1. Russia Says US Asked For Help to Resolve Nuclear Impasse Over NKorean Bank Funds
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The United States has asked Russia to help resolve a banking dispute that has stalled North Korea's nuclear disarmament process, Russia's foreign minister said Tuesday.
"Our American colleagues have turned to us with a request to somehow think about a solution that can be found," Sergey Lavrov said on the sidelines of a meeting in Seoul of top diplomats from the Asian region. "We are studying this situation and I think together we will find a solution."
The North has refused to take steps to implement a February agreement to shut down its nuclear reactor until it receives some US$25 million (ï¿½18.5 million) in funds that had been frozen at a Macau bank for alleged complicity in counterfeiting and money laundering by Pyongyang.
The U.S. blacklisted Banco Delta Asia in 2005, but gave its blessing for the funds to be freed earlier this year to push through the nuclear issue. But Washington has maintained its restrictions on the bank doing business with the U.S., meaning other financial institutions have been reluctant to touch the money.
Russian banks have been reported before to be a possible destination for the funds. Russia is one of the six nations involved in the North Korean disarmament talks, the others being China, Japan, South Korea and the United States.
"The most important thing is that the Americans take measures that would allow ï¿½ despite the sanctions they introduced ï¿½ to implement this operation," Lavrov said Tuesday of the transfer. "As soon as this problem is solved, there will be no more impediments."
Also Tuesday, Lavrov held talks with his South Korean counterpart, Song Min-soon, and the two ministers agreed "to closely cooperate" in implementing the disarmament deal, South Korea's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The two sides also agreed to expand ties in space and science technology, and in the energy and natural resources sectors, the statement said.
1. India-US: Right to Reprocess Nuclear Fuel Still Point of Discord
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The not so subtle attempts by the United States to cap Indiaï¿½s nuclear capabilities, by denying reprocessing rights and insisting that New Delhi yield on harnessing of the thorium - a relatively cheap source of nuclear energy - for its three-stage programme to generate electricity, remains a sticking point despite the latest round of talks between India's foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon and US undersecretary of state for political affairs Nicholas Burns.
The US has sought to justify its reluctance to give India the right to reprocess spent nuclear fuel on the grounds that the Indo-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement could be a "template" for dealing with other countries, but the Indian nuclear establishment led by Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar has maintained that reprocessing was non-negotiable, as it held the key to Indiaï¿½s energy independence.
Some retired nuclear scientists have pointed out that thorium research was being carried out in the West and there should therefore be no let-up. Even Indian president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam has cited the abundant reserves of thorium in the country to put his weight behind thorium-fuelled reactors. The construction of the indigenously-developed Advanced Heavy Water Reactor (AHWR) was expected to begin this year.
Washington had made its intentions known last year. Dr Ashley Tellis, a strategic affairs expert who had spent a stint in New Delhi as a senior aide to former US ambassador Robert Blackwill and is now a senior adviser to Burns, had said that by signing up for the nuclear deal it was certain that New Delhi had determined that its plutonium-based deterrent "suffices". This newspaper had reported Tellisï¿½ speech in New Delhi on July 18 last year, in which he said that the nuclear deal offered an "alternative" to Indiaï¿½s three-stage nuclear programme.
Tellis made it explicit that Washington could be expected to act on a "straightforward, cold-blooded calculation of [US] national security interests." He had then gone on to suggest that the "absence of uranium scarcity undermines the viability of the three-stage programme" and, therefore, "if uranium is available (through this deal) to India for all time to come, should India pursue the three-stage (nuclear) programme?"
"(The nuclear deal) could undermine [Indiaï¿½s] three-stage programme but it does not do so necessarily," Tellis said during the question-and-answer session that followed his presentation. He was responding to questions raised by Prof. Bharat Karnad of the Centre for Policy Research and others who felt that the nuclear deal placed constraints on Indiaï¿½s strategic programme.
Reprocessing is needed to separate Plutonium 239, a byproduct from the first stage, and use it with thorium to fuel fast breeder reactors (FBRs), which is the second stage. The FBRs breed more fuel than they consume. In the third stage, the Uranium 233 (extracted via reprocessing) will fuel FBRs to generate electricity. The three-stage programme overcomes the scarcity of uranium by relying on the abundant reserves of thorium.
According to the US-based outfit Strategic Forecasting (commonly known as Stratfor), India owns more than 30 percent of the worldï¿½s thorium reserves, compared to just 0.7 per cent of uranium reserves. It has said that using thorium made good economic sense but Uranium 233 also could be used to make nuclear weapons, and that was not something US President George W. Bush would be able to sell to the US Congress.
Reports in the Western media suggest that Thorium Power of the US and Red Star of Russia would jointly conduct research on the harnessing of thorium for use in commercial reactors. Australian Prime Minister John Howard has said that his government would support the efforts to develop a new generation of thorium-fuelled reactors. A Sydney-based firm is collaborating with British investors in this regard.
1. Tehran Warns on New Sanctions, Has Talks with Germany
Louis Charbonneau, Reuters
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Iran warned the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday against slapping more sanctions on Tehran over its nuclear work, saying it was like "playing with a lion's tail" as its top negotiator met Germany's foreign minister.
The talks in Berlin between Ali Larijani and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, coming two weeks after a negative U.N. nuclear watchdog report on Iran that could trigger tougher sanctions soon, ended without comment from either side.
It followed talks in Madrid last week between Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana that yielded no headway in resolving the core dispute -- Iran's refusal to suspend uranium enrichment as a precondition for negotiations on trade benefits.
The meeting also came on the eve of a Group of Eight (G8) summit in the German resort of Heiligendamm where industrialized nation leaders will discuss what "steps should be taken next" on Iran, among other issues, a senior German official said.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said it was too late for anyone to reverse Iran's nuclear course, which Tehran insists is a peaceful quest for an alternative source of electricity, not for atom bombs.
"They should be aware that Iran is a big country. Some say Iran is like a lion sitting calmly in the corner. We advise them not to play with a lion's tail," he told visiting foreign journalists in Tehran. "Iran's (nuclear) move has passed the point where they (Western countries) could stop it."
Originally it was Larijani's deputy Javad Vaeedi who was to go to Berlin and meet political directors for Germany and the European Union.
A diplomat close to the Iran-EU discussions said Vaeedi had planned to warn them against a crackdown on Tehran over its nuclear program at the G8 summit.
Another diplomat close to the German foreign ministry said the Iranians had decided to upgrade the meeting to a ministerial level with Larijani -- who heads Iran's Supreme National Security Council, most likely to send a stronger message.
The West accuses Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy program. Tehran says its efforts to make nuclear fuel are wholly peaceful, but has dodged a number of investigations by U.N. nuclear inspectors.
TEHRAN TOUGH TALK
The Security Council has imposed two rounds of sanctions since December and Washington says Iran faces a harsher resolution after the U.N. watchdog reported Tehran was rapidly expanding the work.
Ahmadinejad said the Security Council should avoid what he termed illegal measures against Iran.
"They observed that previous sanctions had no effect on Iran's nuclear activities and we have told them not to enter this path. They cannot harm our nation."
Iranian officials have repeatedly shrugged off the impact of sanctions, one of whose targets is a major Iranian state bank. Although sanctions are narrowly focused, economists say they are now deterring both foreign and local investors.
Some diplomats said Iran wanted to make it clear in Berlin it could harden its position if the G8 adopted a tougher stance.
Iran hoped to get Germany to back a softer line, possibly an interim solution, they said. "They consider Germany the weak link," one European diplomat said on Tuesday.
Washington, Britain and France have rejected a face-saving proposal from the U.N. atomic watchdog chief under which Iran's enrichment would be capped short of the industrial scale it has yet to reach -- the level where enough enriched uranium would be stockpiled for potential diversion into bomb-making.
1. Russia to Set Up Radioactive Materials Control Body
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Russia's top nuclear official said Tuesday that the National Anti-Terrorism Committee would establish a central authority to control the movement of all radioactive materials.
The agency's press secretary, Sergei Novikov, said currently over 10 departments in Russia deal with radioactive materials, including the health and transportation ministries, the education ministry, and the hydrometeorology service.
"We have many bodies overseeing the transportation of fissile materials, including harmless ones such as radioactive medical products, which can nevertheless be used for terrorist purposes," Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of the Federal Nuclear Power Agency, said after a regular session of the committee.
Kiriyenko also said: "The most important factor in countering the nuclear terrorism threat is having the strictest possible controls over movements of all fissile materials," he said.
The Russian nuclear chief said that information terrorism was also a threat, citing recent rumors spread about an alleged nuclear accident at the Volgodonsk power plant in southern Russia in late May.
"This innocent joke caused panic in several regions across Russia. And I have a clear understanding that this was not by chance or mistake but that it was a well planned action," he said, adding that "When people receive calls of reports about false explosions, suggesting that they contact friends and acquaintances...we need to be ready."
A deputy secretary of Russia's Security Council said Tuesday the antiterrorism committee would set up a group to counter terrorist ideology.
Valentin Sobolev said the group would monitor developments in troubled Russian regions, and coordinate operations with the media, organizations, and commerce. He also urged a complex solution to the problem of overcoming terrorist ideology, saying that "it's clear the National Anti-Terrorism Committee and FSB cannot fight this ideology."
Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev said earlier at the antiterrorism committee session that nationalism, separatism, religious and political extremism were at the core of terrorist ideology, adding that these phenomena usually appear where there are "serious interethnic, territorial, and social-economic problems."
Russia has seen a surge in ultra-nationalism in recent years, with routine attacks by gangs on foreigners and people with non-Slavic features. But authorities have been generally reluctant to treat the attacks as race-hate crimes, portraying them instead as acts of hooliganism.
1. Ukraine Could Join International Uranium Project ï¿½ Russia
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Ukraine may join the international uranium enrichment center being established by Russia and Kazakhstan, the press service of Russia`s nuclear power agency said Monday, according to RIA Novosti.
Last October, Russia and Kazakhstan, which holds 15% of the world`s uranium reserves, signed constituent documents to establish their first joint venture to enrich uranium. The venture, which was part of Moscow`s non-proliferation initiative to create a network of enrichment centers under the UN nuclear watchdog`s supervision, will be based at a chemical plant in Angarsk in East Siberia and will also be responsible for the disposal of nuclear waste.
"Agency head Sergei Kiriyenko and Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych signed a protocol of intent stating that Ukraine could become a third party to the international uranium enrichment center ," said Sergei Novikov, head of the press service. He said that a Ukrainian delegation is set to visit Angarsk in mid-June and a draft intergovernmental agreement could be ready in two months.
The center will come on stream in 2013 and offer uranium enrichment services to countries interested in developing nuclear energy for civilian purposes.
Russia came up with the initiative to establish joint nuclear enrichment centers last year so that countries could have transparent access to civilian nuclear technology without provoking international fears that low-enriched uranium could be used for a weapons program.
The agency spokesman said the protocol had given Russia and Ukraine the go ahead for cooperation on the whole nuclear fuel cycle, including joint uranium production in the Novokonstantinovsk field in Ukraine, which is expected to yield 2,500 metric tons annually by 2020.
Kiriyenko said Russia was ready to invest in the uranium field and added that the project would quickly recoup any initial outlay.
Experts say the Novokonstantinovsk field could make Ukraine the second-leading country for the production of uranium.
The protocol also opens up opportunities for the countries to collaborate in producing nuclear fuel components. "Ukrainian enterprises could account for 50% of the value of producing fuel rod arrays," Kiriyenko said.
Ukraine and Russia are also planning to interact in building nuclear power plants in other countries, selling electricity, and manufacturing nuclear equipment.
Kiriyenko said Russia could partially share technologies in nuclear fuel production with Ukraine. "The only technology that cannot be transferred is that of uranium enrichment because this is a dual-purpose technology and remember the chain of dramatic developments around the Iranian nuclear program," he said.
Iran has been at the center of international concerns following the resumption of nuclear research in January 2006 in what the Islamic Republic claims is for power generation.
Suspected of pursuing nuclear weapons by some countries in the West, the Islamic Republic is under UN Security Council sanctions and may face more stringent ones.
Kiriyenko said Ukrainian state-run nuclear concern Ukratomprom and his agency had agreed to transfer the technology for producing fuel rod arrays to Ukraine.
The press service said it would take three or four months for the agreements to be drawn up and ready for signing.
Russia`s uranium production accounts for around 8% of global output. Up to 90% of profits in the country`s nuclear sector come from nuclear fuel, power, and service exports, according to Kiriyenko, but Russia seeks to import more uranium. The country plans to meet 60-70% of its uranium demand domestically by 2015.
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