1. Russia and Armenia to Establish Joint Venture for Uranium Exploration and Mining
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The Armenian Environmental Minister, Vartan Aivazyan stated his intentions for creating the joint enterprise during negotiations with Rosatomï¿½s Sergei Kirienko, who has likewise asserted that Russia is prepared to sign onto a cooperative agreement.
The head of Rosatom took Soviet archive materials to the meeting, which estimate Armenian uranium reserves at 20 thousand tons. According to Kirienko, known deposits were inadequately surveyed and, with the application of new surveying methods, it is possible that the amount of uranium in these deposits might turn out to be 1.5 to 2 times greater than previously expected. Only three deposits have been surveyed in Armenia so far. Kirienko also stated that it was obvious that Armeniaï¿½s uranium supplies would be able to meet the needs of its current nuclear power plant and perhaps even the needs of a new one. Kirienko also announced that Russian specialists would be prepared to help Armenia with the construction of a second nuclear plant if such a request was made.
The head of Rosatom estimates that Armeniaï¿½s reserves will be significant enough to allow for foreign export, in addition to domestic use. Environmental minister Aivazyana estimates that half of the preparatory work for the surveying has been done and that in May permission would be granted for excavations ITAR-TASS reported.
1. Nuclear Treaty Talks Suspended over Iran Objection
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A meeting of 130 nations on how to shore up the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was suspended on Wednesday for 24 hours so diplomats could try and overcome a standoff triggered by Iran's objections to the agenda.
At odds with Western powers over their suspicions it is seeking to build atom bombs under cover of a civilian nuclear energy program, Iran says a clause inserted in the agenda would unjustly single it out as the prime peril to the NPT.
When the two-week meeting began on Monday, Iran blocked the required consensus on the agenda over a phrase citing the need for NPT members to consider "approaches and measures to realize its purpose, reaffirming the need for full compliance".
The wording was added at the behest of some Western powers which consider Iran and North Korea, which walked out of the NPT and tested a nuclear device last year, the biggest threats to the treaty's integrity, diplomats said.
Iran said the clause glossed over nuclear weapons states' role in weakening the NPT by failing to phase out their arsenals or push for a nuclear arms-free zone in the Middle East by pressing Israel to dismantle its undeclared atomic firepower.
Earlier on Wednesday, Iranian envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh said Tehran would drop its challenge if the passage on compliance was expanded to specifically mention disarmament by major powers with nuclear weapons.
Yukiya Amano, Japanese chairman at the NPT Preparatory Committee session, said he was adjourning the meeting until Thursday afternoon to try and resolve the dispute.
"The parties here need time to think. It's complicated," Amano said before starting more consultations late on Wednesday.
The two-week NPT "Preparatory Committee" meeting is aimed at drafting priorities for the next, decision-making treaty Review Conference in 2010. A lack of consensus over agenda paralyzed the last NPT Review Conference in 2005.
"Iran is for constructive proposals (to improve the NPT) if our concerns are taken into account," Soltanieh told reporters.
"Our position is unchanged but we're prepared to be open-minded."
Iran denies Western fears it harbors a secret atomic bomb project, saying it is enriching uranium for electricity.
But the U.N. Security Council has imposed sanctions on Tehran for refusing to suspend the program, hiding nuclear research in the past and stonewalling U.N. inquiries now.
"Iran is isolated. We cannot let it take this meeting hostage," said a European Union delegate.
Iran had sympathy at the NPT session from a few U.S. foes like Cuba but the vast majority -- both industrialized nations and many of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) of developing states to which Tehran belongs -- accepted the agenda, diplomats said.
"Iran is wrong if it thinks 'compliance' is meant to attack them only. For NAM, 'compliance' also means the nuclear weapons states should disarm and stop supplying states outside the NPT," a NAM diplomat said, citing U.S. military links with Israel.
The NPT binds members without nuclear bombs not to acquire them, guarantees the right of all members to nuclear energy for peaceful ends, and commits the original five nuclear powers from the post World War Two era to phase out their arsenals.
Security analysts say the NPT must be overhauled to cope with states tempted to divert civilian nuclear fuel industries developed within terms of the treaty into weapons production.
1. Macao Bank Starts Transfer of Pyongyang Deposits to Russia, Italy
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Money from the North Korean government's $25 million account with a Macao bank is being transferred to Russia and Italy following the deposit's unfreezing by Washington in exchange for Pyongyang's promise to halt its nuclear weapons program, a local newspaper said Thursday.
Aomen Ribao reported that Banco Delta Asia had dispatched a $13 million tranche to several banks in Russia and Italy and that the transfer would take two to three days. However, the paper stopped short of naming any foreign banking organizations taking part in the transaction, nor did it specify where the remaining $12 million would go.
Washington had the account blocked in September 2005 after accusing Pyongyang of money laundering and of counterfeiting U.S. dollars, but it backed down on its decision earlier this year in an attempt to break the deadlock in six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
The talks, held intermittently since 2003, involve the two Koreas, China, Japan, the U.S. and Russia.
The BDA bank has neither confirmed nor denied Aomen Ribao's report to RIA Novosti.
The official spokesman for the North Korean bank Daedong, which holds $7 million of the total $25 million, has also declined to comment in a telephone interview from London.
Under an agreement reached at the latest round of North Korean nuclear talks in February, Pyongyang must shut down and seal its Yongbyon reactor. However, it said it would do so only after its account with BDA was unfrozen.
1. Atomstroyexport Begins Work on Bushehr NNP Energy Supply
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Russia's nuclear export monopoly Atomstroyexport has begun final adjustment work to supply the Bushehr NPP in Iran with electricity, the monopoly said in a statement Thursday.
Russia is building Bushehr, Iran's first nuclear power plant, under a 1995 agreement in the south of the Islamic Republic, which has been in the focus of international attention over its controversial nuclear research program. Western nations and Israel suspect Tehran of concealing a weapons program, but Iran says it needs to enrich uranium for energy.
The $1-billion project, implemented under the supervision of the UN nuclear watchdog, came under the threat of suspension after Russian contractors said in February that Tehran had only covered 60% of the required funding by the fourth quarter of 2006, and had completely stopped payment in mid-January.
Following negotiations with Iranian officials, Atomstroyexport said in March that Iran had made part of the payments but still had to cover the arrears.
Another round of bilateral talks in Moscow April 21-22 yielded a bilateral deal outlining a set of measures to provide stable financing for the project. The Bushehr project was originally to be commissioned in July 1999, but the deadline has been revised five times since then.
1. Georgia Considering Hosting U.S. Missile Defense System
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Georgia is prepared to consider basing elements of a U.S. missile shield system on its soil, the country's foreign minister said Wednesday.
"If [the US] came and told us that they want to, we would certainly be willing to talk about it," Gela Bezhuashvili said in an interview with British daily The Financial Times.
He said the Americans have not formally requested talks with Georgia.
"There is no formal application, not even informal talks," he said. "But if they ask for help, we will talk with them."
Lt. Gen. Henry Obering, head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, said earlier the U.S. would like to deploy a forward-based radar in the Caucasus to facilitate its ability to track missiles originating from Iran.
Bezhulashvili said the majority of the country's population supports NATO membership.
"We have public support for NATO membership at 84 per cent, have recently doubled our troops in Iraq - I do not think it would be a problem," he said.
But he said that while relations with the U.S. are improving, further tension was expected in relations with Russia.
"I think the relationship will actually deteriorate in the future. The "dynamics in all of this" were "not very promising," he said.
Russia fears that Georgia's NATO membership will seriously worsen relations between Moscow and Tbilisi, a senior Foreign Ministry official said last week.
As well as being uneasy about the opening of NATO bases on the territory of Russia's former Soviet allies in the Baltic region and Central Asia, Moscow strongly opposes efforts by Georgia and Ukraine to join the alliance, saying the prospect threatens its security and will unleash a new arms race.
"I like the idea of Georgian neutrality, but such decisions should be made by the Georgian people, Georgian voters, and the country's leadership. No one should dictate to a sovereign state how it should develop," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told a news conference at RIA Novosti.
He said Russia is worried by the prospect of NATO air bases being deployed on Georgian soil.
"We are particularly concerned by the possibility of our immediate neighbors becoming a bridgehead for the deployment of strategic elements of a military machine," he said, adding that Moscow expects all neighboring states to follow a responsible approach toward such matters.
Karasin's statement seems to have come in response to remarks by the president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (PA), who said that Georgia's stability and strength is in Russia's interests.
Jose Lello said Georgia's cooperation with the North Atlantic alliance focuses on fighting terrorism, exactly the threats and challenges that Russia is facing in the North Caucasus.
He said stability in Georgia will benefit Russia, among others, and that it is high time for constructive dialogue.
On April 10, U.S. President George Bush signed into law legislation supporting a Ukrainian and Georgian bid to join NATO.
Georgia has pushed to join the Cold War-era organization since Western-educated President Mikheil Saakashvili came to power on the back of mass protests in 2003, hoping that membership will help it regain control of breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that Tbilisi believes are backed by Russia.
Russia helped to end the bloody conflicts in the region in the early 1990s and has maintained troops there ever since.
In mid-March, despite bitter differences on domestic issues, Georgia's parliament voted unanimously to carry on with the NATO bid.
Moscow said it would have to develop an adequate response to the possible missile shield deployment in the Caucasus.
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