1. US moves to seize US assets of Iranian bank's "front" company
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US authorities Wednesday designated New York-based Assa Corp. as a "front company" of an Iranian state-owned bank linked to weapons proliferation, and moved to seize its assets.
The US Treasury said that Assa had funnelled funds to Bank Melli, branded by Washington and the European Union as a "proliferator" linked to Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
"This scheme to use a front company set up by Bank Melli -- a known proliferator -- to funnel money from the United States to Iran is yet another example of Iran's duplicity," said the Treasury's under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence Stuart Levey.
"The dangerous mix of proliferation and deception has led the United States, the European Union and Australia to designate Bank Melli, and the United Nations to issue a call for vigilance with respect to all Iranian banks," he said in a statement.
The Treasury charged that the bank provided financial services, including opening letters of credit and maintaining accounts, for Iranian front companies and entities engaged in proliferation activities.
In addition, Bank Melli has facilitated the purchase of sensitive materials utilized by Iran's nuclear and missile industries, and has handled transactions for other designated Iranian entities, including Bank Sepah, Defense Industries Organization, and the Shahid Hammat Industrial Group, the statement said.
The US Justice Department said separately Wednesday that it was pursuing legal action to seize ASSA's assets in New York.
They included a 40 percent interest in a 36-story office tower at the upscale Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, New York.
"In the forfeiture complaint, the United States seeks to forfeit all right, title and interest of Assa Corporation, Assa Company Limited, and Bank Melli in 650 Fifth Avenue Company, including 650 Fifth Avenue's interest in the building," a statement by the department said.
The United States also sought to seize funds that were seized from Assa Corp.'s bank accounts, it said.
Assa Corp.'s interest in 650 Fifth Avenue Company was "forfeitable as property involved in money laundering and a conspiracy to commit money laundering," it said.
Washington has steadily upped sanctions against Iranian entities in hopes of pressuring Tehran to pull back on its nuclear program -- which the US says is aimed at developing nuclear weapons -- and to halt its alleged support for groups Washington has labelled "terrorist," including Lebanon's Hezbollah and armed Palestinian groups.
Iran, a leading OPEC oil producer, denies it is seeking nuclear weapons and says its nuclear program aims to provide energy for its growing population when its reserves of fossil fuels run out.
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hxcxBjJw8B2isaMChJg9JFNwmhGw
1. NKorea nuclear talks fruitful despite collapse: US envoy
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The top US envoy to the North Korean nuclear disarmament negotiations, Christopher Hill, declared Tuesday that progress had been made despite the collapse of the six-nation talks last week.
"When we started this long negotiation in the summer 2005, North Korea was merrily and busily producing plutonium," Hill said in a speech at the Asia Society center Washington.
"However, since the September 2005 joint statement, they have not produced even one gram of plutonium. I think the Six-Party process takes some credit for that."
The disarmament talks -- involving the United States, the two Koreas, China, Russia and Japan -- collapsed in Beijing Thursday after failing to reach agreement on how to determine if the secretive nation had told the truth about its atomic programs.
The failure immediately led Washington to declare it would "have to rethink" its strategy towards the communist country.
After the four-day talks Hill blamed the Pyongyang regime for refusing to agree on a protocol to verify a historic declaration it made in June this year about its nuclear activities.
"It has been a tough couple of weeks," admitted Hill, who is the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs.
But his hope, he added, would be North Korea realizing what giving up its 30 kilograms (66 pounds) of plutonium could do to benefit the country.
"If you give up 30 kilos, we will relax economic sanctions. If you give up 30 kilos, we will sign, along with South Korea, the peace treaty on the Korean Peninsula," Hill said.
"If you give up the 30 kilos, the US recognizes you. If you give up 30 kilos, we will sign a bilateral assistance program."
The strategy for disarmament, he said, involves the regime realizing "what most countries in the world have come to understand, which is you don't need nuclear weapons to protect yourself; you need good relations with your neighbors to protect yourself."
Under a landmark six-nation deal reached in February 2007, North Korea agreed to give up the nuclear programs it had spent decades developing.
The pact also called for the other nations involved in the talks to deliver one million tons of fuel oil or energy aid of equivalent value to the North.
However the negotiations, which began in 2003, have been mired in countless setbacks, and did not prevent Pyongyang from testing its first atomic bomb in 2006.
And although the North made its declaration of its atomic activities in June, the next crucial step in the process was working out a way to determine if it had been telling the truth.
The talks reached apparent agreement in October on a verification procedure, which was the pact that failed Thursday.
With no date set for more talks, last week's failure all but dashed the hopes of US President George W. Bush's administration to make progress on North Korean disarmament before Barack Obama moves into the White House on January 20.
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1. Russia wants to negotiate arms control with Obama
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Russia's foreign minister said he hoped that Moscow will negotiate a new arms control deal with Barack Obama's administration, news agencies reported Wednesday.
Sergey Lavrov, echoing previous comments by Kremlin and government officials, said that Moscow is eager to negotiate a successor deal to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty which expires in December 2009.
His comments came as a top Russian military official announced that a new intercontinental ballistic missile would enter service next year but that it would not violate the treaty, news agencies reported.
"We hope that the new U.S. administration ... will cooperate constructively with us so that the START regime after December 2009 should be preserved and strengthened, rather than weakened," Lavrov was quoted by the ITAR-Tass and Interfax news agencies as saying.
START I was signed by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and President George H.W. Bush, obligating each country to cut its nuclear warhead stocks by at least one-quarter to about 6,000.
Col. Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, the head of Russian missile forces, was quoted by Interfax and ITAR-Tass news agencies as saying the RS-24 missile equipped with multiple nuclear warheads will enter service in 2009.
Under the START I pact, adding multiple warheads to existing single-warhead missiles is banned, but Solovtsov said the RS-24 is in fact a new type of missile.
Solovtsov also said that Russia would introduce new missiles capable of countering any prospective missile shield — an apparent reference to the U.S. missile defense plans which the Kremlin sees as a threat to Russia and fiercely opposes.
A second arms control deal — the so-called Treaty of Moscow — was signed in 2002 and called for cutting each country's nuclear arsenal further to 1,700-2,200 warheads by 2012. The document was closely based on START I rules and its verification procedures.
Russian and U.S. negotiators already have launched efforts to negotiate a follow-up pact, but a cold spell in Russia-U.S. relations has stymied talks.
Lavrov said that the latest round of U.S.-Russian consultations in Moscow this week were useful but no breakthrough was expected.
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China has started building a new nuclear power plant in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, the second of three Beijing aimed to begin constructing in the final two months of the year.
Beijing had said the construction of 10 nuclear reactors with 1 GW of capacity each in Fujian, Zhejiang and Guangdong would begin before year-end, when it unveiled plans last month for other large energy projects to boost infrastructure investment to buffer against the impact of the global financial crisis.
The 70 billion yuan ($10.2 billion) Yangjiang plant, in Yangjiang City, will have six units with each having one gigawatt of power generating capacity, the plant operator, China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group, said on its website (www.cgnpc.com.cn).
Yangjiang will adopt CPR1000, a home-grown pressurised water reactor technology, and the first unit is scheduled to begin operations in 2013, the operator said.
All six units will be built by 2017, the official Xinhua news agency said.
Last month, China launched the construction of the Fuqing nuclear plant in neighbouring Fujian province that would also house six reactors of 1 GW each, according to project operator China National Nuclear Corporation.
The planned reactors in the two plants have exceeded the number that Beijing said would be built.
For a factbox of China's nuclear power plants and plans, please click on [nPEK201749].
China's voracious energy appetite has shown signs of easing amid the looming economic recession, but its heavy reliance on dirty coal has created mounting environmental challenges for the authorities.
The government set ambitious goals to cut energy use per unit of gross domestic product by 20 percent in the five year through 2010 while reducing emissions of pollutants, but so far it has failed to meet the set targets.
China wants to speed up its nuclear power expansion and it has lifted the targeted share of nuclear capacity in the power mix to 5 percent by 2020 from an original plan of 4 percent.
China currently has only 9 GW of nuclear power capacity, or about 1.3 percent of its total.
Available at: http://uk.reuters.com/article/oilRpt/idUKPEK28021520081217?sp=true
1. AREVA signs uranium supply contract with Indian Govt
India Infoline News Service
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This contract paves the way for a Franco-Indian partnership in the field of civil nuclear electricity generation
AREVA signed the first foreign uranium supply since the reopenning in September of nuclear businesses between India and the rest of the world. This contract paves the way for a Franco-Indian partnership in the field of civil nuclear electricity generation.
The agreement, signed at a ceremony held in Mumbai, includes a commitment from AREVA to the Indian Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to supply 300 tons of uranium to the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) to supply its reactors under the International Energy Atomic Agency control (IAEA).
The contract comes notably in the wake of the bilateral agreement made at the France-India summit of September 30, for cooperation in developing peaceful nuclear energy applications. The much-needed fuel will supplement the shortages in domestic reserves for use in India's nuclear plant fleet, currently not running at under full capacity. These 300 tons from AREVA represents more than a third of NPCIL total installed capacity.
With its considerable energy needs, India plans to make quick strides in increasing the share of nuclear electricity in its energy mix. By 2020, the country's installed nuclear plant capacity could grow exponentially from 3 to 40 Gigawatts, taking nuclear from 3 to 20% of all electricity generated.
Commenting on the new contract, Arthur de Montalembert, President of AREVA India, said: "AREVA has won India's trust for this first ever foreign fuel supply signed since the September 2008 agreement," describing it as "a turning point in the deployment of its ambitious energy program; India has taken the considered decision to give nuclear prominence in its energy mix as a means of meeting its energy needs. And AREVA is ready to put its expertise at the service of this challenge."
Available at: http://www.indiainfoline.com/news/innernews.asp?storyId=87784&lmn=1
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