1. Envoys at Talks on Iranian Nuclear Program Reach Some Agreements on Incentives for Tehran
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The five permanent U.N. Security Council members as well as Germany and the European Union "reached agreements on some major parts" during the closed-door meeting, said Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister He Yafei, who hosted the session. He did not give details of the talks, which ended Wednesday.
The envoys discussed proposed political, security and economic incentives designed to coax Tehran into stopping a uranium enrichment program that the U.S. and many other countries fear could produce weapons material.
"On the whole, the six countries agreed to continue diplomatic efforts," He said.
He gave no details on what might have held up a full agreement.
Iran was not invited to participate in the talks, which featured the EU and the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China ï¿½ the six countries that have led efforts to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions.
In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called the session a "good meeting" about incentives but said more work was needed for the six nations to reach consensus.
"They had some good discussions but the bottom line is they are going to have to continue discussions on it," McCormack told reporters. He said any incentives must be accompanied by Iranian compliance with demands to suspend its uranium reprocessing and enrichment.
Iran insists its program is only meant to produce energy and has refused to suspend it despite three rounds of Security Council sanctions.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently said his country was installing thousands of new uranium-enriching centrifuges.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the claim could not be immediately verified.
Iran has about 3,000 centrifuges operating at an underground facility. That is the commonly accepted figure for a nuclear enrichment program that is past the experimental stage and can be used for a program to produce material for dozens of nuclear weapons.
Iran has said it plans to move toward large-scale uranium enrichment that will ultimately involve 54,000 centrifuges.
Tehran has brushed off international concern, pointing to a February report by the International Atomic Energy Agency that said all major past issues surrounding Iran's nuclear activities had been resolved or are "no longer outstanding at this stage."
A top Iranian official, however, abruptly canceled a Monday meeting with the head of the IAEA, an agency official said.
Iran's progress in developing uranium enrichment is slow and recent additions to its nuclear fuel production complex have only been older-model centrifuges, the head of the U.N. atomic watchdog chief said on Thursday.
Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Iran had between 3,300 and 3,400 centrifuges of the 1970s vintage P-1 type operational in the Natanz enrichment hall, up from 3,000 at the end of last year.
He urged Iran to refrain from speeding up its enrichment campaign until a dispute between the Islamic Republic and world powers over suspicions about its nuclear intentions was resolved.
Iran says it wants to produce nuclear fuel only for electricity so it can export more oil.
However, the United Nations has imposed three sets of sanctions on Tehran for hiding the work from the IAEA until 2003, failing to prove to inspectors since then that it is wholly peaceful and refusing to suspend the program.
"They are basically making some centrifuges of the old type, the P-1 centrifuges that have already been there. The rate of progress on that has not been very fast," ElBaradei told a news conference during a visit to Berlin.
"I think they had 3,000 centrifuges in the past and now they have 3,300 or 3,400 so they are not moving very fast.
"I continue to call on Iran not to speed the process because we first need to have an agreement before Iran moves forward with its enrichment program."
Iran said last week it had installed almost 500 more centrifuges at Natanz under plans to bring a further 6,000 on line.
Tehran said it was testing an advanced centrifuge, which analysts say could refine uranium two or three times faster than the temperamental P-1 in Natanz's pilot wing.
Diplomats monitoring Iran's program told Reuters on April 3 that Iran had brought some advanced centrifuges into the main plant, although none were yet running.
Iran has yet to show it can run thousands of centrifuges in unison at high speed for long periods, the key to enriching significant quantities of uranium as fuel for power plants or atomic bombs, depending on the configuration of the machines.
The cylindrical devices spin compounds of uranium at supersonic speed to separate out and concentrate the most fissile isotope of the element for use as nuclear fuel.
Iran launched 3,000 centrifuges, a basis for industrial scale enrichment, in the subterranean Natanz hall last year.
Analysts believe Iran aims gradually to replace its start-up P-1 centrifuge with a new generation it adapted from a P-2 design, obtained via black markets from the West.
ElBaradei, in Berlin for a conference of 32 countries discussing ideas for a multilateral nuclear fuel production site, said he hoped to be able to make concrete proposals by the end of 2008 on the ambitious undertaking.
"We would like to have an IAEA-manned (fuel) bank of last resort," ElBaradei said. He added that $150 million was needed to start the bank and that $105 million had been pledged so far.
"So hopefully within the year, once we get the resources, we would then go to the IAEA (board of governors) to look into precisely the legal and political requirements."
1. New Mechanism Set to Verify North Korea's Nuclear Program
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A mechanism is being set up to scrutinize any declaration provided by North Korea of its nuclear weapons program, the United States said Wednesday amid scepticism over a tentative deal between the two nations.
The "new effort" will verify the long-delayed declaration by Pyongyang under a six-nation aid-for-denuclearization deal, the State Department said.
"That's something that will be handled in the verification subgroup" of the six-party talks, department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters when asked on prospective "verification methods" for North Korea's nuclear program under the bid to end Pyongyang's atomic weapons drive.
The verification mechanism is expected to be set up under the "denuclearization of the Korean peninsula" working group, one of five groups set up under a February 2007 agreement among the six parties.
"It's a new effort. It's something that has been integrated into the talks, and I guess as a bureacratic grouping then organized within the context of those talks," McCormack said.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had discussed the establishment of the verification subgroup with leaders of China and well as other countries, a State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The announcement of the verification measure Wednesday came amid criticism of a reported prospective deal reached earlier this month between US and North Korean envoys for the hardline communist state to declare its nuclear program.
Under the deal, North Korea would provide a list of its plutonium stockpile and merely "acknowledge" concerns listed by the United States about its suspected uranium enrichment and nuclear proliferation activities, reports have said.
Washington had earlier called for a full accounting of an alleged North Korean secret uranium enrichment program and suspected proliferation of nuclear technology and material to Syria, charges denied by Pyongyang.
Although the latest deal may have broken the months-old deadlock, it has caused a great deal of scepticism among experts.
"After months of demanding that the North live up to its promise to provide a 'complete declaration of its nuclear programs,' the US is now backtracking," the Wall Street Journal said in an editorial Wednesday headlined "Six-party giveaway."
John Bolton, a former State Department non-proliferation chief, said the deal "rests on trust and not verification" and warned that Pyongyang's "escape from accountability could break down international counter-proliferation efforts."
But Rice said last week that any declaration from North Korea had to be "verified and it has to be verifiable.
"And we have to make certain that we have means to assess what the North Koreans tell us, and we have to have means to verify what the North Koreans tell us," she said.
North Korea had missed a December 31, 2007 deadline for providing a full declaration of its nuclear program and proliferation activities, delaying implementation of its denuclearization drive that Washington wants completed before President George W. Bush leaves office in January 2009.
After testing a nuclear bomb in October 2006, Pyongyang closed its key atomic plant and is now on the verge of disabling it under the six-party deal.
If North Korea completes providing the nuclear declaration, the parties could move to implement the final phase of dismantling its nuclear program and materials.
2. SKorea Seeks Resumption of Nuclear Talks with NKorea
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South Korea wants stalled talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear programs to resume quickly, Seoul's new nuclear envoy said Thursday.
The disarmament talks have been deadlocked for months over disagreements on whether the communist nation has kept a pledge to declare its nuclear programs.
North Korea has claimed it gave the United States the nuclear list in November. But Washington has said the North never produced a "complete and correct" list that would address all its past activity.
South Korea chief nuclear negotiator Kim Sook said at a news conference that consultations are under way among the parties to quickly convene the talks, which were last held in October. He did not give a specific timeframe.
A meeting earlier this month in Singapore between the U.S. and the North appears to have paved the way for a breakthrough.
"The six-way talks could be resumed" after China distributes the North's declaration to other countries at the talks, Kim said. North Korea is required to submit its declaration to China, the host of talks that also include the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.
Kim's comments came as U.S. diplomats planned to visit North Korea in an attempt to nudge along a face-saving deal struck earlier this month in Singapore between U.S. and North Korean envoys.
If all goes well, North Korea could produce a long-promised accounting of its nuclear past by the end of April. The Bush administration would then move to lift sanctions on the secretive communist regime, a reward it has long sought.
The U.S. and its partners Russia, China, South Korea and Japan, plan to form a verification committee as part of their attempt to make sure that the North provide a full accounting of its nuclear program and past activities.
Kim called for a thorough verification but said it will take time.
1. Westinghouse Says Nigeria, Egypt Interested in Nuclear Program
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Westinghouse Electric Co., the nuclear-reactor builder controlled by Toshiba Corp., said Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt have expressed interest over what it would take to develop a nuclear program.
Westinghouse Regional Vice President for South Africa Rita Bowser commented today in a speech in Johannesburg.
South Africa's state-owned electricity utility Eskom Holding Ltd. has short-listed Westinghouse and Areva SA to build the country's second nuclear plant as it seeks to ease a national power shortage. A contractor for the 3,250-megawatt plant will be chosen in June, the Nuclear Industry Association of South Africa said on April 15.
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