1. US nuclear envoy arrives Seoul en route to NKorea
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U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill embarked on a mission to rescue an unraveling disarmament deal with North Korea, traveling to the region Tuesday as part of a rare trip to the communist nation.
Hill's visit to the North, set to begin Wednesday, could determine the fate of the disarmament-for-aid pact that Pyongyang has been flouting with a series of moves to reassemble its Yongbyon nuclear facilities.
"Let's see if we can make some progress," Hill told reporters upon arrival in South Korea en route to the North.
Hill is scheduled to arrive in Seoul on Tuesday afternoon for talks with South Korean officials. The diplomat plans to enter the North through the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas on Wednesday morning, according to a person familiar with Hill's travel plans. He asked not be named, saying he was not authorized to discuss the trip with media.
North Korea alarmed regional powers by abandoning its promise to disable its Yongbyon nuclear facilities, including the country's sole operational atomic reactor. Since mid-August, authorities have taken steps to restore the facility, citing anger over Washington's refusal to grant the regime a promised reward ï¿½ removal from the U.S. terrorism blacklist.
The United States says the North first should accept a plan to verify its accounting of past nuclear activities. ï¿½ a demand Pyongyang has rejected as an attempt to unilaterally disarm it.
Hill said his North Korea trip will focus on settling the verification row.
"I know they (the North Koreans) are reluctant," Hill said. "Let's see what they say. Let's sit down and have a conversation and see if we can resolve this matter."
In New York, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters Monday that North Korean officials extended Hill an invitation to come to their capital, Pyongyang, "so we hope that there is some effort to address the verification protocol because that's what we need."
Rice said the U.S. "will look to see what they have to say."
U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said in Washington that Hill is traveling to the North "to encourage them, once again, to submit this verification package, which we've said is not an onerous task that we have asked the North Koreans to undertake."
He called it a "standard verification package" that has been carried out by other countries.
Wood did not have details of when Hill would be in North Korea or with whom he would meet. His North Korean counterpart is Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan. The spokesman said Hill would also go to China and Japan for talks.
It would be Hill's third visit to North Korea, with the earlier visits made in June and December last year.
North Korea agreed in February 2007 in talks with the United States, Japan, China, Russia and South Korea to disable the Yongbyon facilities in exchange for economic aid and political concessions, including removal from the terrorism list ï¿½ a long-coveted goal of Pyongyang.
The North began disabling its facilities in November and in June blew up a cooling tower in a display of its determination to carry out the process.
But the deal ran aground in late July when Washington delayed North Korea's removal from the terrorism list until the North agreed to verification.
Pyongyang protested, saying verification was never part of the pact, and stopped disabling the plant in mid-August. Last week, the regime ordered U.N. nuclear monitors to leave the country, saying it would reinsert nuclear material into the reprocessing facility. Experts say scientists could have the plant up and running within months.
Hill's visit also comes amid reports that the North's autocratic leader, Kim Jong Il, is recuperating from a stroke. Kim, 66, has been out of public view for more than a month.
1. Iran may limit IAEA access to nuclear sites: MP
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Iran's parliament may limit the UN watchdog's inspections of the country's nuclear sites following a new UN resolution against Tehran over its atomic programme, a senior Iranian MP said on Tuesday.
"Iran had generously allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency access to prove its good will but soon the level of the agency's access to our nuclear facilities will be revised," Mousa Ghorbani told the state news agency IRNA.
"There are discussions in parliament to apply some new limitations on cooperation with the IAEA," said the conservative MP, who is a member of the presiding board of the house.
"The issuing of a new resolution by the (UN) Security Council has raised the question of how long we should continue a useless cooperation with the agency," he said.
The Security Council on Saturday adopted a fifth resolution urging Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, the process at the centre of fears about Iran's nuclear programme, as the enriched product can be used to make atom bombs.
The IAEA has been investigating Tehran's nuclear activities for the past six years, but has so far been unable to determine whether they are purely peaceful as the government claims.
The UN watchdog said in a report this month that Tehran refused to provide access to documentation, individuals or sites which could reveal the true nature of its activities.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei on Monday urged Iran to "implement all the transparency measures ... required to build confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme at the earliest possible date."
Iran stopped applying the additional protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that gives inspectors broader access to its nuclear sites after the nuclear case was referred to the UN Security Council in 2006.
Despite three sets of UN Security Council sanctions the Islamic republic has vowed to press on with its controversial enrichment work, insisting the nuclear programme is solely aimed at peaceful ends.
1. Russia to start construction of reactors at Kundankulam
Press Trust of India
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Russia could start construction work of four additional nuclear reactors at Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu next year with a formal Indo-Russian atomic agreement expected to be inked during President Dmitry Medvedev's maiden visit to India in December. "We are planning to build with the Russian help four more nuclear reactors with a capacity of 1000 MW each in Kudankulam," Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar was quoted as saying by NTV channel.
The NSG waiver will enable the two countries to launch the construction of these reactors by early next year, he said.
Russia along with France and US companies are the major bidders for India's plans to boost nuclear power generation by 10,000 MW.
In anticipation of bagging part of Indian order for new reactors, Russian experts have almost completed design of two VVER-1000 light water reactors with a total capacity of 2000 MW, Russian Nuclear Corporation RosAtom sources said here.
In February this year, India and Russia signed a MoU for the construction of four additional units of Kudankulam in the presence of the then Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, who was on a visit to India.
1. India ends nuclear outcast status with French atomic deal
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India, critically short of energy to fuel its booming economy, on Tuesday shed its nuclear outcast status when it signed a landmark atomic energy pact with France.
The deal effectively ended a ban on countries selling civilian nuclear technology and equipment to New Delhi, which was imposed in 1974 when India used its civilian programme to produce and successfully test an atomic bomb.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in Paris after a week-long trip to the US where he saw the House of Representatives back a US atomic pact with India, signed the deal with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
France, the world's second producer of nuclear energy after the United States, hopes to lead a worldwide revival of the industry fuelled by worries about global warming and soaring energy prices.
India is now allowed to go shopping for technology and nuclear reactors after the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group lifted its ban on New Delhi in early September after hard lobbying by Washington.
Singh and Sarkozy made no public comment after signing the nuclear deal, but a French presidential advisor noted that "today we are at the intergovernmental stage, and after that the industrialists will begin their cooperation."
French state-backed nuclear giant Areva said Monday it hoped to negotiate the delivery to India of two reactors as well as nuclear fuel.
India, which currently has 22 nuclear reactors, has a nuclear market estimated at 100 billion euros (142 billion dollars) over 15 years.
The French anti-nuclear group Sortir du Nucleaire (End Nuclear Power) denounced the atomic agreement.
"For having helped the US and India get round the rules of non-proliferation, France will be able to sell nuclear reactors to India. These are nauseating deals that endanger the future of the planet," it said.
India was banned from nuclear trade after it built an atomic bomb it hoped would give it military dominance over its neighbour and rival Pakistan, which also went on to build its own bomb despite international protest.
New Delhi, long a Soviet ally, is now a strategic partner for both the European Union and the US and is seen as a relative haven of stability in an often volatile region that includes Pakistan and Afghanistan.
A country of 1.1 billion people that many see as one of the future great powers of the 21st century, India currently gets only a fraction of its electricity from nuclear power.
Observers say that more nuclear plants in India could help reduce global demand for oil and gas, and proponents of nuclear energy say it will help the emerging economic giant fight pollution.
Sarkozy said Monday at an EU-India summit that he did not see how "India can fight global warming without nuclear energy, which is a clean energy. That would be totally incoherent."
The United States is also keen to tap into the Indian nuclear market, but with Tuesday's deal France, which will also have to compete with Japan and Russia, has stolen a march on the US.
The French presidential advisor, who asked not to be named, insisted however that the two countries had worked together to persuade the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the IAEA, the UN's atomic watchdog, to lift the ban on New Delhi.
"There was no race" to be first to sign a deal, he said.
The US atomic trade pact with India, a key foreign policy for President George W. Bush, must now win approval from the Senate.
But that could be delayed because of the presidential election in November, further delaying the US entry into the market.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday she hoped the nuclear pact with India would soon pass the final US legislative hurdle, saying it would "solidify" US-Indian ties.
Some US lawmakers have fought against the deal, which would give New Delhi access to US technology provided it allows UN inspections of some of its nuclear facilities -- but not its atomic weapons plants.
They argue it rewards India for breaking the international nuclear rules and thus might encourage Iran, which is accused of using its civilian nuclear programme to build a bomb.
Critics of the potential US deal with India -- which has refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty allowing civilian nuclear trade in exchange for a pledge not to pursue nuclear weapons -- say it undermines efforts to halt the spread of nuclear weapons.
2. Russia offers Chavez nuclear help amid US tensions
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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was to meet Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev on Friday after Russia risked Washington's wrath by offering the fierce US foe help developing nuclear energy.
The two were to meet in the city of Orenburg after hawkish Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told Chavez in Moscow on Thursday that Russia was "ready to consider the possibility of cooperation in nuclear energy."
The countries have boosted ties in recent weeks following sharp US criticism of Russia's incursion into Georgia, with Moscow dispatching long-range bombers and warships to Venezuela for exercises near US waters.
Putin made the nuclear offer after Russia this week delayed talks with the United States and other powers on fears Iran is developing nuclear weapons, concerns critics say have been exacerbated by civilian nuclear technology provided by Moscow.
Chavez called for increased ties with Russia as a counter-balance to US power.
"Today like never before all that you said on the multi-polar world becomes reality. Let us not lose time," Chavez told Putin. "The world is fast developing geopolitically."
In deployments not seen since the Cold War, Russia this month sent two long-range bombers to Venezuela for exercises and has dispatched a flotilla of warships from the Arctic base of Severomorsk to Venezuela, near US waters.
Putin thanked Chavez for the "warm welcome" given to the planes and said South America was growing in importance for Moscow.
"Latin America has become an important chain-link in creating a multipolar world, and we will pay more attention to this vector," he said.
Russia's relations with the United States are in a deep chill, most recently over the brief war in Georgia last month -- a conflict where Chavez was one of the few world leaders to support Moscow.
During that war, Washington angered Moscow by holding naval exercises near its Black Sea coast. And when the war ended, the United States used warships to deliver humanitarian aid to Georgia.
Chavez and Medvedev were expected to touch on military and energy cooperation in Friday's talks, a Kremlin official said.
The Kremlin on Thursday announced that Russia had granted Venezuela a one-billion-dollar (682-million-euro) loan to buy Russian arms.
Venezuela has signed deals for 4.4 billion dollars' worth of Russian arms since 2005, including fighter jets, tanks and assault rifles.
Russia's Kommersant daily reported last week that Venezuela was planning to purchase anti-aircraft systems, armoured personnel carriers and more combat aircraft.
Chavez arrived in Russia from China and will continue on to France as part of a world tour ahead of local elections in Venezuela in November. It is his third trip to Russia since June of last year.
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