1. U.N. Nuclear Watchdog Team Says North Korea Cooperated on Inspections
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North Korea has cooperated fully with a team U.N. nuclear experts who were monitoring the shutdown and sealing of the country's sole plutonium-producing reactor, the leader of the team said Tuesday.
The 10-member International Atomic Energy Agency team went to North Korea on July 12 to supervise the closing of the Yongbyon reactor, the key component of the North's nuclear program.
"I should say that in doing our activities, we had complete cooperation from the DPRK authorities and because of that, we think that what we needed to perform was performed," Adel Tolba told reporters on arrival at Beijing's airport.
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is the formal name of North Korea. "The evaluation and assessment of our mission will be performed in headquarters in Vienna," Tolba said.
Tolba's team has been replaced by a second six-member IAEA team that arrived in Pyongyang on Saturday.
He said his team saw all five facilities it was supposed to visit.
The IAEA confirmed last week that North Korea had shut down its sole functioning reactor at Yongbyon ï¿½ the first tangible progress after years of negotiations involving the U.S. and other regional powers.
IAEA inspectors also are working to verify the status of two unfinished reactors, a spent fuel reprocessing facility and a fuel fabrication plant.
The North exploded a test nuclear weapon in October, but four months later agreed to scrap its nuclear program in exchange for economic and political concessions in a deal with the U.S., Russia, China, Japan and South Korea.
It will eventually receive the equivalent of a total of 1 million tons for disabling its nuclear facilities under a February agreement with the five countries.
North Korea has received 50,000 tons of oil from South Korea as a reward for shutting down Yongbyon, which is located 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Pyongyang.
The shutdown is the first step North Korea has taken to scale back its nuclear ambitions since the crisis began in late 2002.
South Korea announced Tuesday that it would host a meeting of working-level officials from the six countries next week to discuss energy aid promised under the February agreement.
The two-day meeting will be held on Aug. 7-8 at the truce village of Panmunjom on the border between the two Koreas, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
2. North Korea Reaffirms Commitment to End Nuclear Program
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North Korea's new foreign minister reaffirmed his country's commitment on Sunday to ending its nuclear weapons program, an official said.
Pak Ui Chun, however, did not specify when North Korea would disable its nuclear facilities, Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Claro Cristobal said.
Pak, who is making his first overseas trip since becoming foreign minister in May, is in Manila to attend the ASEAN Regional Forum, Asia's largest security organization.
North Korea shut down its Yongbyon reactor earlier this month under a February agreement reached in six-nation talks on its nuclear program, the first tangible progress after years of negotiations.
In return, it has begun receiving 50,000 tons of oil from South Korea and is to eventually receive the equivalent of a total of 1 million tons for disabling all its nuclear facilities.
However, the latest round of nuclear talks ended earlier this month without any target date for disabling the facilities.
In a meeting Sunday with Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo, Pak did not specify a date, but said his country "is committed to the agreement signed in February to move forward the denuclearzation of the Korean peninsula," Cristobal said.
"The six-party talks have been producing good progress," he quoted Pak as saying. Pak also reiterated his country's long-standing position that a principle of "action for action" should be followed for the successful implementation of the February accord, with each side taking steps in response to the other's, Cristobal said.
The Philippines has offered to host a meeting of officials from the six nations involved in the nuclear talks ï¿½ the U.S., Japan, China, Russia and the two Koreas ï¿½ on the sidelines of the regional security forum.
Pak said he will "cooperate in a manner that satisfies all the parties involved," Cristobal said.
A meeting, however, appears unlikely because U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and U.S. nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill are not expected to be in Manila.
Pak also is to tour business developments and cultural sites and meet with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during his visit to the Philippines, which ends Friday.
India's top nuclear scientist on Saturday hailed a nuclear pact with the United States as "a very good deal" that should satisfy both countries. The long-delayed accord announced on Friday in Washington allows US exports of civilian nuclear fuel and technology to India for the first time in 30 years -- a move intended to reverse sanctions imposed on the Asian giant for its nuclear tests.
It also allows India to reprocess spent fuel under safeguards imposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, going one step further than a law passed by the US Congress in December.
"We have got a very good deal which should meet requirements of both the countries," said India's Atomic Energy Chairman Anil Kakodkar, previously one of the toughest critics of the nuclear accord.
"You give some and you get some and we are satisfied with this," Kakodkar said.
The nuclear energy deal is the centrepiece of India's new relationship with Washington after decades of Cold War tensions and is part of New Delhi's efforts to expand energy sources to sustain its booming economy.
Leaders of India's ruling Congress party were slated to meet late on Saturday to discuss the pact, which must be passed by parliament and the US Congress before it can be implemented.
The text of the agreement, which has been struck even though India has refused to sign non-proliferation treaties, has not yet been made public.
Some key US legislators, however, were sceptical about the pact, amid concern the terms would weaken Washington's non-proliferation goals.
Responding to domestic fears expressed earlier that the agreement could cap India's military capabilities, Kakodkar said that the country's nuclear programme would be unaffected by the deal.
Indian national security advisor M.K. Narayanan also praised the agreement, which took two years to complete, calling it "as good a text as one can possibly get."
The right to reprocess spent US-sourced nuclear fuel has been given only to Japan and the European Union so far, and US lawmakers have expressed doubt about safeguards needed to deter India from possibly diverting any nuclear material to its military weapons program.
But Narayanan said the deal was not an opportunity for India to increase its nuclear arsenal.
"I think it's time certain countries overcame the belief that we are interested in proliferation," Narayanan said.
Under the accord, India is to separate nuclear facilities for civilian and military use and set up a regime of international inspections in return for technology and nuclear fuel supplies.
Strategic expert Kapil Kak called the agreement a "lucky break" for India and said it was a result of tough negotiations that began a little after the two countries in March 2005 agreed on civilian nuclear cooperation.
"India negotiated hard with a well-calibrated diplomatic approach to global sensitivities which resulted in this lucky break," said Kak, director of the Centre for Strategic Studies think-tank.
A group of UN atomic inspectors on Monday visited a heavy water reactor in Iran that is one of the key Western concerns over the Islamic republicï¿½s nuclear programme, officials said.
The visit, agreed in talks between Iran and the UN atomic agency, was the first inspection since Iran in April blocked access to the plutonium-producing research reactor, which lies outside the central town of Arak.
ï¿½International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts on Monday inspected the 40 megawatt research reactor in Arak,ï¿½ the state-run IRNA agency quoted an unnamed informed source as saying.
ï¿½The inspection took around five hours,ï¿½ the source added. ï¿½The inspection follows the recent agreement between the IAEA and Iran and is part of the framework of solving the remaining issues in Iranï¿½s nuclear case.ï¿½
Iran had said on July 13 that it would let IAEA inspectors visit the Arak nuclear reactor, which is currently under construction and should be completed in 2009.
Its decision was seen as a conciliatory move at a time of mounting tension over the Iranian nuclear programme, which has already seen Teheran slapped with two sets of UN sanctions and threats of more punitive action.
The United States fears the Arak reactor could provide plutonium for nuclear weapons but Iran insists that it will provide key nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
The IAEAï¿½s governing board has also blocked technical cooperation for the heavy-water reactor in Arak, 200 kilometres (120 miles) south of Teheran.
Iranï¿½s ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, has said that ï¿½just one visit (to Arak) will be enoughï¿½ for the inspectors.
The heavy water reactor is separate from the other controversial nuclear sites in the country that are aimed at making fuel for Iranï¿½s future nuclear power plants.
The sites in Isfahan and Natanz convert and then enrich uranium to produce nuclear fuel, a process that the West also fears could be diverted to make atomic weapons. Iran insists its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful.
The inspectorsï¿½ visit to Arak was finalised after talks in Vienna on July 24 between IAEA deputy director general Olli Heinonen and Iranï¿½s deputy national security chief Javad Vaidi.
Those talks were part of an ongoing process aimed at on finalising a plan to clarify issues related to the scope and content of Iranï¿½s uranium enrichment programme.
Iranï¿½s foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini confirmed another team of IAEA experts would be visiting Iran on August 6 to discuss future inspections of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility.
Iran will then hold a third round of talks with IAEA officials in Teheran on August 20 following the visit earlier this month by the agencyï¿½s Heinonen, he added.
The United Nations Security Council has repeatedly called on Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment and also halt construction of the Arak reactor but Teheran has instead defiantly ploughed ahead with its nuclear programme.
Western experts believe that when it is up and running, Arak will be able to produce 12.5 kilograms of plutonium each year, enough for two or three nuclear bombs.
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