1. Major Powers Look At New Ways to Get Iran to Talks
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Major powers are looking for new ways to draw Iran into negotiations over its nuclear program while simultaneously pushing for more U.N. sanctions, U.S. officials and diplomats said on Tuesday.
Political directors from the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council -- Russia, China, the United States, Britain and France -- as well as Germany, met in Washington on Monday to discuss how to tweak their Iran strategy.
They agreed to move ahead on a third round of U.N. Security Council sanctions, which Washington hopes will be voted on this week. But diplomats said they also planned to reemphasize incentives they offered Iran in 2006 to give up its sensitive nuclear work.
Russia and China have been pushing for more "carrots" than punitive measures in the approach toward Iran, but several diplomats said there was little appetite among the Europeans and the United States for major, new incentives.
"More than adding sweeteners is that we should provide that little door that allows Iran to enter the long, long corridor toward the room where the negotiating table is -- without losing face," said a European diplomat, who spoke on condition he was not named.
The political directors agreed ministers from the six nations would release a joint statement after the U.N. vote reiterating the 2006 offer to the Iranians and urging them to take it up, said diplomats and a U.S. official.
State Department spokesman Tom Casey said no new incentives were being considered but rather the political directors were examining how the 2006 deal could be presented in a way that Iran would find attractive.
"There is a pretty broad range of incentives in the package and certainly there are ways to emphasize different aspects of it and explore different aspects of it," said Casey.
The 2006 offer included talks with the United States on any subject if Tehran suspended uranium enrichment; airline parts for civilian planes and dropping objections to entry to the World Trade Organization.
Iran, the world's fourth largest oil exporter, insists its uranium enrichment is to generate electricity and not aimed at building an atomic bomb.
Another European diplomat said: "There's discussion of revising language on the June 2006 offer, not to add incentives, but to reiterate more strongly that it's still on the table."
Diplomats said they were also exploring new channels for talking to the Iranians outside of the current one between Solana and Iran's new nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, whose discussions have made no progress so far.
"The idea is that maybe a friend of Solana meets a friend of Jalili. The two have tea and get their bosses together and they get someone else together," said a European diplomat.
The latest U.N. sanctions formally submitted by France and Britain, include asset freezes and mandatory travel bans for specific Iranian officials. It also expands the list of Iranian officials and companies targeted by the sanctions.
Earlier rounds of sanctions were imposed in December 2006 and March 2007.
A senior U.S. official said the hope was that the European Union would follow through soon after with its own sanctions package after the U.N. vote.
1. Philharmonic Concert in NKorea Could Facilitate Nuclear Talks, Former US Diplomat Says
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The New York Philharmonic's historic concert in North Korea this week may be a catalyst for moving stalled nuclear talks with Pyongyang forward, a former U.S. diplomat said Thursday after a trip to the communist nation.
Donald Gregg, former ambassador to South Korea, said he attended Tuesday's concert a day after talks with North Korea's main nuclear negotiator Kim Kye Gwan. He said he and former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry tried to convince Kim that Pyongyang was running out of time.
Kim took "seriously" their appeal that it was in the North's best interest to finish the denuclearization process while U.S. President George W. Bush is in office, Gregg said.
The expert on Korea also noted the "wonderful" concert came as South Korea's new President Lee Myung-bak took office Monday with an offer to make the impoverished North richer if it gives up nuclear programs.
The concert provided a "very, very memorable day in relations between the United States and North Korea," the former diplomat said during a breakfast meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea.
"And I think in the long-run, we will be able to say that the concert ... contributed to the eventual improvement and change of direction in relations between Washington and Pyongyang and between Pyongyang and Seoul," he said.
The Philharmonic was the first major American cultural group to perform in the country and brought the largest-ever delegation from the United States to visit its longtime foe. The two nations fought in the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, which means they are still technically at war.
The concert was set up when optimism about the nuclear standoff was high last year with the North shutting down its sole operational nuclear reactor and beginning to disable it. But the process has reached a deadlock as Washington accuses Pyongyang of not fully disclosing its nuclear programs.
The oldest U.S. orchestra arrived in Seoul on Wednesday after a 48-hour stay in Pyongyang. It was scheduled to play a concert in the South's capital on Thursday.
U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Alexander Vershbow said the U.S. was "able to make some kind of connection with North Korea" through music, although the concert did not "change the system and the fundamental nature of the problems we're facing."
"The North Korean people, including those in the elite, they've seen the possibility of a different relationship with the United States," the envoy said before the Philharmonic's concert in Seoul.
Evans Revere, a former deputy U.S. ambassador in Seoul who traveled together with Gregg to the North, said it was an "overwhelming" experience to see the concert where the U.S. national flag was displayed and its national anthem was played in a country that inculcates its people with hatred of the U.S.
The event was broadcast live in the North, and what the people there saw during the concert "was a very different face of America and a face that contrasts significantly with the one that they have been talked about for over half a century," Revere said. "And I think it's important to think about the implications of that."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has ordered her top Asia diplomat to stay in China to look at fresh ways of unblocking the stalled effort to get North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons, her spokesman said Wednesday.
Rice instructed Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill to remain in Beijing to study with Chinese officials new ideas of moving the process ahead, instead of accompanying her to Japan.
"She asked him to stay back and (he is) working on the six party talks with the Chinese," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters onboard Rice's plane en route to Tokyo from Beijing.
McCormack said Hill was working on proposals put forward by Rice and Chinese President Hu Jintao on Tuesday to jump start the multinational denuclearization efforts that include the United States, Japan, Russia, China, North Korea and South Korea.
"We came with ideas, they had some ideas. Let's see if we can tease some of these ideas," McCormack said, adding that the atmosphere between Rice and Hu had been "very good."
"We'll see if it leads somewhere," McCormack said. He would not discuss details of the ideas under consideration.
Rice said Tuesday that China and the U.S. were looking at ways to "synchronize" the actions the North must take to meet its obligations, and the benefits it is to receive for those measures.
Hill had planned to travel with Rice on all three legs of her Asian tour that has been dominated by the North Korea issue. She has visited South Korea in addition to China and Japan.
The unexpected cancellation of Hill's presence in Japan, a major U.S. ally in Asia, to work with the Chinese may herald significant developments.
Hill does not plan to meet directly with North Korean officials during his extended stay in Beijing, where he will be for at least another day, McCormack said.
On Tuesday, Rice won assurances from China that it would use its influence on North Korea to help with the denuclearization process.
In broad discussions with Chinese officials, Rice also won an agreement from China to resume an on-again, off-again human rights dialogue with the United States and she pleased her Chinese hosts by restating firm U.S. opposition to a Taiwanese referendum on United Nations entry that has infuriated Beijing.
But North Korea dominated the talks and Rice urged China, which has considerable leverage with its Stalinist neighbor, along with others in the six-nation denuclearization effort, to "use all influence possible" with Pyongyang to meet its pledges to the group.
"I believe that all of the parties to the six-party talks have both an obligation and an interest to make certain that the obligations of the first phase are carried out," Rice told reporters at a news conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.
"We are the cusp of something very special here," she said, referring to the shutdown and continuing disablement of North Korea's main nuclear facility in Yongbyon. "Now it is time to move on because the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is in everyone's interest."
"What I am expecting from China is what I am expecting from others: Use all influence possible with the North Koreans to convince them that it is time to move forward," Rice said.
Yang said China was "consistently committed to the six-party talks and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula" and would continue to work on the matter. But he also made clear that Beijing had already pressed the North hard on the matter.
"The Chinese side hopes that the parties will treasure the results we have already produced, which have not come easily," he said.
Speaking later after extensive discussions with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Rice said she was pleased with the Chinese stance. "I think China shares our desire to get this moving forward at a more rapid pace and I know they are using their good offices to try to do so," she said.
Although progress has been made in disabling Yongbyon, the United States says North Korea has not yet produced a full declaration of its nuclear programs, including details on the transfer of technology and know-how that could be used to develop atomic weapons.
The declaration was due almost two months ago, and the North says it has already met the requirement but the Bush administration rejects the claim, which has slowed progress on the process aimed at restoring stability in North Asia and bringing a final end to the Korean War.
Yang said China was eager to see the second phase of the denuclearization process ï¿½ the complete dismantlement of Yongbyon, the production of the declaration and in return the provision of fuel oil to North Korea ï¿½ completed quickly.
In Beijing, Rice said she had also raised human rights issues, along with intellectual property protections, product safety, efforts to impose new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program and the upcoming referendum in Taiwan ï¿½ an island Beijing sees as a breakaway province.
Yang said China had agreed to resume the human rights dialogue with the United States that it had broken off in 2004 when the Bush administration unsuccessfully sponsored a resolution censuring China before the U.N. Human Rights Commission. He did not, however, give a date.
The United Nations nuclear watchdog said on Tuesday that global nuclear security was faltering and called on leaders to refocus on nuclear issues and kick-start a new round of disarmament talks.
"We need to bolster the non-proliferation regime and move on to nuclear disarmament," said Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
"We are at a crucial juncture. The system is faltering," ElBaradei told a conference in the Norwegian capital where he and the IAEA received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.
He said the IAEA was aware of 150 cases per year of nuclear material or weapons gone missing, which could potentially end up in the hands of "organized crime or worse -- extremists".
ElBaradei said nuclear topics, leading issues in the Cold War, had "gone out of fashion and almost disappeared from the international agenda", yielding to causes like global warming.
"There continue to be many gaps in the current security system which make it vulnerable to abuse ... This is actually the greatest danger we face -- that nuclear weapons or material could fall into the wrong hands," said ElBaradei.
He said that if extremists gained nuclear weapons they would "almost certainly be used", since the concept of mutual deterrence that exists between countries with atomic arms was "totally irrelevant to extremist ideology."
ElBaradei did not mention any such groups or countries by name. He also declined to take questions about Iran's nuclear program. Western powers fear Tehran wants to build atomic bombs, while Iran maintains its program is for power generation.
NUCLEAR PEARL HARBOR
Former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz told the conference that global tensions remained high due to the proliferation of destructive weapons and said world leaders must refocus on nuclear issues immediately.
"We can't wait for a nuclear Pearl Harbor," said Shultz, the top U.S. diplomat under President Ronald Reagan.
ElBaradei said a nuclear-free world was "not impossible" and urged significant reductions in nuclear arsenals and changes in the status of nuclear weapons systems to reduce the risk of accident or malfunction.
He also called for a wider role and more funds for the IAEA, whose multinational character made it better equipped to handle a world in which some states hold nuclear weapons as a deterrent and others are prohibited from doing the same.
"We must abandon the unworkable notion that it is morally reprehensible for some countries to pursue weapons of mass destruction, yet morally acceptable for others to rely on them for their security," he said.
The United States and Russia jointly hold 95 percent of the world's nuclear arsenal of about 27,000 warheads -- many of which are hundreds of times more powerful than the bombs which obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War Two.
"A handful of missiles carried today on a single bomber or submarine could wipe out the entire population of a country," ElBaradei said. "That message needs to be brought home to a wider public."
1. Gates Warns India 'Clock is Ticking' on Nuclear Accord
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US Defence Secretary Robert Gates warned Wednesday that "the clock is ticking" on a US-Indian civilian nuclear accord that has been stalled by the New Delhi's government's communist allies.
Wrapping up a two-day visit that focused on US arms sales and a burgeoning military relationship, Gates said however failure to reach agreement on the civilian nuclear technology in time would have little impact on the deepening military ties.
"The clock is ticking in terms of how much time is available to get all the different aspects of an agreement implemented," Gates told reporters.
Senator Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, has warned the Indians that a civil nuclear agreement had to come before the Senate for approval no later than July.
The White House said Tuesday there was a "bit more time" in the US political calendar before President George W. Bush leaves office, but Gates warned that it depends on when the Senate recesses for the US elections.
He said the United States would respect India's internal politics but was hopeful that the government would solve the impasse in time.
"The two sides need to work together on that," he said, adding that "it serves the best interests of both countries, and I think it is an agreement that has positive global consequences."
Whatever the outcome, Gates said US military relations with India were broad and would continue to move in a positive direction.
US arms contractors are keen to compete for Indian weapons contracts, particularly a competition for 126 multi-role fighter aircraft worth 10 to 12 billion dollars.
Gates said that in his meetings with Indian leaders he expressed appreciation for India's decision last month to buy six US-made C-130J aircraft, a deal worth more than a billion dollars to aeronautics giant Lockheed-Martin.
"There are some other deals in the works," the defence chief said. "I indicated that we are interested, and obviously believe we are very competitive, in the selection of the new multi-role combat fighter.
"We ask no special treatment, we simply are pleased to have a place at the table, and we believe that in a fair competition we have a very good case to make.
"The C-130 sale will give us an opportunity to demonstrate not only the quality of our equipment, but also the quality of the service and maintenance and follow on in these sales."
India traditionally has looked to Russia as a supplier of military equipment, but has begun to diversify as it undertakes a major across-the-board modernisation of its armed forces.
A US defence official travelling with Gates said the Indians were intent on acquiring a world class air force and blue water navy capable of projecting power beyond the subcontinent.
Although Pakistan has been India's traditional adversary, New Delhi's drive to modernise its military has been spurred by a parallel military transformation in China, its nearest potential rival for regional influence and power.
During previous stops in Indonesia and Australia, Gates emphasised US interest in helping those democracies to strengthen their military capabilities and assume a larger security role in the region.
He insisted the US push to improve military ties in the region should not be viewed "in the context of any other country, including China."
"These expanding relationships do not necessarily have to be directed against anybody," he said.
Gates said the United States was taking a long-term view in its developing security relationship with India.
"We're not looking for quick results, or great leaps forward, but a steady expansion of this relationship," he said.
He added that the US relationship with India had strong bi-partisan support in Washington, and would continue regardless of who was elected US president in November.
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