Iran has the right to proceed with peaceful nuclear research and should not be punished just because of Western suspicions it wants to make an atomic bomb, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Tuesday.
"So far, Iran has committed no crime regarding the U.N. guidelines on nuclear weapons," Lula told reporters as he prepared to return to Brazil after delivering a speech at the United Nations General Assembly.
"Nobody should be punished in advance," said Lula, whose country started enriching uranium for its nuclear power plants last year, causing only limited international attention.
Meanwhile, concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions are among the hottest topics on the agenda of the U.N. assembly. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said failure to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons could destabilize the world.
Tehran insists it seeks to master technology to generate atomic power although Western nations believe it is running a covert bomb program.
The United Nations has demanded Iran halt its nuclear enrichment program, and has slapped two rounds of sanctions on Tehran for refusing. The United States is pressing for a third round of sanctions.
"If Iran wants to enrich uranium, if it wants to handle the nuclear issue in a peaceful way like Brazil does, that is Iran's right," Lula said, adding however that all countries are subject to U.N. guidelines.
Iran agreed with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, on August 21 to explain the scope of its nuclear program.
Iran's Natanz enrichment plant is expected to start producing usable quantities of nuclear fuel in the coming months. Such plants can also produce uranium for weapons.
Israel is looking to a U.S.-India nuclear deal to expand its own ties to suppliers, quietly lobbying for an exemption to non-proliferation rules so it can legally import atomic material, according to documents made available Tuesday to The Associated Press.
The move is sure to raise concerns among Arab nations already considering their neighbor the region's atomic arms threat. Israel has never publicly acknowledged having nuclear weapons but is generally considered to possess them.
The new push is reflected in papers Israel presented earlier this year to the "Nuclear Suppliers' Group" ï¿½ 45 nations that export nuclear fuel and technology under strict rules meant to lessen the dangers of proliferation and trafficking in materials that could be used for a weapons program.
The initiative appeared to be linked to a U.S.-India agreement that would effectively waive the group's rules by allowing the United States to supply India with nuclear fuel despite its refusal both to sign the nonproliferation treaty and allowing the IAEA to inspect all of its nuclear facilities.
Israeli officials began examining how their country could profit from that deal as early as last year, at one point proposing that the U.S. ask for an exemption from restrictions stipulating safeguards by the U.N. nuclear agency on all nuclear facilities, said a diplomat familiar with the issue. The U.S. rejected that request, he said, demanding anonymity for discussing restricted information.
The diplomat said the Israeli papers were "acknowledged but definitely not embraced" by the NSG member nations.
Still, the documents show that Israel has not given up its quest.
Under a cover letter labeled "confidential," the two papers were circulated among the group March 19 by Japan, whose mission to Vienna's International Atomic Energy Agency serves as the liaison office for the group.
Among the hurdles still to be cleared before the U.S.-India pact becomes reality is NSG approval of an exemption for India from group restrictions. Critics have warned that the deal, if it goes through, will deal a blow to efforts to contain the spread of nuclear arms by effectively rewarding a country that has developed nuclear weapons while evading the nonproliferation pact.
Besides India, only Pakistan and North Korea are known to have nuclear weapons and be outside the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Israel is considered an undeclared weapons state, with a doctrine of "nuclear ambiguity."
In the paper proposing a list of criteria to be used by NSG countries for "Nuclear Collaboration with non-NPT States," Israel inadvertently appeared to touch on the debate over its own status, saying one condition should be application of "stringent physical protection, control, and accountancy measures to all nuclear weapons ... in its territory."
The other document urges "the international community at large and NSG Member States in particular" to cooperate "with non-NPT states with strong non-proliferation credentials" in the "supply of (nuclear) know-how and equipment."
Despite close U.S.-Israeli ties, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns appeared to rule out special treatment for the Jewish state, telling reporters earlier this year that NSG countries needed to know the deal with India "won't be a precedent to bring other countries in under the same basis."
But Daryl Kimball, an analyst and executive director of the Arms Control Association, said that ï¿½ even if unsuccessful ï¿½ any attempt by Israel to move closer to nations exporting sensitive nuclear technology and material that could potentially be turned into fissile material for warheads would alarm many in the Middle East.
"There is a great deal of tensions between non-nuclear (Arab) weapons states and Israel, and the mere existence of this proposal would exacerbate ... the Middle East situation," he said from Washington.
And despite U.S. assurances, "Israel's proposal illustrates the danger of making exemptions for individual countries from nonproliferation rules and standards," he said.
The most recent tensions over Israel's nuclear capabilities surfaced at the IAEA's 148-nation general conference. On Thursday, the Vienna meeting's penultimate day, only the U.S. and Israel voted against a critical resolution implicitly aimed at the Jewish State for refusing to put its nuclear program under international purview.
Pakistan's government on Wednesday rejected a former premier's proposal to let the United Nations question A.Q. Khan, the disgraced nuclear expert who headed a smuggling racket that sold nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya.
Local media reported that former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said Tuesday that if she returned to office she would give the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog direct access to Khan - a remark likely to stir controversy in the run-up to elections.
Khan is viewed as a national hero for helping develop Pakistan's atomic weapons.
Pakistan has won praise from the United States for its cooperation in shutting down Khan's network after it was exposed in 2004. But President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's refusal to let foreign experts speak directly to Khan has sustained suspicion of a cover-up.
Bhutto, who plans to return to Pakistan from self-exile next month to contest upcoming parliamentary elections, was asked after making a speech Tuesday in Washington whether she would let Western officials interview Khan.
She responded by saying that a new government under her leadership would make him available to the IAEA, Pakistan's Dawn and Daily Times newspapers reported. She also was reported to have said a parliamentary committee would investigate whether others were involved in selling Pakistani nuclear technology.
The Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Pakistani authorities had fully investigated Khan's network and shared the results with the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency.
ï¿½In case there is new information, in case there is something else that needs to be looked into, we would conduct investigations and we will provide information to the IAEA,ï¿½ ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said. ï¿½That will remain Pakistan's position.ï¿½
Aslam said other countries have failed to match Pakistan's efforts to prevent proliferation, for instance by clamping down on Western companies involved in smuggling.
Musharraf pardoned Khan after he made a televised confession and claimed sole responsibility for the decades-long smuggling. The government insists neither it nor the Pakistani military was aware of his proliferation activities.
Khan, 71, has been under virtual house arrest since 2004, though officials recently said he was allowed to leave his plush villa in the capital to visit friends and relatives. In rare public comments in July, Khan told The Associated Press that he was recovering from treatment for prostate cancer.
Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party scrambled Wednesday to play down her remarks, saying they were ï¿½not very different from what the current government says or any other responsible government in Pakistan would say.ï¿½
ï¿½There is no question of violating Pakistani or international law in relation to the freedom and personal rights of anyone, including Dr. A.Q. Khan,ï¿½ a party statement said. Musharraf has held monthslong talks with Bhutto over a possible power-sharing agreement.
The Pakistani president has seen his popularity and power erode since his botched effort to fire the Supreme Court's chief justice earlier this year. His administration is also struggling to contain Islamic militants.
Yemen has signed a deal with a US-based energy firm to build nuclear power plants over the next 10 years for electricity generation.
Under the agreement, Powered Corporation is set to build five nuclear reactors in the country that will generate 5,000 megawatts of energy, newswire AFP reported on Tuesday, quoting Yemenï¿½s Energy and Electricity Minister Mustafa Bahran.
Its plans to build nuclear plants have raised serious security concerns for the whole region.
Greenpeace has called Yemenï¿½s decision to pursue nuclear power as ï¿½extremely disappointingï¿½ and said it would increase instability in the Middle East.
The country is a known base of numerous terrorist organisations with links to Al-Qaeda and its nuclear ambitions raise questions over whether the government would be able to adequately secure the plant, in addition to whether it would be able to safely dispose of waste material from the plant.
Yemen is currently ranked the worldï¿½s 24th most vulnerable country to ï¿½violent internal conflictï¿½ and ï¿½societal deteriorationï¿½ in the 2007 Failed States Index drawn up by US magazine Foreign Policy and US-based think tank Fund for Peace.
The overall costs for the project are expected to hit $15 billion, with construction of the first reactor expected to get under way in early 2009.
"Powered Corporation will oversee efforts to secure the financing of the project," Bahran told the newswire, adding that the first reactor should be ready to produce 1,000 megawatts of electricity by the end of 2012.
Bahran has said he discussed the countryï¿½s nuclear program with Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), during IAEA's general conference of member states last week in Vienna, state news agency Saba reported.
Yemen - which faces daily power shutdowns - wants to generate electricity and desalinate sea water to meet the needs of its urban population and boost the country's industrial development.
1. US Nuclear Dump Plan in Danger After Seismic Shock
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The most expensive public works project in the US was today in disarray after it emerged that a planned giant nuclear dump would be located on a faultline.
Rock samples from deep within Yucca Mountain, in Nevada, showed that the fault runs directly beneath the site where the US federal government planned to store 70,000 tonnes of highly radioactive waste.
More than $8bn (ï¿½4bn) has already been spent on the $58bn project, which had been due to open in 2017, but the proposals - approved by George Bush in 2002 - may now have to be redrawn.
Samples taken from 76 metres below the surface of the mountains, which are around 90 miles north-west of Las Vegas, revealed that the Bow Ridge fault passes hundreds of metres to the east of where scientists believed it lay.
The measurements were backed up by US Geological Survey maps and a letter, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported yesterday.
The fault is now thought to run beneath a storage pad where spent radioactive fuel canisters would be cooled before being sealed in a maze of tunnels inside the mountain.
Bob Loux, the executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, expressed amazement that the US Department of Energy had only just carried out the "11th hour" drilling tests.
"It certainly looks like DoE has encountered a surprise out there, and it certainly speaks to the fact they haven't done the technical work they should have done years ago," he told the paper.
"It's going to have to cause some change of the design in the final analysis. It's going to impact the safety case."
The state of Nevada - the third most seismically unstable in the US - has long opposed the project on the grounds that earthquake activity makes the site unsafe.
Since 1976, there have been 621 seismic events of magnitude greater than 2.5 on the Richter scale within a 50-mile radius of Yucca Mountain.
The Department of Energy refused to comment on the claims, but project officials said they were continuing to develop repository design, construction and operating plans in preparation for applying next year for a licence from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
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