1. US and UN Both Report Progress toward Dismantling of North Korea's Nuclear Program
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The U.N. atomic watchdog agency and the U.S. government both reported progress in the international effort to eliminate North Korea's nuclear program.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said Friday that the communist regime is cooperating with U.N. experts overseeing the mothballing of key nuclear facilities, while a senior American diplomat said talks with the communist regime had produced a basic "consensus on the way forward."
The two assessments suggested that efforts to do away with the North's nuclear weapons threat remained on track since the process resumed in July, when the reclusive country made good on promises to shut down a plutonium-producing facility.
In Vienna, a confidential report prepared for next month's meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation board said U.N. experts have been able to monitor and verify the nuclear program's status "with the cooperation" of North Korea.
The paper, obtained by The Associated Press, was the first since 2003 to confirm the status of the North's known nuclear activities. That year, the North expelled U.N. inspectors and quit the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty ï¿½ the start of events that led to its test explosion of a nuclear bomb last October.
The report said IAEA experts last month confirmed the shutdown of four nuclear facilities at Yongbyon ï¿½ a nuclear fuel fabrication plant, a reprocessing plant and two nuclear power plants, one still under construction. An unfinished 200-megawatt nuclear power plant at Taechon also was shuttered, it said.
Separate word of progress came from U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill at the end of two days of technical talks on North Korea's nuclear program in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang.
The sessions were "very businesslike, very specific," with negotiators discussing details about how North Korea should abide by commitments to disclose all its nuclear facilities and disable them, Hill told reporters.
"I think we now have the basis for achieving consensus on these issues and consensus on the way forward," he said.
The talks are building on North Korea's commitment to disable its plutonium reactor at Yongbyon and declare and eventually dismantle all its nuclear facilities as part of a February agreement with the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. In exchange, the economically struggling North is to receive oil and other aid.
Despite that agreement, disputes about whether the North has an alternative, undeclared nuclear weapons program based on uranium continue to bedevil the disarmament process. North Korea said for the first time this week that it was willing to resolve the issue, although it did not acknowledge having a uranium enrichment program, envoys said.
"I think we'll have to take that at its face value, with the understanding that a full declaration needs to include uranium enrichment and they acknowledge that fact for resolution of the issue," Hill said.
The IAEA report made no mention of any enrichment efforts. But two Vienna-based diplomats familiar with the North Korea file warned against making preliminary conclusions, saying searching for such a program was not part of the IAEA's initial brief.
They insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the confidential report with journalists.
During the Shenyang talks, delegates traded ideas on how to disable North Korean nuclear facilities, including physically damaging them by drilling holes or pouring concrete, Hill said.
Three more working groups ï¿½ called for in the February agreement ï¿½ need to be held before a meeting of all nuclear negotiators from the six countries planned for sometime in September.
One group will discuss normalizing ties between the United States and North Korea, the second will look at the same issue between North Korea and Japan and the third group will deal with peace and security mechanisms for northeastern Asia.
A top UN atomic watchdog official arrived in Tehran on Monday for a third round of talks with Iranian negotiators aimed at agreeing guarantees over Iran's contested nuclear programme.
State television said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) delegation led by deputy director general Olli Heinonen would have two days of talks with the deputy head of Iran's national security council Javad Vaeedi.
The talks are aimed finding agreement between the two sides over aspects of the Iranian nuclear programme where the agency wants more information and over easier access for inspections of nuclear sites.
"This round of talks will be the final round of talks to set a framework to solve the remaining issues," the deputy head of Iran's atomic energy organisation Mohammad Saeedi said after Heinonen's arrival.
"We hope that during the two days of talks the remaining issues will be defined and we can immediately enter into talks on them."
The two previous rounds have been held in Vienna and Tehran and notably succeeded in agreeing an IAEA visit to the Arak heavy water reactor on July 30.
Iran has said it hopes the ongoing talks with IAEA officials over improving cooperation with the agency will mean that Western powers drop threats to impose a third set of sanctions over the Iranian nuclear programme.
However, the central demand of world powers remains that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment activities, which they fear could be diverted to make nuclear weapons.
Iran has repeatedly refused to suspend enrichment, arguing that it has every right to the full nuclear fuel cycle. The UN Security Council has punished Tehran's defiance with two sets of sanctions.
Three of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- United States, France and Britain -- are in favour of debating further sanctions moves, while Russia and China are more hesitant.
Pakistan on Monday has hinted it would renounce its unilateral moratorium on nuclear testing if India were to resume trials, last carried out by both countries nine years ago.
New Delhi has said its right to conduct tests will not be undermined by a bilateral civilian nuclear deal with the United States which has raised concerns here.
Washington has said there would be no such deal with Pakistan, its front-line ally in the ongoing battle to contain global terrorism.
"We take seriously the assertions by the India leadership about the possibility of resuming nuclear tests," foreign ministry spokesperson Tasnim Aslam told a weekly briefing.
"Resumption of nuclear tests by India would create a serious situation obliging Pakistan to review its position and to take action, appropriate and consistent with our supreme national interest," she said.
Under the agreement with Washington, New Delhi can buy atomic fuel, technology and plants even though it is not party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The agreement, finalised last month after nearly two years of negotiations, has drawn heavy and widespread criticism from Indian opposition parties and the government's communist allies, who say it will limit India's strategic options.
Aslam said that Pakistan had proposed a nuclear test ban treaty to India to end the arms race in South Asia.
"Pakistan continues to adhere to its unilateral moratorium on testing. We have also proposed to India a bilateral agreement on a test ban," she said.
"Pakistan does not want a nuclear arms race in the region but at the same time we are committed to maintain a credible minimum deterrence in the interest of strategic balance which is indispensable for peace in the region."
Pakistan has also raised eyebrows over an Australian bid to sell uranium to India, saying it would tilt the strategic balance in New Delhi's favour.
"Like the US-India nuclear deal, the decision by Australia to sell uranium to India is a matter which warrants close attention. Any development that can impinge on the strategic balance in South Asia is a matter of vital concern to us," Aslam said.
Muslim-majority Pakistan and mainly Hindu India have fought three wars since independence from Britain 60 years ago. In 1998, they carried out tit-for-tat nuclear detonations that alarmed the world.
A US report said earlier this year that Pakistan was building a third nuclear reactor to produce material for atomic bombs.
Pakistan has also been at the centre of international concerns over a black market run by its disgraced top nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, who admitted in 2004 to passing atomic secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya.
India will seek Japanï¿½s approval for a civilian nuclear pact with the United States and greater investment during Prime Minister Shinzo Abeï¿½s visit this week, officials say.
The second high-level contact in less than a year between the Asian countries will also see Abe press India for its support for a partnership between Australia, India, Japan and the United States, analysts said.
Indian officials were upbeat about Abeï¿½s three-day visit beginning Tuesday with a senior government official describing him as one of the ï¿½most India-friendlyï¿½ Japanese prime ministers in recent memory.
The conservative leader has always had a special place in his heart for India, repeatedly saying the fellow Asian democracy is a natural ally of Japan, whose ties with closer neighbours are fraught with historical baggage.
Key among the issues for New Delhi during talks with Abe will be support for the India-US nuclear deal which seeks to bring India into the loop of global nuclear commerce after a gap of 30 years.
Backing from Japan is significant as it is the only nation to have been attacked with nuclear weapons and is also a major civilian atomic power.
Japanï¿½s approval is also necessary because it is a member of the 45-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) of nations that controls the sale of nuclear fuel, technology and reactors.
It is unlikely that ï¿½India would get a definite ï¿½yes or noï¿½ to the dealï¿½ during Abeï¿½s visit but ï¿½I think Japan will accept the deal,ï¿½ security analyst Uday Bhaskar said.
Last week, Japanese Ambassador Yasukuni Enoki told the Press Trust of India that Japan would wait and watch as the pact ï¿½is still under careful scrutiny.ï¿½
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whom Abe will meet in New Delhi, has political trouble of his own ï¿½ trying to persuade his Communist allies to support the pact. But domestic critics say India is sacrificing too much to move closer to the United States.
For its part, Abe will seek Indiaï¿½s views on his proposed ï¿½axis of democracyï¿½ involving Japan, the United States, Australia and India, said Mohini Kaul, a professor at New Delhiï¿½s Jawaharlal Nehru University.
ï¿½The quadrilateral initiative will be an important issue on the agenda. Japan has certain strategic compulsions ï¿½ its worries vis-a-vis North Korea, a rising China and Japanï¿½s own constraints due to its pacifist constitution.
ï¿½So it is looking for other strategic allies and economic partners besides traditional ally the United States,ï¿½ she said.
While Tokyoï¿½s ties with some of its neighbours are still strained by memories of Imperial Japanï¿½s invasions in the 1930s and 1940s, ï¿½India carries no baggage from the past,ï¿½ Kaul noted.
ï¿½India is happy to forge stronger ties with Japanï¿½ that fit well with Japanï¿½s new foreign policy imperatives, she said.
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