A U.S.-Russia civilian nuclear power deal signed Tuesday ran into immediate trouble on Capitol Hill, where two senators said they would try to block the deal because it could hurt efforts to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., along with Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., are circulating a letter that will urge President Bush not to send the pact to Congress.
Under the deal signed Tuesday by U.S. and Russian officials in Moscow, the United States would get access to Russian state-of-the art nuclear technology. The pact would help Russia establish an international nuclear fuel storage facility by importing and storing spent fuel. The U.S. controls the vast majority of the world's nuclear fuel.
"I am very disappointed by the administration's insistence on moving forward to sign a nuclear cooperation arrangement with the Russians," Coleman said in a telephone interview. "Particularly at a time when Russia's actively undermining our foreign policy on various fronts, most importantly with respect to Iran."
In a statement, Bayh added: "U.S.-Russian nuclear cooperation is important, but stopping Iran from gaining the capacity to make nuclear weapons is an even higher priority. Russia is not doing all it can to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions, and we need to use all tools at our disposal to get more cooperation from Moscow."
Coleman and Bayh say Russia's exports of nuclear fuel to Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant and opposition to United Nations sanctions against Iran make the new deal suspect. In the letter, provided to The Associated Press, the senators say the deal "would pave the way for the increased commercialization of Russia's nuclear energy sector and could be construed as U.S. approval of its proliferation activities in Iran."
But the Bush administration now views Russia as a partner in the effort to persuade Iran to abandon nuclear weapons ambitions. A State Department official said the U.S. did not view Russia's assistance to Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant as a reason to not sign the new deal.
"In fact, the president has made clear his support for Russia's supply of nuclear fuel to Bushehr because it demonstrates that Iran does not need to possess the complete nuclear fuel cycle with its proliferation risks to take advantage of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy," said the official, who asked not to be identified because he wasn't authorized to speak on the record.
To get the deal in place, Bush must send it to Congress. It would become effective unless Congress passes legislation within 90 days to block it.
A bill pending in the Senate would block a U.S.-Russia nuclear deal unless Russia has stopped cooperating with Iran's nuclear or advanced conventional and missile program, or Iran has stopped enriching uranium. That legislation, sponsored by Oregon Republican Gordon Smith, has 70 co-sponsors, but Coleman said it's no sure bet that it would be passed in time to block the deal.
"Even if you have the votes, it doesn't mean you'll have time to take it up and debate it," he said. "There's no guarantee that leadership will schedule a vote." He called passage "a high bar."
"There is a great deal of concern on the part of many members of Congress," Coleman added. "I disagree with the president, I think it's bad policy."
He said that Bush could use congressional opposition as leverage in extracting conditions from the Russians for the deal ï¿½ "at a minimum, they have to stop with any advanced conventional weapon assistance to the Iranians."
1. US Korea Expert to Visit Pyongyang on Declaration
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The U.S. State Department said its top Korea expert will hold talks in Pyongyang on Thursday as part of the U.S. effort to secure a declaration of the secretive, communist nation's nuclear programs.
Separately, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte will travel to Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing from Wednesday through Monday to discuss bilateral and regional issues as well as the push to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
The State Department also said that a U.S. team is in North Korea discussing the possibility of the United States providing food aid to the impoverished nation but has made no decision.
The visit to Pyongyang by Sung Kim, the State Department's top Korea expert, is his second in two weeks and reflects an accelerated U.S. effort to secure the declaration, a key part of an agreement under which North Korea committed to abandoning its nuclear programs.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters that Kim was expected to leave Washington on Tuesday for Seoul and then to travel to Pyongyang overland. His talks on Thursday in Pyongyang were expected to last only one day and he is then expected to head back to Washington on Friday, McCormack said.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency said Kim, who last visited the communist state's capital in late April, was expected to wrap up coordination on North Korea's nuclear declaration.
North Korea's failure to issue the declaration when it was due on Dec. 31 has bogged down a 2005 multilateral deal under which the poor, communist state committed eventually to abandon all nuclear weapons and programs.
The so-called six-party agreement was hammered out among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
The declaration has been held up partly because of Pyongyang's reluctance to discuss any transfer of nuclear technology to other countries, notably Syria, as well as to account for its suspected pursuit of uranium enrichment.
Uranium enrichment could provide North Korea with a second way to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons in addition to its plutonium-based program, which it used to test an atomic device in October 2006.
In a written statement, the State Department said Negroponte would visit Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing "for discussions with his counterparts on a broad range of bilateral, regional and global issues."
It said he would consult with South Korea, Japan and China on developments in the region and political and economic issues and strengthen ties. It gave no other details.
McCormack said he was certain that Negroponte would discuss the six-party process. That said, the day-to-day diplomacy on those negotiations are carried out by Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill and other officials like Sung Kim.
A U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Negroponte was expected to leave Washington on Tuesday and to arrive in Seoul on Wednesday.
1. India Test-Fires Nuclear-Capable, Surface-to-Surface Missile
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India test-fired a surface-to-surface, nuclear-capable missile from a range off the coast of the eastern state of Orissa, putting the South Asian country in the group of nations with intermediate-range ballistic capabilities.
Agni III, with a range of 3,000 kilometers (1,865 miles), was fired successfully at the integrated test range from Wheeler Island at about 9:56 a.m. local time today, the defense ministry said in an e-mailed statement in New Delhi.
India's space and missile programs, coupled with economic growth close to 9 percent and a bid for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, is part of the country's efforts to build up defenses and establish itself as a world power.
The launch ï¿½added yet another dimension to the national deterrence,ï¿½ the ministry said.
The 17 meter-long, 2 meter-wide missile has a two-stage solid propellant system and can carry a payload of 1.5 tons. The missile reached the pre-designated target in 800 seconds, traveling at a peak height of 350 kilometers, the ministry said.
This is Agni III's third flight test after the missile failed its first one on July 9, 2006. The second test of the missile on April 12, 2007, was successful.
Today's test was a ï¿½complete success and met all the mission objectives,ï¿½ the release said, citing missile Program Director Avinash Chander. ï¿½With this flight, the developmental flights of Agni III are complete and the system is ready for induction.ï¿½
India has fought three wars with Pakistan and one with China. While differences over border disputes remain, India and China have improved political, economic and military ties in recent years. India and Pakistan have tested a series of missiles since 2002, when the two nations came close to a fourth war. Pakistan and India began repairing ties in April 2003.
1. India Concerned Over Number of Chinese Nuke Subs
Press Trust of India
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India on Monday voiced concern over the build-up of Chinese submarines equipped with nuclear arsenals in its neighbourhood amid indications that the issue would be discussed by the Cabinet Committee on Security soon.
It a "cause for security concern" to India, Naval Chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta told news persons here when asked about the revelations by satellite pictures that China had amassed five nuclear submarines carrying long range missiles.
"It is not the nuclear submarine bases that matter, we are concerned over the number of nuclear submarines that are being built in our neighbourhood," he said.
Defence Minister A K Antony sought to be evasive on the subject, saying the country's armed forces are capable of taking "full care of our security interests" whether it is sea lanes or land borders.
The CCS is likely to meet soon to deliberate on the security implications that the build-up in the South China sea will have on India.
The pictures suggest that China has secretly built a major underground nuclear submarine base that could threaten India and other countries in the region.
Satellite imagery reportedly showed that a substantial harbour has been built which could house a score of nuclear submarines equipped with ballistic missiles besides a host of aircraft carriers at the Sanya base on Southern tip of Hainan island.
"Nuclear Submarines have long legs and can operate over long distances," said Admiral Mehta who is expected to brief the CCS to be chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
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