1. US Prods NKorea to Give Nuclear Declaration This Month
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The United States prodded North Korea Wednesday to provide a full declaration of its nuclear weapons program this month to push ahead with an aid-for-disarmament deal.
"I think we are at a point where we really do need to make progress soon to wrap up this second phase. I certainly would like to see it done in -- even in this month, in March," chief US nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill told reporters.
He said submission of the declaration, which was originally due end-2007, was critical for North Korea to move into the denuclearization deal's next and "ambitious" phase -- dismantlement of the reclusive state's nuclear program.
Last week, Hill held talks with his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-Gwan in Geneva but was unable to get a "complete and correct" declaration.
The United States says the North has still not answered questions about an alleged covert enriched uranium weapons program and about possible nuclear cooperation with Syria. Pyongyang, which tested a nuclear bomb more than a year ago, denies both allegations.
"And now, I think, the DPRK's (North Korea's) negotiating team is back in Pyongyang and we'll give them a few days and see what the next step is," Hill said Wednesday.
"So we are trying to get this done as fast as we can. We've devoted a lot of attention to it in recent weeks as we've been in this sort of overtime period since the end of December, but we're not there yet," he explained.
Hill, who is US assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, rejected suggestions that there were problems with the format of the declaration to be made by North Korea.
"I can definitively tell you that format is not the problem," he said. "The basic problem, though, is that the DPRK is not yet prepared to provide the complete and correct declaration."
North Korea last year signed a landmark deal to abandon all its nuclear weapons in exchange for one million tonnes of badly needed fuel oil or its equivalent as well as major security and diplomatic benefits.
But the six-party process -- involving the United States, China, both Koreas, Russia and Japan -- has been stalled since North Korea missed the deadline to declare all its nuclear programs and disable a plutonium plant.
Despite it failure to declare and disable its nuclear program, Hill said the United States made a second shipment of 54,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil that arrived in North Korea in the last week or so.
"I think there are so-called heavy fuel oil equivalents that the ROK and PRC -- South Korea and China -- are working on. I think those are also arriving, so I think the record from our side is probably better," he said.
The United States, China, South Korea and Russia had earlier each dispatched 50,000 tonnes of oil to North Korea since it froze its key Yongbyon nuclear facilities and began disabling them last year.
1. Iran a Nuclear Threat, Bush Insists - Experts Say President Is Wrong and Is Escalating Tensions
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President Bush said Thursday that Iran has declared that it wants to be a nuclear power with a weapon to "destroy people," including others in the Middle East, contradicting the judgments of a recent U.S. intelligence estimate.
The president spoke in an interview intended to reach out to the Iranian public on the Persian new year and to express "moral support" for struggling freedom movements, particularly among youth and women. It was designed to stress U.S. support for Iran's quest for nuclear energy and the prospects that Washington and Tehran can "reconcile their differences" if Iran cooperates with the international community to ensure that the effort is not converted into a weapons program.
But most striking was Bush's accusation that Iran has openly declared its nuclear weapons intentions, even though a National Intelligence Estimate concluded in December that Iran had stopped its weapons program in 2003, a major reversal in the long-standing U.S. assessment.
"They've declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people -- some in the Middle East. And that's unacceptable to the United States, and it's unacceptable to the world," Bush told U.S.-funded Radio Farda, which broadcasts into Iran in Farsi.
Experts on Iran and nuclear proliferation said the president's statement was wrong. "That's as uninformed as [Sen. John] McCain's statement that Iran is training al-Qaeda. Iran has never said it wanted a nuclear weapon for any reason. It's just not true. It's a little troubling that the president and the leading Republican candidate are both so wrong about Iran," said Joseph Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation.
Others said it is unclear whether the president believes what he said or was deliberately distorting Iran's position.
"The Iranian government is on the record across the board as saying it does not want a nuclear weapon. There's plenty of room for skepticism about these assertions. But it's troubling for the administration to indicate that Iran is explicitly embracing the program as a means of destroying another country," said Suzanne Maloney, an Iran specialist at the State Department until last year and now at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center.
National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Bush was referring to previous Iranian statements about wiping Israel off the map. "The president shorthanded his answer with regard to Iran's previously secret nuclear weapons program and their current enrichment and ballistic missile testing," Johndroe said.
In two interviews beamed into Iran, Bush expressed deep respect for Iranian history and culture. In a second interview with the Voice of America's Persian News Network, Bush said: "Please don't be discouraged by the slogans that say America doesn't like you, because we do, and we respect you."
But analysts warned that Bush's statement on Iran's nuclear intentions could escalate tensions when U.S. strategy for the first time in three decades is to persuade Iran to join international talks in exchange for suspending its uranium enrichment, a process used for peaceful nuclear energy that can be converted for use in a weapons program. "The bellicose rhetoric from one side only produces the same from the other," Maloney said.
Signaling further pressure on Tehran, the administration also issued a warning on Thursday to U.S. financial institutions about the dangers of doing business with Iranian banks because of inadequate checks on money laundering and the growing risks to the international financial system posed by Iran's financial sector. "The government of Iran disguises its involvement in proliferation and terrorism activities through an array of deceptive practices," the Treasury Department said.
The advisory lists 59 major banks or their branches in cities such as Athens, Hong Kong, London and Moscow. It includes Iran's Central Bank and covers many banks not facing sanctions from the United Nations or the United States.
The Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network said that Iran's Central Bank and commercial banks started asking that their names be removed from global transactions to make it more difficult for intermediary financial institutions to determine their true identity or origin.
The United States recently imposed new restrictions on dealings with Bahrain-based Future Bank, which is controlled by Iran's Bank Melli.
"Over the past eight days, the U.S. government has undertaken a number of steps to put Tehran on notice that the international community will not allow the Iranian government to misuse the international financial system or global transportation network to further its aspirations to obtain nuclear weapons capability, improve its missile systems, or support international terrorism," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement.
Facing a stringent attack from Opposition members in the Rajya Sabha, the government on Wednesday said it could ï¿½neither mend nor endï¿½ the India-U.S. nuclear agreement as it was in dialogue at the International Atomic Energy Agency .
Responding to a short duration discussion on foreign-policy related developments, Union External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee initially did not refer to the deal as, he said, there was nothing to report.
However, when the Opposition and Left members insisted that he state the governmentï¿½s position, Mr. Mukherjee said, ï¿½Leader of Opposition Jaswant Singh said we should either mend it or end it, but we are at a stage that neither it can be ended nor it can be mended because we are in dialogue,ï¿½ he said.
Noting that there was some advancement in talks on the India-specific safeguards agreement at the IAEA, the Minister said, ï¿½whenever the procedure is over, if it is over,ï¿½ the government will come to Parliament.
Dismissing the charge that Parliament was not being taken into confidence, Mr. Mukherjee said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had assured members that whenever any stage (of negotiation) was completed, the government would share it. ï¿½[The UPA-Left Coordination Committee] is an internal arrangement. We have to carry their conviction and share some information with them.ï¿½
Refuting the charge of the government ï¿½dilutingï¿½ Indiaï¿½s foreign policy, Mr. Mukherjee asserted that there was ï¿½continuityï¿½ and India was not in isolation. There were no basic changes but only certain adjustments and reallocation of priorities in the context of the changing world. For instance, when the Non-Aligned Movement was formed, there was no World Trade Organisation. When such changes take place, they were bound to be reflected in the foreign policy he said.
On the differences of perception with China on Arunachal Pradesh, he said: ï¿½We have representatives of Arunachal Pradesh in Parliament. When the Prime Minister visits the State and declares a package, it is consistent with our policies. There are no inherent differences in approach and it would be Indiaï¿½s endeavour to convert the divergences into convergences.ï¿½
On the situation in Tibet, the Minister said while India had given shelter to spiritual leader Dalai Lama and his followers for the last several decades, they were ï¿½advised not to indulge in political activity that can jeopardise our relationship with any friendly country. If the Chinese authorities feel it is reassuring, it should not be taken as patronising.ï¿½
Mr. Mukherjee sought to assure Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury that joint military exercises with any country, including the U.S., neither meant giving up on Indiaï¿½s sovereign rights nor subjecting ï¿½ourselvesï¿½ to some sort of pressure. ï¿½Earlier we did not have the capability. Now we have. If joint exercises with Russia or China does not mean succumbing to pressure, why should it be so with the U.S.?ï¿½
Denying that India had diluted its stand on Palestine, Mr. Mukherjee said India had supported the Security Council resolution that Israel would have to vacate occupied land and that Palestinians had every right to their homeland and to live in peace as Israelis had.
Responding to wide-scale criticism of India entering into an alliance with Israel for putting a spy satellite into orbit, Mr. Mukherjee said that it had nothing to do with the two governments, but in fact, was a venture between two commercial entities.
On Sri Lanka, he said India had ï¿½no sympathyï¿½ for the LTTE ï¿½ which is a banned organisation in the country ï¿½ and felt that a political solution was the only answer to the ethnic issue. On the question of Indian fishermen being subjected to attacks by the Sri Lankan Navy, raised by D. Raja (CPI) and V. Maitreyan (AIADMK), he said negotiations were on and a solution would soon be found to benefit fishermen.
Mr. Mukherjee said the composite dialogue with Pakistan, which had been ï¿½delayedï¿½ in the wake of political development in that country , would be resumed as soon as the new government took over .
President Nicolas Sarkozy says France will cut its total nuclear arsenal to less than 300 warheads.
Sarkozy did not say how many warheads France currently has as that information is a state secret. The Federation of American Scientists, which tracks nuclear arsenals around the globe, said France had 348 warheads in a status report for 2008.
Most of France's nuclear weapons are aboard submarines. Sarkozy said France will reduce its airborne force of nuclear weapons, believed to account for less than half the total arsenal, by a third. That will leave France with less than 300, he said.
The French president was speaking Friday at the inauguration of a new nuclear submarine, "The Terrible." It was his first major speech on France's nuclear deterrent since he took power last May.
The region believed to have once been the land bridge across which the earliest human migration took place from Eurasia to the Americas promises today, as a result of climate change, to become a maritime conduit of increased global exchanges.
This has the potential of bringing nations together for peace and development. It also has the potential for disputes and conflict. At this point, we have an opportunity to make a choice.
We are all stakeholders in what happens in the Arctic - environmentally, politically, militarily and in every other way - as the ice cover melts.
Before the modern "gold rush" for oil, gas, diamonds and minerals begins to cause tensions among the eight circumpolar countries - Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States - a global regime should be established over the Arctic to mitigate the effects of climate change and for the equitable use of its resources.
In terms of military security, a choice can be made between returning to the rivalries of the Cold War or a cooperative arrangement like the 1959 Antarctic Treaty, which has preserved the area around that opposite pole "exclusively for peaceful purposes."
Already the eight countries are bound by the 1971 Seabed Treaty not to place weapons of mass destruction on the seabed beyond 12 miles off their coast.
Seven of the eight countries are also bound by the provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which can settle disputes over territorial claims in this mineral-rich area (the United States has yet to ratify the convention). Already, too, the eight countries have worked reasonably well for over a decade in the Arctic Council, especially on environmental issues, together with the permanent participants from indigenous peoples' organizations.
Yet as icebreakers begin the explorations and mapping of the Arctic seabed, there are ominous signs of the resumption of military activities with nuclear-armed submarines, aircraft patrols and heightened surveillance. It is timely therefore to raise the proposal of an Antarctic-type treaty for the Arctic.
There have been proposals before. At an early stage, the indigenous peoples themselves proposed a nuclear-weapon-free-zone in the Arctic. In 1958, the Soviet Union proposed a zone in Northern Europe free from "atomic and hydrogen bombs." In October 1987, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev called in Murmansk for an Arctic "zone of peace," directing his appeal especially to the Nordic countries. A Nordic Nuclear Weapon-free zone has also been discussed, mainly in academic circles, without ever becoming the subject of intergovernmental negotiations.
In August 2007, as a sequel to the flurry of claims and counter-claims in the Arctic, the Canadian group of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, an international organization that seeks to reduce the danger of armed conflicts, issued a paper calling for an Arctic Nuclear Weapon-free zone.
Advocating multilateral confidence-building measures to retard the pace of militarization while awaiting the strengthening of the Arctic legal regime, the group called for a nuclear-free zone in the territory and waters north of the Arctic Circle, beginning with the disputed waters of the Northwest Passage.
The Canadians drew special attention to the Antarctic Treaty of 1959. The paper noted the expiry of the START treaty in 2009 as an opportunity for negotiations to begin on the Arctic between the U.S. and Russia. The NATO alliance, which regards nuclear deterrence as a key part of its military doctrine, was identified as another obstacle - and was probably why the proposal received a cold reception from the Canadian government.
Based on the provisions of the 1968 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, existing nuclear-weapon-free-zone treaties cover some 113 countries and leave most of the Southern Hemisphere and Central Asia free of nuclear weapons. Achieving such an agreement in a region that includes two countries that together own 95 percent of the world's 26,000 nuclear weapons, as well as NATO countries, would be very difficult.
But if the non-nuclear countries around the Arctic, together with the indigenous people, join with international civil society, pressure could be exerted on the United States and Russia to agree to a Arctice nuclear-weapon-free zone, primarily as an environmental measure to safeguard the Arctic.
As the Canadians proposed, an agreement could also be placed in the context of the negotiations that must begin now to replace the U.S.-Russian START treaty and the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, known as the Treaty of Moscow, which expires in 2012.
The model of the Antarctic Treaty, of course, is there. While ensuring the usual prohibitions - such as those against stationing nuclear weapons or dumping nuclear waste in the Arctic area - an agreement could guarantee the right of transit to nuclear-weapon state, as the 1985 Treaty of Rarotonga does in the South Pacific.
Another possibility is to convert the current agreement between the United States and Russia on the prevention of incidents at sea into a multilateral treaty. Like other confidence-building measures, the agreement does not directly affect the size, weaponry, or force structure of the parties. Rather, it serves to reduce the possibility of conflict by accident, miscalculation or the failure of communication and to increase stability in times of both calm and crisis.
In short, the means are many, but the time is now.
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