1. NKorea Must Be Open about Nuclear Program: Rice
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US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Sunday for full transparency from North Korea over its nuclear weapons program amid reports it was secretly aiding Syria develop an atomic weapons facility.
"There are frankly a lot of questions that remain to be answered and we want to be able to answer questions about all aspects of the North Korean nuclear program," she told reporters with her Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi beside her, before their talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
"So that's very important," she said as preparations got underway for a crucial round of talks among the United State, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas beginning Thursday in Beijing aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.
The chief US diplomat and Yang discussed issues linked to the six-party talks, a State Department official said.
Rice did not cite the reported North Korean-Syrian links. If true, they could cast a dark cloud over US policy towards North Korea, which US President George W. Bush, weighed down by the unpopular war in Iraq, has hailed as a success.
US and British newspapers have reported that North Korea was secretly helping Syria to develop a nuclear weapons facility.
Britain's Sunday Times newspaper reported that elite Israeli forces seized North Korean nuclear material during a raid on a secret military site in Syria before Israeli warplanes bombed it September 6.
Quoting well-placed sources, it said Sunday that the commandos seized the material from a compound near Dayr az-Zwar in northern Syria and added that tests of it in Israel showed it was of North Korean origin.
Sean McCormack, spokesman for the US State Department, declined to comment on the Sunday Times report but said Washington was "very concerned about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction around the globe.
"We don't want to see the world's worst weapons get into the world's worst hands," he told the local Fox television network.
"So, we are definitely on this case," he said.
Reports in the New York Times and Washington Post also made similar links between North Korea and Syria based on intelligence information supposedly from Israel.
North Korea has denied the claims and insists it is keeping an earlier pledge not to allow the transfer of nuclear materials.
Despite the apparent nuclear proliferation concerns, Rice noted progress in the six-party talks based on a February 13 agreement under which North Korea agreed to end its nuclear weapons program in return for energy aid and diplomatic and security guarantees.
In July, North Korea shut down a key nuclear reactor at Yongbyon in return for 50,000 tons of fuel oil under the first phase of the agreement's implementation.
Experts from nuclear weapon states the United States, China and Russia visited the Yongbyon complex in preparation for the meeting this week, at which representatives are expected to work on setting a firm deadline for the permanent disabling of the North's nuclear facilities.
Rice said Pyongyang had provided "very good access" to the experts.
US top nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill had said that participants in the six-party talks would seek to devise and adopt a "work plan" for Pyongyang to declare and disable its entire nuclear arsenal.
Negotiators are also expected to set a date for the first meeting of foreign ministers from the six nations involved in the nuclear talks, which was given new urgency when North Korea tested a nuclear device last year.
Yang said he and Rice "need to work very hard" on various agreements reached between Bush and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao at their last meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum summit recently in Sydney. He did not say which issues they had reached consensus on.
Rice and Yang also discussed Iran and climate change, among other topics.
Yang said "there is good cooperation between China and the United States on many issues" and that "the relationship is going in the right direction on the whole."
1. Israeli Airstrike Reignites Debate on Syrian Nuclear Ambitions
Mark Mazzetti and David E. Sanger
International Herald Tribune
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U.S. officials are sorting through what they say are private Israeli claims that on Sept. 6 they struck targets tied to nuclear weapons activity, not merely to missile production.
U.S. concerns about ties between Syria and North Korea have long focused on a partnership involving missiles and missile technology. Even many hawks within the Bush administration have expressed doubts that the Syrians have the money or technical depth to build a serious nuclear program like the one in Iran.
But the Israeli airstrike inside Syria on Sept. 6 has reignited debate over whether the Syrians are trying to overcome these obstacles by starting their own small nuclear program, or by trying to buy nuclear components from an outside supplier. It is a particularly difficult question for U.S. spy agencies, which are still smarting from the huge prewar misjudgments made about the status of Iraq's weapons programs.
U.S. officials are now sorting through what they say are Israel's private claims that what their jets struck was tied to nuclear weapons activity, not merely to missile production. So far, U.S. officials have been extremely cautious about endorsing the Israeli conclusion.
Syria's efforts to bolster its missile arsenal have been a source of worry for Israel for years, especially given Syria's track record of arming Hezbollah fighters when they clash with Israeli troops.
During the summer of 2006, the militant Shiite group Hezbollah rained missiles on targets inside Israel from Lebanon, surprising Israeli officials with the sophistication of its arsenal.
And North Korean engineers are believed to have helped Syria develop a sophisticated class of Scud missile that has a longer range and is more accurate than earlier versions.
According to GlobalSecurity.org, a defense research organization, North Korea has helped Syria develop the Scud-D missile, with a range of about 435 miles, or 700 kilometers.
Whether Syria is actively pursuing a nuclear program has been the subject of fierce debate in Washington for several years. The dispute was at the center of the fight in 2005 over the nomination of John Bolton to become ambassador to the United Nations.
At the time, intelligence officials said they had clashed in 2002 and 2003 with Bolton, then an undersecretary of state, about the extent of Syria's unconventional weapons programs. According to the officials, Bolton wanted to include information in a public speech about a Syrian nuclear program that could not be corroborated by intelligence agencies.
In recent interviews, Bolton has suggested that the Israeli strike may have partly vindicated his view.
Yet that is hard to assess, since whatever information a few senior officials in Washington and Jerusalem possess has been so restricted that two Asian diplomats, representing close U.S. allies who are frequently updated on North Korea, said late last week that they had received no useful information from their U.S. counterparts.
On Thursday, President George W. Bush declined three times to shed any light on the Israeli strike, although he did repeat a warning to North Korea.
It is unclear to what extent the secrecy about the Israeli strike has been motivated by U.S. doubts about the intelligence or by an effort to protect sources and classified information.
But U.S. officials are now looking at the possibility that the Syrians saw an opportunity to buy some of the basic components of a nuclear program on the cheap, perhaps because North Korea is trying to get elements of its nuclear program out of the country to meet deadlines in a precarious denuclearization agreement with Washington.
U.S. officials are also studying at least two technology trade agreements between Damascus and Pyongyang that were signed over the summer, trying to determine whether the arrangements may be designed for nascent nuclear cooperation between the two countries.
"One has to balance the skepticism that the Syrians can build an indigenous nuclear program with the very sobering assessment that North Korea is the world's No. 1 proliferator and a country willing to sell whatever it possesses," said a former Bush administration official who once had full access to the intelligence about both countries, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing intelligence assessments.
Though it has long sold its missile technology - to Syria, Iran, Pakistan and others - North Korea has never been known to export nuclear technology or material. Last Oct. 9, hours after North Korea tested its first nuclear device, Bush issued North Korea a specific warning that "the transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or nonstate entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States, and we would hold North Korea fully accountable of the consequences of such action."
His declaration that day had been urged for years by hard-liners in the administration who believed that the United States had never been explicit enough with Pyongyang. They saw their opportunity after the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, ignored pressure from China, South Korea, Russia and others and conducted its test.
Even though the Israelis are whispering that there was a nuclear connection to the Sept. 6 attack, so far there has been no hard evidence that North Korea has ever tried to sell elements of its two nuclear programs. One of those programs, involving plutonium, is quite advanced, enough to produce six to a dozen nuclear weapons. But selling that fuel would be enormously risky, and perhaps easily detectable.
The other program, based on uranium-enrichment equipment believed to have been bought from the network created by Abdul Qadeer Khan, a Pakistani nuclear engineer, is assessed to be in its very early stages, and some doubt the North Koreans ever made much progress on it at all. That program involves the construction of centrifuges to enrich uranium, the path that Iran is taking. But it is complex, expensive and hard to hide, and many experts believe it is beyond Syria's capabilities or budget.
Syria does have one very small research reactor, which is Chinese-built. But it was described in a 2004 Swedish defense research agency report as "the smallest on the world market and incapable of military applications."
1. Fresh Crisis Brews over India-U.S. Nuclear Deal
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India's government and its communist allies are eyeing ways out of their face-off over a nuclear pact with the United States, but failure to grasp these straws will spark a fresh crisis next month, officials said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's coalition faces an informal end-October deadline to start working on the next steps needed to clinch the deal, and if the row with left parties opposed to it is not resolved by then early polls may be called, they said.
"There are one or two options being considered. But either way, we have to decide by the end of October," said a government minister. "The Americans want the deal to be approved by their Congress before it goes for its summer break around June."
Working backwards from that deadline, India would need to start the process of securing a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency -- something that the communists have warned against -- in late October, said the minister, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"If the left does not agree then we need to take a call on seeking a fresh mandate while pursuing the approvals, hoping that we can come back to power and complete the process," he said.
The civilian nuclear cooperation pact, first agreed in principle in 2005, aims to end India's nuclear isolation and give it access to U.S. fuel and reactors even though it has tested nuclear weapons and not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
While it has been hailed as historic by the two governments and seen as a symbol of their growing strategic ties, communist parties who shore up the Indian coalition have rejected it and threatened to end support if New Delhi pursues the deal.
The communists, known for their traditional anti-Americanism, say U.S. laws governing the deal threaten India's sovereignty and that the pact would also pull New Delhi into Washington's strategic embrace, a contention the government rejects.
Last month, as the crisis escalated, the two sides formed a panel to study the deal and address communist concerns in what was largely seen as an exercise to buy time. The panel has met twice so far and reported little progress.
A senior communist leader, however, confirmed the minister's comments that the panel was working on ideas that offered hope.
"There are some points, there are legal loopholes," the leader, who did not want to be identified due to the sensitive nature of the negotiations, told Reuters. "Ultimately it depends on what we make of them."
Both leaders also refused to discuss details of the options before the panel saying that could jeopardize the talks, the next round of which is due on October 5.
Besides the safeguards agreement with the IAEA, India also needs the approval of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group that governs global nuclear trade before the pact can seek the backing of the U.S. Congress.
It also needs to wait for 90 business days in Congress before legislators can vote on it. Washington's urgency to conclude this process before the summer break of the legislature is largely due to a fear that Congress would find it tough to transact important business later as it gets preoccupied with a presidential election in November.
The summer deadline may not be sacrosanct, and technically the process could continue until the end of the current Congress in late 2008, said Teresita Schaffer, South Asia director at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies.
"But with a presidential election on the horizon, both the election atmosphere and the press of obligatory business like the budget makes it very risky to defer important issues into the latter part of the year," she said.
An Indian election during this process would also complicate matters.
"If the Indian government moved ahead, the administration would start the process with the U.S. Congress, recognizing that your election process is completed more quickly than ours," Schaffer, a former U.S. diplomat, said.
"But the U.S. Congress would certainly need to see some indication that the new Indian government was on board, before they took final action."
1. Pakistan to Establish Uranium Conversion, Enrichment Facility
Press Trust of India
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Pakistan will establish a uranium conversion and enrichment facility as part of its plans to expand its nuclear power programme, the chairman of the country's Atomic Energy Commission has said.
"To support our planned expansion of nuclear power in Pakistan, we have embarked upon establishment of a uranium conversion and enrichment facility that would cater to the needs of fuel for our nuclear power plants," Anwar Ali said at the just-concluded International Atomic Energy Agency's 51st General Conference.
Ali said the facility will be placed under IAEA safeguards.
While welcoming the IAEA's initiatives on "Assurances of supply of nuclear fuel", Ali said "the Agency should encourage expansion of nuclear power through the assured supply of nuclear fuel and other related services in a non-discriminatory manner."
Pakistan has been pressing that the international community place it on the same footing as India while permitting civil nuclear cooperation.
Ali also tried to reassure the international community over any concern over Pakistan's proliferation record, saying: "A comprehensive Export control Act is in place to ensure control over materials, goods, technologies and equipment related nuclear and biological weapons and their delivery system."
1. 'Chain of Errors' Led to 36-Hour US Nuclear Blunder
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Nuclear warheads capable of unleashing the equivalent of 10 Hiroshima bombs were mistakenly flown across the United States by a bomber crew who thought they were dummies, and the terrifying security lapse was not discovered for almost 36 hours, it has been revealed.
The Pentagon is examining how so many vital checks and balances, painstakingly set out during the Cold War era, broke down to cause an incident that military personnel are calling one of the biggest mistakes in US Air Force history.
The flight last month was the first time in 40 years that nuclear bombs have been flown over US territory without specific authorisation from the top of the air force. Critics have argued that safety procedures have been disregarded as funds and expertise are diverted to new wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The B-52 took off from the remote Minot air force base in North Dakota with 12 cruise missiles that were being taken out of commission and scheduled for burial in Louisiana. The warheads on the decommissioned missiles should have been replaced with dummies of the same weight, but personnel failed to notice that six of the 12 were fully operational nuclear warheads.
The flight, on 30 August, was kept secret by the US Air Force, until news leaked on to military websites a week later. The Washington Post yesterday catalogued the full chain of errors and oversights and revealed that some of America's most powerful nuclear weapons were in effect out of supervision for almost 36 hours.
The bomber had sat on the tarmac at Minot overnight, with nothing but routine security patrols guarding its payload, and then for a further nine hours at the Barksdale base in Louisiana before the missiles were unloaded and a shocked transport crew recognised the error. The incident was deemed so serious that it was immediately reported to the Pentagon's nuclear planning headquarters and to the Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, as a so-called "Bent Spear" event. Only "Broken Arrow" events are more serious ï¿½ they involve the loss, destruction or mistaken detonation of a nuclear weapon.
"Clearly this incident was unacceptable on many levels," said an Air Force spokesman, Lt-Col Edward Thomas. "Our response has been swift and focused, and it has really just begun. We will spend many months at the air staff and at our commands and bases ensuring that the root causes are addressed."
The chain of errors began in the camouflaged storage bunker in North Dakota, where nuclear warheads are supposed to be visually checked through a small window in the missile casing, or marked with a ribbon, or otherwise catalogued using serial numbers, barcodes and other markings. The B-52 crew is also required to examine the missiles, but only the side carrying the six dummy warheads was checked in this case, it is believed.
The air force insists that the public was never in danger and that even if the bomber had crashed, fail-safe mechanisms would have ensured that the bombs could not detonate. Anti-nuclear campaigners said that the dangerous fissile material inside the warheads could have been released into the atmosphere if the missiles had been damaged.
Two separate investigations are under way, including one set up in the past few days under retired general Larry Welch, who once commanded the strategic bomber fleet, charged with examining if there are widespread lapses in the way munitions are stored and transported around the US.
Scores of correspondents on military discussion boards have expressed their surprise and alarm, and warned that standards have slipped since the height of the Cold War.
One former B-52 commander wrote: "I'm not sure where to begin. I'm outraged and embarrassed! Back in 1979 we had to sign for nuclear weapons verifying serial numbers, the security folks posted two-man guards at the aircraft, the cops enforced two-man maintenance crews access to aircraft, etc. What the hell happened here?"
Linton Brooks, the man who oversaw billions of dollars in US aid to help Russia secure its nuclear stockpile, told The Washington Post that nuclear weapons handling had moved down the agenda.
"Where nuclear weapons have receded into the background is at the senior policy level, where there are other things people have to worry about," he said.
Mr Linton resigned in January as director of the National Nuclear Security Administration.
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