1. Talks Start after UN Confirms NKorea Nuclear Shutdown
Jun Kwanwoo and Hiroshi Hiyama, AFP
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North Korea has shut down all the facilities at its main nuclear reactor site, the UN atomic watchdog said Wednesday, shortly before crucial talks on the next phase of disarmament began in Beijing.
International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said his inspectors had confirmed that four other plutonium-related sites had been closed, following Saturday's shutdown of North Korea's main Yongbyon reactor.
"We have verified that all five nuclear facilities have been shut down," ElBaradei told reporters in Malaysia.
Their closure was the first step in a six-nation accord brokered in February that would see North Korea eventually abandon its nuclear weapons programme in return for a range of economic, diplomatic and security incentives.
With Yongbyon and the other four nearby facilities shut down, six-nation envoys said this week's talks should focus on convincing North Korea to declare all of its nuclear programmes and then disable them.
The envoys -- from China, the two Koreas, the United States, Russia and Japan -- held a series of bilateral meetings on Wednesday morning, before moving into the official group discussions in the early afternoon.
US envoy Christopher Hill told reporters that he hoped North Korea would complete the declare-and-disband phase, in line with the second series of obligations under the February 13 accord, within the next five months.
"We want to get the phase two things done more or less by the end of this year," Hill said Wednesday ahead of the opening of the two-day talks.
After extensive meetings with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye-Gwan, in Beijing on Tuesday, Hill said he believed substantial progress could be made this week.
"I think we're all in the same ball park," he said. "At this point there are no show-stoppers."
South Korean envoy Chun Yung-Woo also told reporters that the North should declare and disable its nuclear programmes by the end of 2007.
But Hill and the other envoys have acknowledged that many major obstacles must be overcome before North Korea gets to that stage.
Indeed, the six-party talks began in 2003 with the aim of convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions, but the reclusive nation went on to conduct its first atomic bomb test in October last year.
ElBaradei also voiced caution on Wednesday about the problems that await, as he called on North Korea to be more transparent in the disarmament process.
"What we have done in shutting down these five facilities is a very good, positive step, but it's a very first step in a long road to travel," he said.
One of the most contentious issues in the second phase of the accord is North Korea's alleged secret uranium enrichment programme.
The United States has accused North Korea of covertly operating a highly enriched uranium programme in parallel with its plutonium-making Yongbyon reactor.
Both highly enriched uranium and plutonium can be used to make nuclear bombs.
Hill repeated on Wednesday that the uranium enrichment programme must be put on the table if the disarmament accord is to proceed.
North Korea agreed to return to the six-party process following its atomic test partly because it suffered international condemnation for carrying out the blast.
The United Nations imposed sanctions on the impoverished country, and even close ally China placed heavy pressure on its neighbour to return to the talks.
But it also returned to the negotiating table in expectation of rich rewards. Under the February accord, North Korea said it would give up its nuclear weapons programme in return for one million tons of fuel aid or equivalent energy aid.
It also won promises of security guarantees and diplomatic concessions, such as the potential to establish diplomatic ties with the United States and Japan, which would in turn allow for economic partnerships.
1. U.S., India Nuclear Talks Expected to go Third Day
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The United States and India are likely to hold a third day of meetings to try to conclude a controversial nuclear cooperation agreement, a U.S. official said on Wednesday.
The talks had been expected to end on Wednesday, but the official told Reuters "there will probably be another session" on Thursday.
The two sides have been stalemated for months over the landmark deal, which would give India access to U.S. nuclear fuel and reactors for the first time in 30 years.
"There are certainly possible solutions open to both sides," another U.S. official said. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon, and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley met Indian National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack refused to say whether negotiators had made any progress.
"The United States has expressed its commitment and expressed its desire to reach an agreement. And we're sure that the Indian government wants to reach an agreement. The question is a matter of when and the timing of it," he told reporters.
Any deal must be approved by the U.S. Congress. Support there for rapidly improving U.S.-India ties is strong, but patience with what many see as India's unreasonable nuclear demands is waning.
Obstacles have included a U.S. congressional mandate that Washington halt nuclear cooperation if India tests a nuclear weapon as it did in 1998.
Other disputed points have been the U.S. refusal to give India prior approval to allow reprocessing of spent fuel with U.S. components and to assure permanent fuel supplies. U.S. law prohibits such assistance to countries such as India which are not formally recognized as nuclear powers.
The Bush administration considers the nuclear deal a major foreign policy success and is keen to have it take effect before Bush leaves office in January 2009.
The U.S. Congress last December passed the Hyde Act which created a unique exception to U.S. export law to allow nuclear cooperation with India, even though the country has nuclear weapons and has not signed the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
Australia is negotiating a major deal with the United States to co-operate on development of a nuclear energy industry.
According to draft plans seen by The Age, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane want the deal announced when US President George Bush comes to Australia in September for the APEC leaders' summit.
The deal could advance Prime Minister John Howard's push for Australia to embrace nuclear power, including providing access to the latest technological advances.
"The proposed action plan would help to open the way for valuable nuclear energy co-operation with the United States," a briefing note says.
"It would also be consistent with the Government's strategy for the nuclear industry in Australia. An action plan on nuclear energy would also have bilateral advantages further broadening our relationship with the United States.
"While the US has not raised the possibility, the action plan may be a possible 'announceable' for President Bush's visit in September."
But the proposal appears to stop short of recommending Australia sign up with the controversial club of nuclear nations, the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), being championed by Mr Bush.
An initiative of Washington, the GNEP is seeking to control the distribution, reprocessing and storage of nuclear fuel around the world. Member nations include Russia, China, the US, Japan and France.
Mr Bush has said the initiative is central to tackling climate change, and that its aim is to ensure the safe growth of the nuclear industry while limiting the risk of proliferation of nuclear material for weapons.
US officials have indicated that Australia's status as a "totally reliable and trustworthy" nation could allow its inclusion in the plan as a fuel supplier.
But the proposal is controversial for Australia partly because storage of nuclear waste by GNEP partners is an integral part of the arrangement.
The Federal Government has repeatedly said Australia will not take other countries' waste.
The GNEP countries met in Washington in May and agreed to work on plans that control the supply of all nuclear fuel and its reprocessing and waste disposal. Non-partnership countries would be leased fuel only if they complied with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Australia, the world's biggest exporter of unprocessed uranium, and Canada, another big supplier, have expressed interest in GNEP.
But GNEP is seen by some developing nations as highly divisive, and Australia's membership could alarm neighbours including Indonesia.
It would also rekindle heated debate in Australia over the development of nuclear power, and would inevitably raise the spectre of a nuclear waste dump.
Officials working on the US-Australia initiative flag this concern in their note, saying that signing "a joint nuclear energy action plan would be on the basis that this would not limit possible future choices regarding Australia's nuclear industry. It will be important also to ensure there is no misperception on the United States' part that conclusion of an action plan could have implications for the Government's policy of not taking other countries' radioactive waste or spent nuclear fuel."
A US Energy Department spokeswoman, Angela Hill, said: "The vision of GNEP is something we would hope Australia and other countries can support."
A spokesman for Mr Downer confirmed that discussions on an agreement were under way, focusing on safeguards and research and development.
The Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) completed a three-year collaboration, unveiling new software that will accelerate the development of a next generation of engines for applications ranging from power generation to aviation. The technology was developed under NNSA's nuclear nonproliferation program, which, among other efforts, helps to control the spread of nuclear expertise by redirecting former nuclear weapons designers into peaceful, civilian ventures.
"In addition to stopping nuclear materials and technology, nonproliferation efforts must also address the threat of vulnerable nuclear expertise. This multi-year research and development effort will help to develop a new generation of energy efficient heat engines, and has the added benefit of providing former Russian nuclear weapons scientists with sustainable, commercial work," said William Tobey, NNSA's top nonproliferation official.
Under NNSA's Global Initiatives for Proliferation Prevention program, a partnership was established between General Electric's Global Research, Kinetic Technologies (a Russian technology firm which spun off from a former Russian weapons institute) and the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory to develop the software.
Kinetic's former Russian nuclear weapons designers and software engineers worked with scientists from General Electric's Global Research to develop software that can predict the operation and performance of next-generation combustion systems. Applications of this software will help in the development of a next generation of high performance, energy efficient, cost-saving engines. This could lead to new, more environmentally friendly engines in the transportation, energy and aviation sectors.
The goal of NNSA's program is to team private U.S. businesses with former weapons of mass destruction scientists and engineers to work together on high technology research and development projects that have commercial applications. NNSA facilitates the partnerships through its national laboratories and U.S. companies who are members of the United States Industry Coalition.
NNSA has engaged over 16,000 former weapons of mass destruction specialists and helped to create over 5,000 civilian jobs. Most of the program's efforts have been directed at the displaced workforce in the large, former Soviet Union's weapons complex. More recently, the program has engaged scientists in Libya and Iraq.
Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a separately organized agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the United States and abroad. Visit www.nnsa.doe.gov for more information.
1. IAEA Chief Sees 'Positive Move' From Iran on Nuclear Intentions
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Iran's decision to allow inspections of its heavy water reactor at Arak and its willingness to discuss its nuclear programme are positive steps, the UN's atomic watchdog chief said Wednesday.
Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said that following a meeting in Iran last week Tehran agreed "for the first time" to discuss outstanding issues over its nuclear intentions.
"So we are seeing at least a positive move on the part of Iran but I hope that we will continue on that road," ElBaradei said during a visit to Malaysia.
Iran and the IAEA are to hold a fresh round of talks in Vienna on July 25 and 26, and Tehran also agreed to allow inspection by the end of July of the heavy water research reactor under construction at Arak.
Heavy water reactors produce plutonium, which can be used to make nuclear weapons. The other main atom bomb material is enriched uranium.
The United States said last week it was sceptical of Iran's agreement to allow UN inspectors to Arak, where access has been blocked since April.
Iran insists its nuclear programme is a peaceful effort to generate electricity, but the United States fears it is a cover for atomic weapons building.
ElBaradei called for patience but said Iran needed to continue efforts to assure the international community over its nuclear intentions.
"We require a consistent effort by Iran to work with us and we also require the international community to understand that this is a complex process that will take some time," he said.
But "the earlier we are able to say that the Iranian programme is exclusively for peaceful purpose, the better for Iran, the better for the international community."
The UN Security Council has imposed two rounds of sanctions to get Tehran to cease enriching uranium, to stop building the Arak reactor and to cooperate fully with IAEA inspectors.
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