1. High-Level Talks Keep North Korea Nuclear Deal Alive
Christian Science Monitor
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Separate agreements ï¿½ one open, the other secret ï¿½ may be critical to bringing the US and North Korea to terms on the disclosure of the North's nuclear program, after two days of what US envoy Christopher Hill says were "substantive" talks in Geneva with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye Gwan.
Although no deal was reached, the meetings were the most detailed since the nuclear process reached an impasse in December. In a sign of the North's eagerness to talk, Mr. Kim asked to see Mr. Hill in Geneva after failing to meet him as expected in Beijing the weekend after the New York Philharmonic's performance in Pyongyang on Feb. 25.
Mr. Hill said he and Mr. Kim covered just about every possible aspect of the nuclear issue, notably the crucial question of the North's efforts to develop nuclear warheads with uranium at their core.
Kim, however, is sticking to denials of the existence of the program and of charges that the North has exported nuclear aid and material to Syria, Iran, or any other client state.
Mid-level US diplomats remained in Geneva after talks before the weekend that Hill says were "very substantive discussions on format and actual substance that has divided us for 10 weeks" ï¿½ since the end of last year when North Korea was to have come up with a full declaration of everything in its nuclear inventory.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says discussions are under way with the four others in the six-party talks: China, the host country, as well as Russia, Japan, and South Korea, on moving the process ahead, but advised not to "expect anything immediate." Hill said "we need to move faster" to fulfill terms of the agreement under which North Korea is to disable all its nuclear facilities and then dismantle them in return for a huge infusion of aid.
Against this background, sources here and in Washington hint at a formula for North Korea to detail its nuclear program yet sidestep the critical issue of highly enriched uranium.
"I'm quite optimistic they will be able to make two agreements," says Suh Jae Jean, director of North Korean studies at the Korea Institute of National Unification in Seoul. "One will be open, the other secret. A secret agreement is the only solution." Mr. Suh, whose institute is affiliated with the unification ministry, believes a secret agreement "will enable North Korea to save face and prevent backlash from within the US."
Under such an agreement, the North could acknowledge initial research and development of enriched uranium while publicly citing the import of centrifuges only for industrial purposes.
A meeting of minds on the wording of whatever deals emerge, some analysts say, may provide a face-saving way out of an impasse in which North Korea has not only missed the deadline for listing its nuclear inventory but also slowed disablement of its nuclear facilities at its Yongbyon complex.
Hill has said he doubts "we can have a secret agreement secretly arrived at" but believes "we have some ideas that may be workable."
Moon Jung In, a political scientist at Yonsei University, believes "the stakes are too high" for North Korea and the US to fail to arrive at a viable understanding. A breakthrough deal, he says, will be "maybe half-secret, half-open."
The US and South Korea have been intensifying pressure for North Korea to fulfill its promise in six-nation talks to produce a list of all its nuclear inventory. The US promises to reciprocate by dropping the North from the State Department's list of nations sponsoring terrorism and withdrawing sanctions on trade.
"They have not done everything they promised," says the US ambassador to South Korea, Alexander Vershbow. "The issue is convincing the North Koreans to provide the necessary level of transparency."
North Korea may be waiting to see what approach is adopted by South Korea's new president, Lee Myung Bak, who has promised to take a tougher stance on dealings with the North than his predecessors did.
Regardless, "I don't expect complete collapse of the six-party talks," says Choi Jin Wook, a senior fellow at the Korea Institute of National Unification. "I don't know what can be secret, what can be hidden," he says. "It can work if the US accepts a partial declaration."
1. Ahmadinejad's Nuclear Mandate Strengthened After Iran Election
Mark Bentley and Ladane Nasseri
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Defenders of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's nuclear policy won parliamentary elections in Iran, strengthening his hand as he pursues a program of uranium enrichment in defiance of the United Nations.
Iran's most devout Islamists, who backed Ahmadinejad as he ignored the West's opposition to his nuclear ambitions, swept the nationwide ballot on March 14 with about 70 percent support, according to preliminary results. A pro-democracy group opposed to the president won less than a quarter of the vote after clerics barred most of the group's candidates.
Ahmadinejad, 51, has made Iran's nuclear program the centerpiece of a presidential term that is up for renewal next year. The U.S., which has pushed three sets of economic sanctions against Iran through the UN, says the country, the world's fourth-largest oil producer, is seeking to build nuclear weapons.
``The nuclear rhetoric could get worse now,'' Meir Javedanfar, co-author of ``The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran,'' said in a telephone interview from New York. ``The election victory may bring tougher UN sanctions, making Iran's economic situation all the more difficult.''
The president, backed by Iran's religious leaders, has stoked tensions with the U.S. and its allies in Europe since his election three years ago. At the same time, he has pursued economic policies at home based on spending, subsidies and price controls that have contributed to nationwide fuel shortages, a 21 percent youth unemployment rate and the highest inflation in eight years.
The U.S. said on the day of the election that voting was ``cooked'' in favor of the theocratic regime established by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in an Islamic revolution in 1979.
Vice-President Dick Cheney, who left Washington yesterday for a 10-day trip to the Middle East, will discuss with Arab leaders how to engineer a peaceful resolution to the dispute with Iran.
In a combative mood the day after the election, Ahmadinejad said the poll had ``stamped a mark of shame and despair on the forehead of Iran's enemies.''
Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, speaking on state television, characterised the UN sanctions as ``evil tricks'' that failed to sway voters.
Iran has been under investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency since 2003, after the UN discovered the country had hidden nuclear work from its inspectors for 18 years in contravention of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The Iranian government says its nuclear program is aimed purely at producing electricity for its expanding population.
Ahmadinejad will now forge ahead with the program in defiance of the UN, said Mashaallah Shamsolvaezin, an adviser to the Tehran-based Center for Scientific Research and Middle East Strategic Studies.
``Iran will proceed in a radical manner on the nuclear dossier,'' he said, adding that Ahmadinejad has the full backing of Ayatollah Khamenei.
Ali Larijani, Iran's former nuclear negotiator, said the election proved the regime had widespread support from Iranians to defend its rights to nuclear power.
``The Iranian nation has reaffirmed the Islamist system and frustrated the enemies,'' he said in a statement carried by state-run Press TV yesterday. He labelled U.S. policy toward Iran as ``hostile and provocative.''
Larijani leads a pro-regime group that has broken away from the main pro-Ahmadinejad United Principlist Front. He said two days ago that differences with the president were more on style than substance, the state-run Fars news agency reported.
The U.S. says that under Ahmadinejad's presidency Iran also supports insurgents in Iraq and sponsors the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah movement in Lebanon, which the U.S. and Israel consider terrorists. The Iranian president has also denied Israel's right to exist.
Cheney raised concerns about the threat from Ahmadinejad's Iran to Israel before heading to the Middle East.
``Tehran may increasingly be turning its sights to inflaming the situation in the Gaza Strip,'' Cheney said in a March 11 speech to the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel, seized control of Gaza last June. Israel has exerted military and economic pressure on Gaza in a bid to stop cross-border rocket attacks from the Strip.
Ahmadinejad believes he has strong support among neighbors for his foreign policy, and the election results will do nothing to alter that, according to Mohammad-Reza Djalili, a professor at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.
``Since coming to power the president has pursued an aggressive and intransigent foreign policy,'' Djalili said in a telephone interview. ``I don't see why he would change course.''
Iran has reaffirmed its rejection of any talks with world powers over the nuclear crisis, saying it will only negotiate with the UN atomic watchdog.
"The issue of nuclear talks with the countries of the 5+1 is over," government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham told reporters.
The so-called 5+1 are the five permanent UN Security Council powers plus Germany, which have been seeking to persuade Iran to accept an incentives package in exchange for suspending sensitive uranium enrichment work.
The six powers have been represented by the European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana who has held two years of talks with Iranian officials in a bid to end the deadlock.
Mr Elham's comments confirm remarks made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad earlier this month which suggested the Government was strongly against any new talks between Mr Solana and Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili.
"We will continue our path within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency as this is the only legal body for this issue," Mr Elham added.
The UN Security Council two weeks ago tightened sanctions against Tehran over its refusal to heed the world body's calls to freeze uranium enrichment, a potential weapons-making process.
1. U.S. Names Nonproliferation Envoy, Focus on Russia
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The United States has appointed U.S. Ambassador Jackie Wolcott as special envoy for nuclear nonproliferation with the job of implementing a nuclear energy deal with Russia, the State Department said on Friday.
Wolcott previously served as U.S. alternate representative at the United Nations in New York and was a permanent representative to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva.
"In this capacity, Ambassador Wolcott will work with counterparts in other countries to develop international cooperation to strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime," the State Department said of Wolcott's new role.
One of the main jobs in her new post will be to help implement a nuclear energy and nonproliferation declaration initialed by U.S. President George W. Bush and outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin last July after talks in Kennebunkport, Maine.
The two leaders pledged to expand nuclear energy cooperation and make nuclear power available to other states and reduce their own strategic nuclear weapons to the lowest possible levels.
"The declaration reflects a shared vision of support for expansion of the use of nuclear energy worldwide in a way that reduces the risk of nuclear proliferation," added the statement announcing Wolcott's new job.
The agreement listed 10 ways to fulfill their pledge of broader cooperation with other countries, including how to deal with spent nuclear fuel, provide a steady supply of fuel, and ensure financing for the project.
"Those are the three key ones. A lot of work has gone into developing those aspects of the project," Wolcott said in a telephone interview with Reuters.
She said Russia had also designated a special envoy to deal with the issue and they had met in Vienna last week and were preparing for more talks next month.
"We will be working to see how we can make this a practical and concrete project," she said. "My job is to take it to the next step where we are dealing with (nuclear fuel) supplier states and recipient countries," she added.
The goal was to ensure that countries using nuclear fuel did it the "right way" and did not expand the fuel cycle to producing nuclear weapons.
Wolcott will not handle the North Korea nuclear file, which will still be dealt with by senior State Department official Chris Hill while Iran's nuclear dossier will be the responsibility of incoming Undersecretary of State, William Burns.
In their bid to prevent states like North Korea and Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the United States and some other nuclear weapons states have been accused of a two-tiered system in which some states are allowed by international law to have atomic weapons and other states are denied that right.
India's foreign minister was preparing to fly to Washington yesterday as the government tried to save a landmark deal on nuclear co-operation with America which symbolises a vital alliance between the two countries.
But India's Left-wing parties, whose support in parliament is vital for Manmohan Singh, the prime minister, have opposed the deal.
They believe the agreement amounts to an American attempt to drag India into its orbit.
Under this pact, America would provide India with civilian nuclear technology in return for the country's adherence to safeguards preventing the spread of the means to build atomic weapons.
Pranab Mukherjee, India's foreign minister, failed to win over the Left at a conference in New Delhi on Monday.
When he arrives in Washington he is expected to tell the Bush administration that India needs more time to reach a consensus.
But if the US Congress is to ratify the agreement before the elections in November, India must sign by July.
Officials in New Delhi believe the nuclear deal serves the country's interests. India's economy has grown by nine per cent in each of the last three years.
This success will only continue if the country can generate more electricity. The government plans to increase the amount produced by nuclear power stations fivefold in the next decade.
Since India tested five nuclear bombs in 1998, however, world powers have withheld crucial technology. The deal would lift these restrictions and offer American technical help.
"The thinking behind this is very clear," said one senior official in New Delhi. "We need energy if we are to continue to grow at this rate and we need cleaner fuel. We also need to break through the technology denial regimes which presently surround us."
Left unspoken is another key motive. Faced with the rise of China, India and America are becoming close allies.
As well as building nuclear power stations in India, America hopes to sell New Delhi's air force 126 new fighters.
China and India fought a border war in 1962 and the two countries still have bitter territorial disputes.
When India tested its nuclear weapons 10 years ago, the government made clear that counter-balancing China was the key motive for its entry into the nuclear club.
After another decade of stellar economic growth in China, India is still determined to stay out of its neighbour's shadow.
Satish Chandra, formerly India's deputy national security adviser, said China's foreign policy had "hegemonic designs".
"China has a clear intent to outpace the USA and be number one," he said. ''They have clear global ambitions to be the number one power in 2040 or 2050."
Mr Chandra added: "The way they are dealing with us clearly indicates that they are trying to keep India in check."
In the next five years, India aims to spend more than ï¿½22.5 billion on re-equipping its entire military machine.
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