programs around Iran are in the early planning stages. Alani, the security expert in Dubai, said most of the nations in the region were scoping out the possibilities but had made no final decisions or begun constructing facilities.
"They feel it's a right and significant move at least to put [their] foot in the door of civilian nuclear energy," he said. "It's not a race, not yet."
South Korea urged the communist North to shut down its main nuclear reactor and gradually open their heavily armed border to regular train traffic, as the estranged neighbors entered a second day of reconciliation talks Wednesday.
The Cabinet-level talks - the highest channel of dialogue between the former wartime foes - come amid a heightening standoff over the North's refusal to implement a breakthrough disarmament deal reached in February.
While North Korea had pledged to close its Yongbyon reactor in exchange for economic aid and political concessions, it has yet to fulfill the promise.
U.S. and Chinese diplomats were set to discuss the matter in Beijing on Wednesday, while South Korea pressed on the issue directly to the North in Seoul.
``We stressed the necessity of implementing the agreement quickly,'' South Korean spokesman Ko Gyoung-bin said after morning talks between the North and South delegations.
South Korea also proposed formally reopening cross-border rail service between the countries in phases, and ``in a way that benefits both the South and the North,'' Ko said. Earlier this month, the two Koreas held a historic cross-border test train run on restored tracks, marking the first time trains crossed the border since rail links were cut early in the 1950-53 Korean War. Fighting ended with a cease-fire instead of a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically in a state of war.
In the morning session, North Korea mentioned neither the nuclear standoff nor the South's recent decision to delay promised rice aid shipments to the North - a potential flash point in the negotiations.
South Korea is delaying shipment of about 400,000 tons of rice, with delivery originally set to begin in late May, over the North's refusal to start dismantling its nuclear programs.
Analysts had expected the rice shipments to be a sticking point and possibly to derail the inter-Korea talks, which are the 21st such meeting and are scheduled to run through Friday.
North Korea scuttled similar talks last year after the South snubbed an earlier demand for rice shipments, citing concerns about the North's missile tests in July 2006. Since then, North Korea has tested its first atomic bomb and is accused of stonewalling on pledges to start dismantling its nuclear programs.
On Wednesday, the North called on the South ``to take responsible measures regarding acts that provoke the dialogue partner and endanger South-North relations,'' Ko said. The admonition referred to regular joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea, drills perennially criticized by the North.
Ko said the North also stressed that inter-Korean issues should not be disrupted by ``outside forces'' - a common reference to the U.S., which stations 28,000 troops in South Korea as a legacy of the Korean War.
North Korea has been refusing to shut down its reactor until it receives funds from an account at a bank in the Chinese territory of Macau. The account was frozen when the U.S. blacklisted the bank in 2005.
North Korea's $25 million at Macau's Banco Delta Asia was freed earlier this year, but Pyongyang has not withdrawn the money, apparently seeking to receive it through a bank wire transfer to prove the funds are now clean. The U.S. had alleged the funds were tied to money laundering and counterfeiting.
The chief U.S. negotiator to North Korean nuclear talks arrived in China on Wednesday to discuss new ways to resolve the long-running banking dispute. Any breakthrough could help smooth inter-Korean talks in Seoul.
Christopher Hill told reporters in Indonesia on Tuesday the process would be ``helped immeasurably'' if North Korea began dismantling its nuclear reactor as agreed to with the United States and four other countries.
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