1. NKorea Says US Delays on Nuclear Dispute Will 'Gravely' Affect Ongoing Disablement
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North Korea blamed the United States for the deadlock in their nuclear negotiations, warning Friday that the Americans' attitude could "gravely" affect ongoing disablement of its atomic facilities.
The North's Foreign Ministry said the communist nation had done its best to clear U.S. suspicions that it pursued a uranium-based atomic bomb program and also transferred nuclear technology to Syria, but Washington was sticking to its "wrong" claims.
"The United States is clinging to shabby magic to make us a criminal in order to save face," the ministry said in a statement carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
"If the United States keeps delaying the resolution of the nuclear issue ... it could gravely affect disablement of nuclear facilities," it said.
The North agreed last year to shut down and disable its sole functioning nuclear reactor and other atomic facilities, and to fully declare all its nuclear programs by the end of last year in exchange for aid and political concessions.
Negotiations on further steps have stalled, however, as the U.S. accused Pyongyang of not giving a full account of its nuclear programs. Despite that impasse, disablement work has continued although the North says the process has slowed.
North Korea has claimed it gave the U.S. a nuclear list in November. But Washington has said the North never produced a "complete and correct" list that would address all its past atomic activity.
2. Seoul Says Time, Patience Running Out on N.Korea
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South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said on Wednesday major powers were losing patience with North Korea's failure to produce a full declaration of its nuclear programs as agreed in a 2005 deal.
Speaking at a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, he said North Korea must meet its commitment to provide a complete and correct declaration of its nuclear activities, which was promised for the end of last year.
"Time and patience is running out. We hope North Korea will submit a declaration as soon as possible so as not to lose good timing," he said in his first trip to Washington as South Korea's foreign minister.
The Bush administration's term ends in January 2009 and while Yu did not mention this, U.S. allies are becoming increasingly conscious of the U.S. political timetable.
Yu did not indicate what, if any, ultimatums might be issued to the North Koreans, or whether the major powers dealing with the issue might offer more inducements.
The accord under which North Korea agreed to abandon all its nuclear programs in exchange for economic and diplomatic benefits has been stalled by Pyongyang's failure to produce a declaration of those programs by the end of last year.
The so-called six-party agreement was made between the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
U.S. President George W. Bush spoke to Chinese President Hu Jintao on Wednesday over North Korea, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in a statement.
"The two presidents pledged to continue to work closely with the other six-party partners in urging North Korea to deliver a complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear weapons programs and nuclear proliferation activities, and to complete the agreed disablement," Perino said.
RICE: TIME FOR MOVEMENT
Rice said there had been some progress in terms of North Korea shutting down and disabling its nuclear reactor in Yongbyon, but they needed to go further.
"It is really time now for there to be movement on the declaration so that with that declaration in hand, we can move forward on the next phase," she said.
A recent sticking point in the declaration had been Pyongyang's reluctance to discuss any transfer of nuclear technology to other nations, notably Syria, as well as its suspected pursuit of uranium enrichment.
Asked whether the Syrian issue was holding back the North Korean declaration, Rice declined to be drawn specifically on the cause of the delay.
"We expect that the declaration and any associated documents will show the full range of the North Korean programs and activities," Rice said.
"It was supposed to be completed on December 31st. I am not one to say that exact deadlines are that important -- to get it right is more important. But I completely agree with the minister, we have been at this for quite a long time," said Rice, signaling U.S. impatience.
She reiterated the United States was ready to meet its own obligations under the six-party agreement, which includes a range of benefits for North Korea if it gave up its nuclear programs.
These include the prospect of normal ties with the United States and the rest of the world, humanitarian aid and fuel oil. The United States has also held out the possibility of dropping North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and easing sanctions.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has ordered a complete inventory of the nation's nuclear arsenal and all associated components after the discovery last week that four secret nuclear missile parts had been mistakenly sent to Taiwan, an error that went unnoticed for more than 18 months.
Gates had already ordered a high-level investigation into how the four nose-cone fuse assemblies for U.S. intercontinental ballistic missiles were shipped overseas in place of common helicopter batteries -- the military's second major nuclear-related incident in less than a year. Senior Pentagon officials have called the episode "extremely embarrassing," and it has both strained relations with China and called into question the U.S. military's ability to maintain its arsenal of catastrophic weapons.
"This is about the trust and confidence of the American people and our stewardship of the most dangerous weapons in the world," said Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon's press secretary. "Getting to the bottom of this incident and ensuring our nuclear arsenal and associated components are properly safeguarded must be a top priority of this department. Secretary Gates believes this situation is totally and completely unacceptable."
Gates has ordered the Air Force, the Navy and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) to take inventory of and assess control measures for all nuclear weapons and their associated parts within 60 days, "to verify positive control and accountability of all such materials," according to a memo released yesterday. While the United States has tight control procedures for such devices and equipment, those measures did not prevent the nose cones from being shipped overseas without anyone noticing.
The measures also failed last August, when the Air Force unknowingly flew nuclear warheads between North Dakota and Louisiana, losing track of them for 36 hours.
Taiwan received the four ballistic missile fuses from the DLA in August 2006, instead of the helicopter batteries that it was supposed to get as part of billions of dollars in U.S. military sales to the country. Taiwanese officials had been contacting the United States over the past year to determine what to do with the erroneous items, with U.S. officials at one point instructing their disposal, U.S. authorities told The Washington Post this week.
Last week, Taiwanese officials told the United States that they believed they had received "warhead-related" materials, sparking efforts to safeguard and retrieve the items.
Officials in Taiwan confirmed those accounts, with one defense official telling parliament that Washington was passive in responding to reports from Taiwanese military officials, who discovered the mistake in late 2006, according to the Kyodo News Service.
"We informed the U.S. of the erroneous shipment. . . . Afterward, they didn't do much about it," Vice Minister of Defense Lin Chen-yi told parliament. He said U.S. officials, even a year after they were notified, told Taiwan to handle the situation itself.
Early indications are that the nose cones' outer packaging was mislabeled, and an investigation aims to determine how a string of security failures occurred.
Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), co-chair of the House Bipartisan Task Force on Nonproliferation, said yesterday that the recent errors show that the military needs to revamp its control procedures.
"Otherwise, we run the risk that the next time our sensitive equipment ends up in the wrong hands, it won't simply be a matter of 'return to sender,' " he said in a statement.
1. Egypt Consolidates Lead in Arab Nuclear Power Race
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By signing a deal this week with Russia, Egypt is pushing forward with its desire to stay at the head of a nuclear family Arab nations are creating to counterbalance Iran and Israel.
A handshake between Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday sealed the nuclear cooperation deal that looks set to cause some concern in the West.
"Western countries can be intrigued and a little concerned, even if nothing has (yet) been concluded on a commercial level," Antoine Basbous, director of the Paris-based Arab World Observatory told AFP.
Russia, which is close to completing Iran's controversial first nuclear facility in Bushehr, is keen to re-establish a commercial and diplomatic presence in the Middle East.
Putin praised Egypt as "one of the leaders of the Islamic and the Arab world" and said Russian-Egyptian relations were of "strategic importance."
In October, Mubarak decided to relaunch Egypt's nuclear energy programme, started with the Soviet Union in 1961 but frozen following the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in the Ukraine.
A tender will be launched later this year for Egypt's first nuclear reactor, expected to be built at Dabaa on the Mediterranean coast at a cost of 1.5 to 1.8 billion dollars.
While on the face of it the deal simply allows Russia to bid for that contract, Mubarak's declaration that it followed "difficult" negotiations suggests substantial details of the deal have yet to emerge.
The nuclear desire seems to be spreading throughout the unstable region, with a dozen Arab nations, from the Gulf to the Atlantic, having declared their nuclear power aspirations.
"This is an Arab right," Mubarak declared at last year's Arab League summit in Riyadh, heralding a vision of an Arab nuclear family.
Six Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia, as well as Yemen, Jordan, Libya, Algeria and Morocco have said they would like to have civilian nuclear programmes in an atmosphere made heavier by Iran's rampant nuclear crisis.
As yet, no Arab nation figures on the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) list of 31 countries with nuclear power plants.
Arab nations cite their need for energy security in the face of ever-expanding domestic energy demands. This includes countries with vast oil and gas reserves, which can be more profitable if exported.
"It's Iran's wish to accelerate its dubious programme that has pushed Arab countries to throw themselves into the race for nuclear power," said Basbous.
The IAEA's Egyptian chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, said in February that "all the Arab countries' nuclear activities will be under agency safeguard systems, so I don't see why anybody should be concerned."
Amid Western doubts over the ultimate civilian or military aims of Iran's programme, they have yet to announce any misgivings over Arab nuclear ambitions.
While Western analysts mention the risk of nuclear proliferation in the hyper-sensitive Middle East, their governments give priority to their commercial interests.
The United States has signed an initial nuclear cooperation agreement with Bahrain. France, whose Areva is the world leader in commercial nuclear energy, has signed similar agreements with Algeria, Libya and the United Arab Emirates.
Egypt, which ratified the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1981, seeks a nuclear weapons-free Middle East and regularly criticises Israel for its undeclared nuclear arsenal.
However, Egypt has also said it will not sign a voluntary additional protocol to the NPT that would allow more intrusive inspections, saying it could make it too dependent on other countries for nuclear energy needs.
Israel, which has never admitted to having a nuclear arsenal but is widely believed to have around 200 warheads, is the only Middle Eastern country not to have signed the NPT.
1. Britain, France Sign Civil Nuclear Cooperation Pact
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French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown agreed on Thursday to cooperate on civil nuclear technology, improving French companies' chances of leading the UK's nuclear power push.
France already gets 78 percent of its electricity from nuclear power and the deal will give French companies favoured access to Britain where the government says it urgently needs a new fleet of nuclear reactors.
After their meeting at a soccer stadium in north London, the two leaders said in a statement they had agreed to streamline the development of projects by getting French and British nuclear regulators to work more closely on nuclear safety, security, waste management and reactor licensing.
They also agreed to increase the exchange of nuclear technicians and expertise, which France's thriving nuclear industry can offer more of after decades of decline in the sector in Britain.
The two leaders said the deal might at some stage be extended to include other European Union countries.
EDF Energy, the British subsidiary of major French power utility EDF, has said it wants to build four new nuclear power plants in Britain and has opted for the new European EPR reactor design.
It is one of four designs being vetted by the British government for pre-construction approval.
British Business Minister John Hutton said on Wednesday he hoped the Anglo-French civil nuclear cooperation would help make Britain a springboard for the global rebirth of the nuclear power industry in the face of global warming.
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