1. Nuclear Working Group Meets over Energy Aid for N. Korea
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North Korea wishes to receive part of its benefits for disabling its nuclear facilities in more permanent investments to improve its energy situation, rather than in energy itself, a South Korean official said Tuesday (Aug. 7).
The North's demand came at a working group meeting aimed at discussing how to compose and ship the nearly one million tons of heavy fuel oil promised to the energy-starved North in exchange for completion of the second phase denuclearization steps, which include a declaration of all its nuclear programs.
The working-level talks began early Tuesday after the North Korean delegation, headed by Kim Myong-kil, the deputy chief of the North's mission to the United Nations in New York, crossed the inter-Korean border to the South Korean side of the truce village of Panmunjom. The North Koreans went back to the North Korean side of the joint security area after the first day talks ended shortly before 6 p.m. They are to return Wednesday for the second day of the two-day talks.
Kim, the chief North Korean delegate, said before crossing back over the inter-Korean border that the talks were very useful, while his South Korean counterparts said the negotiations were "business-like" and "serious."
The main task of the six-way working group was to figure out when and how the 950,000 tons of heavy oil or equivalent energy aid promised to the North will be shipped to the communist nation, which has a storage capacity of only 200,000 tons a year.
Seoul and Washington, hoping to complete the disablement phase under a deal signed in February, had hoped the North would bring to the table a list of items it wishes to receive instead of heavy oil, or alternatively accept credit for the promised energy assistance.
"We cannot reveal everything North Korea brought to the table this time, but we can say they did have concepts for what can be called consumption-based assistance and investment-based assistance," a South Korean delegate told reporters.
The official explained that investment-based assistance could include support for building or maintaining facilities that could help produce energy or energy sources.
"It was an opportunity to listen to what North Korea had to say...We expect there will be more in-depth discussions tomorrow," the official said.
Under the landmark accord signed in February by the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, China and Russia, North Korea shut down its key nuclear facilities last month and received 50,000 tons of heavy oil from South Korea in return.
The additional 950,000 tons or equivalent energy aid will be provided to the country once it disables its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon and submits a complete list of all its nuclear programs to the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
Christopher Hill, the chief U.S. envoy in the six-nation talks, has expressed hopes of completing the second phase steps by the year's end, but the North's limited storage capacity has become an obstacle.
Chun Yung-woo, the South Korean chairman of the energy working group, told reporters earlier Tuesday it is important for the countries to specify what they require and what they can offer, according to pool reports.
"The important thing is to have substantial discussions...It is important (for North Korea) to specify in detail what it wants," Chun, also Seoul's chief negotiator in the nuclear disarmament talks, was quoted as saying in the reports.
China, the host of the six-nation nuclear disarmament talks, has reportedly offered to begin shipping the next 50,000 tons of oil in mid-August, apparently to foster a favorable atmosphere for the second phase of denuclearization.
"It's a very ambitious timetable...but I think (if) we are not ambitious, we won't get it done," Hill said last week of his hope to completely implement the February agreement by the end of the year.
A separate working group is expected to meet next week in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang to try and draw up a timed plan for disabling the North's nuclear facilities, hopefully before the end of the year.
The officials from the six nations will meet again at the South Korean side of the joint security area Wednesday for second day of talks, but South Korean officials had earlier said that no agreement, if there is one, will be released until the high-level nuclear disarmament talks resume early next month.
The nuclear dispute erupted in late 2002 following a U.S. accusation that the North was running a clandestine nuclear weapons program based on highly enriched uranium in addition to the country's well-known plutonium-based program. The North has denied the accusation.
1. U.N. Team in Iran for Nuclear Transparency Talks
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A technical team from the United Nations nuclear watchdog arrived in Tehran on Monday to discuss an "action plan" to give the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) more access to Iran's nuclear facilities.
Iran's offer of greater transparency aims to defuse Western suspicions that it is concealing plans to make atomic bombs behind a civilian nuclear program, a charge Tehran denies.
Having failed to convince world powers about its peaceful intentions, Tehran faces a possible third round of U.N. sanctions for not halting uranium enrichment, a process that could have both civilian and military applications.
The four-member IAEA team, headed by Michio Hosoya, will hold several days of talks with officials from Iran's Atomic Energy Organization led by its deputy head Mohammad Saeedi, the official IRNA news agency said.
"The talks, due to be continued until Thursday, would focus on drawing up the guidelines for inspection of Natanz nuclear facilities in central Iran," IRNA reported, citing an unnamed source. Natanz is home to Iran's nuclear enrichment work.
After initial talks last month, Tehran allowed IAEA inspectors to revisit the Arak heavy-water site. Tehran had cut off access in April to protest at U.N. sanctions imposed over its refusal to halt atom work.
IAEA officials have said the focus of the talks starting on Monday would be steps to improve IAEA surveillance at the Natanz plant as Iran seeks to shift from a small research-level program to "industrial scale" production.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has said Iran's pledge to work out an action plan by late August has raised hope of resolving the standoff between Iran and the West. World powers have put off efforts to toughen sanctions at least until September.
The IAEA and Iran are to have higher-level talks on August 20 in Tehran to tackle the thorniest questions about its program.
They include the origin of traces of highly enriched -- or bomb-grade -- uranium found on some equipment, experiments with plutonium, and the status of research into advanced centrifuges that can enrich three times as fast as the model Iran now uses.
Russia has told Iran it will withhold fuel for a planned Russian-built nuclear plant until Tehran answers longstanding UN questions about its disputed atomic program, diplomats said yesterday.
Two weeks ago, Moscow said it had delayed the start-up of Iran's first nuclear power station to 2008 because Tehran was in arrears on payments for the Bushehr plant.
A senior diplomat familiar with inspections by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency watchdog in Iran and with Iranian-Russian contacts on Bushehr, said Moscow delivered the warning to Tehran around two weeks ago.
He said this was part of an unofficial deal under which Western powers quietly shelved moves for harsher UN sanctions against Iran until next month, pending the outcome of IAEA-Iranian talks on clearing up outstanding issues.
Russian foreign ministry officials were unavailable for comment, while a spokesman for Russia's atomic energy agency declined to comment.
The timing of the Bushehr plant's start-up is viewed by Israel and Washington as a key element in a nuclear drive they they suspect is a front for developing nuclear weapons.
Iran says it wants only nuclear-generated electricity, but it has concealed enrichment in the past and has stonewalled IAEA inquiries into indications of a military side to its program.
The UN Security Council has twice enacted modest sanctions against Iran over its failure to cooperate.
This week, a senior IAEA delegation is in Tehran to nudge the Iranians toward fulfilling a pledge to ease restrictions on inspector access to the Natanz uranium enrichment plant, part of a broader process to obtain full Iranian nuclear transparency.
The deputy secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council said yesterday that Tehran expects its willingness to give the IAEA more access to help it avoid further sanctions.
Russia has repeatedly delayed the plant and has put off a previous September 2007 start date until fall 2008. Tehran has denied being behind in payments. Russia, seen as Iran's closest big-power ally and a key force blocking US-led efforts for harsher sanctions, says the delay is not political.
But diplomats said Moscow appeared to be using Bushehr in a wider chess match between six powers -- including the United States, China, Germany, France, and Britain -- and Iran over its nuclear aspirations. "Russia has told Iran they must cooperate with the agency, to clear the deck on the outstanding issues," said another senior Vienna-based diplomat who earlier served in Moscow.
"Russia is using the issue of fuel supply to Bushehr to put pressure on the Iranians. Do you think the Russians want to be seen as responsible for letting the Iranians produce a nuclear bomb? Russia will use every trick in their bag to prevent that."
Russian officials say the fuel must arrive at Bushehr at least six months before the reactors come on line. In Washington, US State Department spokesman Tom Casey said he could not confirm whether Russia had attached further conditions for delivering fuel to Bushehr.
Niger's government has ended the effective monopoly of French nuclear group Areva in uranium mining in the country, and is seeking higher prices for the mineral, according to a ministerial statement.
ï¿½Niger is determined to launch a policy of diversification of its partners, which means that Areva's monopoly in our country is broken," Foreign Minister Aichatou Mindaoudou said on television late Sunday.
The move followed the expulsion last month of the company's local head, Dominique Pin, amid accusations that it was supporting rebels of the ethnic Tuareg Movement for Justice (MJC) in the uranium-producing north.
Areva has been operating two uranium mines in Niger for 40 years and is the west African country's biggest private employer. President Mamadou Tandja has accused it of backing the MJC in a bid to keep out competition.
Areva has denied the accusations, and said last week that its contracts with Niamey had been renewed.
The row prompted talks at the weekend in Niamey between French Cooperation Minister Jean-Marie Bockel and Niger officials, including Tandja.
"I'm very satisfied with the exchange I had with President Tandja on a whole range of subjects including Areva, where very significant progress has been made towards overcoming a certain number of points of incomprehension," Bockel said on Saturday.
"The fact the contracts were renewed... shows that a first step has been made and that things are going in the right direction."
He added: "It's clear that Areva does not support and never has supported the rebellion. "There may have been the odd gaffe committed on the ground. We must now do everything to ensure there is no more ambiguity between Areva and Niger."
Following the meeting between Tandja and Bockel, Mindaoudou told journalists the revamped contract with Areva obliges the company to sell its uranium at a higher price.
The new price -- 40,000 CFA francs, or 60.98 euros (84 dollars) a kilo -- represents a significant increase over the old price of 27,300 CFA but is still well below the current international rate.
The increase, retroactive to January 1, is only valid until the end of 2007, Mindaoudou said late Friday.
In addition, for the first time Niger will be allowed to sell directly on its own account 300 tonnes of uranium, 100 this year and 200 in early 2008.
Further negotiations with Areva will determine new prices for 2008 and beyond, she said. Prime Minister Seini Oumarou had earlier criticised the sale price of uranium that Areva fixes, commenting on state television that a kilo currently sells for 122,000 CFA francs (186 euros) on the international market.
Mindaouodou said that in future Areva would be treated like any other mining company in its search for new deposits in Niger, which is the world's third largest producer of uranium with some nine percent of the market.
"If Areva fulfils the conditions" laid down by Niger, "it will be granted permits, if not, it will not," she said.
1. US Urges India to Diminish Economic Ties with Iran
Press Trust of India
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The US on Monday night asked India to "diminish" its economic relations with "nuclear outlaw" Iran, and join the international community in dealing with "one of the most difficult security problems" facing the world.
"We hope that India, as well as all other states - China, Russia, France, Britain and Japan - will diminish their economic relations with Iran," US Under Secretary of State, Nicholas Burns, said.
Talking to TV channels over phone from Washington, he said the US expected India to be "part of the international mainstream in trying to deal with one of the most difficult security problems we face internationally today."
Burns, who was talking to the channels on the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, said Iran is a "nuclear outlaw", as it wants to have nuclear weapons which is "not in the interest of the international community."
Describing Iran as a "recalcitrant and difficult" country, he said all countries are lining up to impose sanctions against that country.
The UN Security Council has already imposed two rounds of sanctions, and "we are considering third sanction resolution" against it.
The State Department official, however, noted that there was nothing in the 123 agreement between India and the US to implement the bilateral civil nuclear deal that pertains directly to Iran.
The 123 agreement was concluded late last month, and its text was released on Friday last. India will now have to negotiate a safeguards agreement with IAEA and approach the 45-nation NSG for change of rules to allow international community to have trade with it in the field.
Emphasising that the Indo-US civil nuclear deal would be "good for the rest of the world," Burns said Washington would be a "very good supporter" of New Delhi at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).
Disagreeing that China could be a stumbling block, he said, the US has already started working with governments around the world, including China, to convince them that the agreement with India is a step forward.
India will be "judged on its own merits," the US Under Secretary of State said. Noting that the nuclear agreement will have to be passed by the US Congress, Burns expressed confidence that it will get through despite some American lawmakers opposing it.
He recalled that the deal had got strong bipartisan support in December last year, and hoped it will be repeated when the Congress takes up the issue in a "couple of months".
He, however, made it clear that Congressional approval was "not a sure thing," and the Bush administration will have to work hard to get the deal through.
The lawmakers will examine whether US interests have been protected, and would ask a lot of technical questions, said Burns who was the key negotiator of the US.
The members of the Congress would particularly want to know on the state-of-the-art re-processing facility that India would be building, the US State Department official said. On whether India can test a nuclear weapon, he said the pact does not speak "specifically" about it.
Being a sovereign nation, it is for the Indian government to make a decision on testing, he said. But under the US laws, the President will have the right to re-call nuclear fuel and technology, Burns said.
Asked persistently to make the position clear on the issue, he said it was a hypothetical question as the US presumed that India will not conduct a test as nuclear powers, including the US, do not do so in the modern world.
He hoped there would be no need for India to test a nuclear weapon as he was hoping for a peaceful and secure South Asia.
"We hope there would be no need for testing anywhere, by anybody, including my own country," Burns said.
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