1. North Korea Plans to Shut Reactor in July: Report
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North Korea plans to seal its nuclear reactor, the source of weapons-grade plutonium, in the second half of July, Russia's Interfax news agency reported on Monday, citing an unidentified North Korean diplomatic source.
Despite more than two months of delay in beginning the dismantlement of the North's atomic program, it would still be possible to complete the nuclear disarmament of the communist state by the end of the year, the chief U.S. nuclear envoy said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog, said on Monday a senior delegation would visit the North next week to agree on details for a return of its inspectors to monitor Pyongyang's promised nuclear shutdown.
"To stop the reactor, it will take about a month according to our specialists," the North Korean source was quoted as saying by Interfax.
"So we are counting on sealing it in the second half of July, in accordance with the agreements reached at the six-party talks," the source said. That Beijing forum brings together the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.
The Interfax report comes as North Korea said at the weekend it had invited IAEA inspectors into the country as part of the six-party deal reached in February to shut down the Soviet-era Yongbyon reactor in exchange for aid.
The diplomatic source said the IAEA delegation would be present at the first stage of stopping the reactor.
"We plan to invite the experts of the IAEA a second time, when the reactor is fully sealed in order to convince them of that," the North Korean source was quoted as saying. U.S. and South Korean officials were encouraged by the developments and saw a good chance for progress in implementing the February deal.
MATTER OF WEEKS
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill said he expected closure of the Yongbyon reactor to happen in a matter of weeks and a complete disablement of the North's nuclear programs by the end of the year.
"Yes, within this year, yes," Hill told reporters after meeting South Korea's chief nuclear envoy, Chun Yung-woo, when asked if the goal of disabling the North's nuclear activities was still possible by the end of the year.
The diplomatic source quoted by Interfax said North Korea, which is officially called the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, thought it "appropriate" for six-party talks to resume after the Yongbyon reactor was sealed.
"The stopping of the reactor will mean the implementation by the DPRK of its obligations on the start of the denuclearization of the peninsula," the source said.
Pyongyang's move followed the release last week of millions of dollars in North Korean funds frozen in Macau at Washington's request for almost two years for suspected links to alleged dollar counterfeiting and other illicit activity by the North.
Pyongyang's insistence on release of the funds had stalled international efforts to begin implementing the February 13 accord.
North Korea, which conducted its first nuclear weapons test last October, could receive massive energy aid and improved diplomatic standing if it scraps its atomic arms ambitions and defuses one of the region's most pressing security concerns.
South Korea has already contacted at least two refiners to supply North Korea with 50,000 metric tons of oil pledged to Pyongyang if it began shutting the Yongbyon plant, some 100 km (60 miles) north of Pyongyang, industry sources said in Seoul on Monday.
2. Team of U.N. Nuclear Monitors to Visit Pyongyang Next Week
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The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog said Monday it will send a team to North Korea next week ï¿½ at Pyongyang's request ï¿½ to discuss how the inspectors would verify and monitor the shutdown of the Yongbyon nuclear reactor.
A team led by Olli Heinonen, the International Atomic Energy Agency's deputy director general for safeguards, is scheduled to visit Pyongyang during the week of June 25th, the agency said in a statement. It gave no specific date.
North Korea, which expelled U.N. inspectors in December 2002, had announced Saturday that it invited a "working-level delegation" to discuss procedures for the verifying and monitoring the shutdown of the reactor.
The move largely was hailed as the first concrete sign of a breakthrough in the stalemate over Pyongyang's nuclear program.
North Korea had pledged in February to shut down the Yongbyon reactor, its main processing facility, and IAEA Chief Mohamed ElBaradei traveled to North Korea in March in what was billed as a landmark visit.
But Pyongyang refused to act on the promise until it received about US$25 million (ï¿½18.7 million) in funds that were frozen in a Macau bank amid a dispute with the U.S. over alleged money-laundering.
The dispute has been resolved, and the transfer of the North Korean funds is now under way.
Earlier Monday, Russia's Interfax-China news agency reported that North Korea plans to shut down the Yongbyon reactor next month, and U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill said in Beijing that the six-party talks could resume within weeks.
1. Iran's Top Nuclear Negotiator, EU Foreign Policy Chief to Meet for Nuclear Talks in Portugal
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Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, and EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, will meet in Lisbon, Portugal Saturday for a new round of talks over Tehran's disputed nuclear program, state television reported Tuesday.
"Larijani and Solana will meet for a new round of talks in Lisbon Saturday," the television quoted a statement from Iran's Supreme National Security Council as saying Tuesday. The council handles Iran's nuclear dossier with the outside world.
The statement said the talks would be a follow-up to discussions held last month in Madrid between the two top officials.
The main purpose of the last set of Iran-EU talks was to find a way to bridge the impasse over Iran's rejection of U.N. Security Council demands that it suspend uranium enrichment. The enrichment process can produce fuel for civilian energy or fissile material for a bomb, depending on the level of enrichment.
The United States and some of its allies fear that Iran is using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to produce atomic weapons. Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear program is geared toward generating electricity.
During their last meeting, Larijani told Solana that Iran was ready to remove ambiguities related to its nuclear activities, but a senior Iranian envoy recently canceled talks with the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, dashing hopes that Tehran is ready to change its behavior.
The U.S. has refused to hold direct talks with Iran on its nuclear program unless it first suspends uranium enrichment ï¿½ a demand Tehran has rejected.
Iran says it is too late to stop Iran's nuclear program because it has already achieved proficiency in the cycle of nuclear fuel ï¿½ from extracting uranium ore to enriching it.
Tehran has vowed it will never give up its right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel.
The U.N. Security Council voted to impose new sanctions on Iran in March as part of a second set of penalties against Tehran over its refusal to suspend enrichment.
1. India to Limit Missile Programme to Aid N- Deal: Report
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India will limit its ballistic missile program to medium-range rockets in a bid to seal a nuclear cooperation deal with the United States, news reports said Monday.
India has decided not to develop missiles with a range over 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) as a goodwill gesture toward the U.S., a news channel reported, citing unidentified government officials.
The Indian Foreign Ministry and the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi declined to comment on the report.
The proposed nuclear deal, seen as the cornerstone of an emerging partnership between the two countries, has been stalled in recent months.
One of the biggest sticking points has been American reluctance to allow India to reprocess spent atomic fuel because of fears it would spark a nuclear arms race in Asia by allowing India to use extra nuclear fuel which the deal would provide to free up its domestic uranium for weapons.
Reprocessing fuel is a key step in making weapons-grade nuclear material.
The report said the move to limit missile range was intended to reassure the U.S. of India`s peaceful intentions.
In April, India successfully test-fired the Agni 3, a new missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads across much of Asia and the Middle East.
India`s current missiles are mostly intended for confronting neighboring archrival Pakistan. However, the Agni 3, India`s longest-range missile, is designed to reach 3,000 kilometers (1,900 miles) putting China`s major cities well into range, as well as targets deep in the Middle East.
The nuclear deal, agreed to by the two countries` leaders in July 2005, would let the U.S. provide nuclear fuel and know-how to India in exchange for safeguards and U.N. inspections at India`s 14 civilian nuclear plants. Eight military plants would remain off-limits.
The House on Monday approved a $50 million fund to create an international nuclear fuel bank, an idea aimed at negating Iran's argument that it needs its own nuclear fuel program.
The bill, passed by voice vote, gives the president authority to make voluntary contributions to the International Atomic Energy Agency to set up the bank that would guarantee reactor fuel to qualifying countries.
Countries seeking to purchase from the reserve would have to meet IAEA safeguards and refrain from operating uranium enrichment or spent-fuel reprocessing facilities.
"This bill is a dramatic step forward in the epic struggle to contain the spread of nuclear arms around the globe," said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, D-Calif., adding that it would "expose the subterfuge that we know Iran is perpetrating in order to further its nuclear weapons pursuit."
Iran has cited the potentially unreliable international supply of nuclear reactor fuel in justifying its development of uranium enrichment and spent-fuel reprocessing capability. Iran's program would also allow it to produce weapons-grade uranium and plutonium for nuclear weapons.
While aimed at Iran, the bill would also bar the Tehran government from participating in the fuel bank as long as it is designated as a state sponsor of terrorism.
The bill also welcomes a proposal by Russia to place one of its uranium enrichment facilities under international management as part of a global nuclear power infrastructure initiative.
The $50 million approved for 2008 matches the amount pledged last year by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a group headed by CNN founder Ted Turner and former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., to help create a low-enriched uranium stockpile for those nations that decide not to build their own nuclear fuel cycle capabilities. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett is financially backing the program.
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