1. Washington Touts Success of Non-Proliferation Initiative
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A key US arms control official on Tuesday hailed a five-year-old US-led initiative aimed at halting trafficking in weapons of mass destruction, but offered little proof of the scheme's success.
The Proliferation Security Initiative was unveiled by President George W. Bush in Krakow, Poland on May 31, 2003, with a view to improving global coordination to intercept weapons shipments by rogue states and terrorist groups.
A year later, the White House declared the initiative a "great success" and said it played "a central role in our overall efforts to counter WMD (weapons of mass destruction) proliferation."
On Tuesday, when reporters asked for proof that PSI was as effective as claimed, under secretary of state for arms control and international security John Rood outlined "a number of successes" for the initiative, including international exercises and the burgeoning numbers of signatories to the US-led pact.
But he refused to go into detail about how many illicit arms shipment have been thwarted since PSI was launched.
"We have released some examples of successes but there are intelligence and other issues involved," he said.
"There are reasons why, when information has been clandestinely acquired, you want to protect that to the extent that you can from public disclosure.
"Depending on the circumstances of the interdiction, various people will know, or they may not know, exactly what led to it," he said.
He described PSI as having "grown to be recognized as one of the standards for non-proliferation behavior around the world," and said its aim "was first to build awareness and support among nations to stop proliferation-related shipments," he said.
"Metric (of success) number one: we have 90 countries participating in just five years," Rood said.
"Are those countries really committed? Are they working together more? I think there we have very good metrics as well," he said.
US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley is due to hold a news conference on Wednesday about PSI, Rood said, urging reporters not to "measure PSI's success from the number of scalps."
1. Iran's New Parliament Speaker Warns of Imposing New Limits on Cooperation with IAEA
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Iran's new parliament speaker Ali Larijani warned Wednesday that Tehran could impose new limits on its cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog after a critical report from the agency.
Larijani, formerly the country's top nuclear negotiator, was overwhelmingly elected as parliament speaker Wednesday. Moments later, he told parliament that a new report by the International Atomic Energy Agency was "deplorable."
The unusually strongly worded report issued Monday said Iran may be withholding information needed to establish whether it tried to make nuclear weapons.
"We recommend them not to clandestinely keep passing Iran's nuclear dossier between the IAEA and 5-plus-1 group. This parliament won't allow such deception," Larijani told an open session of parliament broadcast live on state-run radio.
He was referring to IAEA reports and permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany. The council has imposed three sets of sanctions against Iran for its refusal to halt enriching uranium ï¿½ a process that can be used to generate electricity or nuclear arms.
"Should this behavior continue, the parliament...will set new limits on cooperation with the IAEA," Larijani said.
His comments drew chants of "God is great" and "Death to America" from the chamber.
The tone of the IAEA report suggesting Tehran continues to stonewall the U.N. nuclear monitor revealed a glimpse of the frustration felt by agency investigators stymied in their attempts to gain full answers to suspicious aspects of Iran's past nuclear activities.
Iran has previously described its cooperation with the agency's probe as positive, suggesting it was providing information requested by agency officials.
In the past, Iran had extensive voluntary cooperation with the IAEA beyond its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, including allowing IAEA inspectors to visit its military sites as a goodwill gesture to build trust.
But Tehran ended all voluntary cooperation with the IAEA, including allowing snap inspections of its nuclear facilities, in February 2006 after being reported to the U.N. Security Council.
Ever since, Iran has limited its cooperation to only its obligations under the NPT. The treaty does not require Iran to allow short notice intrusive inspections of its facilities.
Larijani didn't specify what measures the parliament would take, but it could include further scaling back cooperation by not responding to questions originating from Western intelligence agencies.
1. U.S., North Korea Hold ï¿½Goodï¿½ Talks on Nuclear List, Hill Says
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U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said he held positive talks with his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye Gwan, as the communist nation completes a declaration of its nuclear programs.
``It was a good discussion,'' Hill said late yesterday in Beijing after the meeting. ``We've emphasized the importance we attach to making a declaration'' that can be verified.
Hill, the chief U.S. negotiator in the six-nation forum aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear program, also met with his Chinese counterpart and will hold talks with Russian officials to assess North Korea's recent disclosures. North Korea released more than 18,000 pages of documents this month in a partial fulfillment of its pledge to account for its nuclear programs.
The six-nation nuclear talks have stalled since North Korea missed a Dec. 31 deadline to declare its materials and installations. As part of an incentive package, the U.S. promised to remove the government in Pyongyang from its list of state sponsors of terrorism once North Korea disables its Yongbyon reactor and lists its programs.
North Korea may provide the declaration to Chinese officials at the end of this month, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said last week. The next session of six-party talks may be held in Beijing in the first half of June, he added.
``We discussed the need to try to work on a timeframe for the submission of the declaration and for our own political actions,'' Hill said. ``We will be talking more about that.''
Under the supervision of U.S. nuclear specialists, North Korea is disabling Yongbyon, the source of its weapons-grade plutonium, as part of a six-party accord reached last year. The U.S., South Korea, China, Japan and Russia promised to deliver North Korea 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil under the agreement.
Chinese President Hu Jintao and South Korean President Lee Myung Bak agreed yesterday in Beijing to closely cooperate in the six-nation talks. South Korea's chief nuclear negotiator Kim Sook is accompanying Lee during the May 27-30 visit to China.
Syria has yet to accept a request from the U.N. nuclear watchdog to visit a site where Washington says Damascus covertly built an atomic reactor, and has demanded more details about the proposed trip, diplomats said.
The head of the U.N. body, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said on May 7 that he hoped to be able to shed light "in the next few weeks" on whether a Syrian facility, bombed by Israel last year, was an undeclared nuclear reactor.
Syria, an ally of Iran whose secretive nuclear program is under U.N. sanctions and IAEA investigation, has rejected as fabricated U.S. intelligence pointing to an almost completed graphite reactor erected with North Korean help.
Damascus, whose only declared nuclear facility is an old research reactor under IAEA inspection, has said Israel's target was only a disused military building in its eastern desert that had no nuclear link.
At the start of May, the IAEA wrote to Syria asking to see the targeted area. Syrian atomic energy chief Ibrahim Othman visited Vienna on May 9 for talks with the agency's chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, diplomats familiar with the matter said.
Those talks did not produce any agreement on the timing and nature of a trip by senior inspectors, they added.
One diplomat said on condition of anonymity that the agency had received a letter from Damascus earlier this week asking for more details on the proposed visit. The agency has replied and is now waiting for a further response, the diplomat added.
"NOTHING TO HIDE"
Syria's U.N. envoy said in late April that Damascus would cooperate with the IAEA inquiry and had "nothing to hide."
ElBaradei has chided the United States for waiting until last month to share its intelligence. Analysts citing fresh satellite photos said Syria had razed the site in the meantime, possibly to erase evidence and put up a new building.
Diplomats close to the IAEA said it would be harder for inspectors to detect evidence than before the bombing of a site where Washington said secret nuclear activity dated from 2001.
It is highly unlikely inspectors would find major components of a reactor or related equipment, but they will want to test for traces of graphite or uranium alloys and examine the local water supply system, Israeli nuclear analyst Ephraim Asculai said in an emailed statement earlier in May.
Another report this month by independent nuclear experts briefed by U.S. officials said Syria went to great lengths to foil aerial surveillance by building a false roof and walls to alter what are the normal telltale contours of a reactor.
Some analysts have questioned whether the U.S. material amounted to proof of any undeclared nuclear arms program.
Gregory Schulte, the U.S. envoy to the IAEA, reiterated on Wednesday the facility at the site was not a typical power or research reactor.
"Syrian authorities have a lot of explaining to do," Schulte told journalists. "They must allow IAEA inspectors to visit the site and ensure there are no other undeclared activities."
Chinese and Russian officials signed a $1 billion deal Friday to have Moscow build a nuclear fuel enrichment plant in China and supply uranium.
The deal, which strengthens Russia's role as a supplier to China's fast-growing nuclear power industry, was signed during a visit to Beijing by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao watched as officials signed the deal at the Great Hall of the People, the seat of China's legislature.
The deal calls for Russia to build a $500 million nuclear fuel enrichment plant and supply semi-enriched uranium worth at least $500 million.
"It's a good addition to our presence in China," said Sergei Kiriyenko, chief of Rosatom, the Russian government-controlled nuclear equipment company.
Russia is looking to China as an important market for civilian nuclear technology as Beijing builds more nuclear power plants in an effort to curb the country's rapid growth in the use of fossil fuels.
Earlier this year, a Russian company completed work on two 1,000-megawatt light-water reactors for China's Tianwan nuclear power plant south of Shanghai.
China plans to build 40 plants by 2020, tripling the nuclear share of its power generation to 6 percent.
A nuclear power plant built with Russian technology at Lianyungang on China's east coast north of Shanghai began operating in 2006.
Other nuclear power plants in China are based on French, Canadian and Chinese technology. Westinghouse Electric Co., which is owned by Japan's Toshiba Corp., signed a deal last year to supply China's first four U.S.-designed plants.
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