1. Nuclear Official Calls for India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea to Join Disarmament Talks
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The world may need a new nuclear weapons treaty that includes India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea, an Australian official said Tuesday.
Former foreign minister Gareth Evans, who was appointed chairman of a new international body for nuclear disarmament, said nuclear powers who currently refuse to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty had to be included in a new process if the world were to abandon nuclear weapons.
"We've got to bring in India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea ï¿½ all those that are presently with weapons but outside that framework," Evans told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio from Romania.
"What you're trying to do is create a framework in which rather than being outsiders, these guys once again become insiders. That may mean thinking about a whole new nuclear weapons treaty," he added.
Evans' appointment as head of the Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament Commission was announced by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Monday.
Rudd said the new body hopes to recruit "like-minded countries" to strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
The 190-nation Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty was established in 1980 to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and technology and to further the goal of nuclear disarmament. Review conferences are held every five years to assess implementation of the treaty.
"The objective is to take the work already done ... and to seek to shape a global consensus in the lead-up to the NPT review process in 2010," Rudd told reporters in Kyoto after he announced the commission during a speech at a university.
Rudd said the Australia-led commission ï¿½ which he hoped other countries would join ï¿½ would present recommendations to an international conference of experts at the end of 2009.
U.S. lawmakers troubled by Russia's help for Iran's nuclear program told the Bush administration on Thursday they did not trust Russia enough to approve a pact on civilian nuclear cooperation with Moscow.
A senior State Department official, however, told a congressional hearing on the pact that Russia had alleviated U.S. concerns about its supplying of nuclear fuel to Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant.
Many lawmakers told a Congressional hearing they remained unconvinced of the need for the pact, signed last month, which would allow the world's two biggest atomic powers to expand nuclear cooperation.
President George W. Bush has sent the accord to Congress and it will go into force later this year unless lawmakers vote to block it. It is unclear whether there is enough opposition to stop it, but some lawmakers are urging Bush to withdraw it.
"What do we get out of this?" Rep. David Scott, a Georgia Democrat, asked during the hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "I don't trust Russia and I certainly don't trust Iran," Scott said.
Washington believes Iran harbors ambitions to build an atomic bomb, and the Bush administration initially criticized Russia for delivering nuclear fuel under a $1 billion contract to build Bushehr.
But Bush has more recently taken the position that such a move shows Iran that Russia could be a dependable fuel supplier so that Tehran has no need to enrich uranium itself, with all the weapons proliferation risks that would entail.
"We believe that our concerns (with regard to Bushehr) have been mitigated," John Rood, acting undersecretary for arms control and international security, told the committee.
The panel's chairman, California Democratic Rep. Howard Berman, sounded dubious: "'Mitigated' is a funny term here," he told Rood. But he added that he had not decided whether or not to support the pact.
Rood argued there were benefits for the United States from such a deal, because the Americans would get access to advanced Russian nuclear technology.
"In areas like fast burner reactors and advanced nuclear fuel and fuel cycle facilities, Russia possesses experience and facilities not widely available in the United States," he said.
Having an agreement was also important to provide a legal structure for commercial opportunities, such as the sale of reactor fuel and major reactor components to Russia by U.S. industry, Rood said.
He said the administration's worries about Iran had not changed. "I have deep, deep suspicions about Iran's intentions," he said.
But Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said she could not support the pact while Russia had been a stumbling block to tougher United Nations Security Council sanctions on Iran for its nuclear activities.
"The president should not have submitted this agreement until Russia halted all cooperation with Iran's nuclear sector, including its obstruction of tough U.N. Security Council sanctions, and also stopped selling Tehran advanced conventional weapons, including missiles," Ros-Lehtinen said.
1. EU's Solana Heads to Iran with New Nuclear Cooperation Offer
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EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana flew off to Tehran Friday, hoping to convince Iranian leaders to suspend the country's nuclear programme in exchange for enhanced cooperation from the major powers.
Solana, due to arrive in the Iranian capital later in the day, will on Saturday resume his frustrating two-year long efforts, meeting Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Saeed Jalili, Iran chief negotiator on the nuclear dossier.
"I am travelling to Tehran to present a generous and comprehensive offer," Solana said before setting off.
"With this offer, the EU and the six countries I represent show their desire to develop a constructive and cooperative relationship with Iran in the nuclear field and in many other areas," he added.
Representatives of five of the six main powers involved in the drawn-out negotiations --- Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia -- will also take part in the talks.
The sixth major power, the United States, has had no diplomatic relations with Iran since 1980.
For the first time Solana will bring with him a "policy" letter signed by the foreign ministers of all six powers.
In it the ministers declare themselves "convinced that it is possible to change the present state of affairs," on Iran's intransigence over the nuclear issue and "hope that Iran's leaders share the same ambition," according to a section of the letter seen by AFP.
The letter accompanies an offer of cooperation with Iran on several fronts, a "refreshed" version of an offer initially presented by Solana in June 2006 which Tehran rejected.
The new offer "has been structured a bit differently, but the substance could not be changed because it is already very strong," a European diplomat said. "We can't go too far."
In their offer, the six major powers "recognise Iran's right to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, purposes in conformity with non-proliferation treaty (NPT) obligations."
The powers offered in 2006 to help Iran develop "more modern" technologies and to supply Tehran with enriched uranium for civil purposes.
In 2006 the offer was also on the table to allow Iran to improve its aging fleet of Boeing airlines for civil aviation. Spare parts are currently under embargo.
The six are also proposing normalising economic and trade relations with Tehran and help it play an important role in Middle East security.
"We are seeking a complete, long-term and peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear problem," they stress.
At the same time the offer recalls that Iran must first comply with four UN Security Council resolutions -- including three linked to existing sanctions -- which call for the suspension of its nuclear enrichment activities which the major powers believe is part of a programme to develop nuclear weapons.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday refused to back down over the nuclear programme, saying his country would not trade in its dignity.
"They think they can trample on the Iranian nation's dignity with such things," the ISNA news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying, referring to the incentive offers.
"If they want to give us something, then they should sell it and we will buy it," he added.
Iran vehemently rejects Western allegations that it is seeking nuclear weapons, saying it wants only electricity for a growing population whose fossil fuels will eventually run out.
On Tuesday, US President George W. Bush and European leaders warned Iran of new sanctions if it refuses to halt sensitive nuclear activities.
According to diplomats, one way to unblock the negotiations would be for the Iranian side to agree to suspend its nuclear programme and for the major powers to suspend the application of the UN sanctions.
1. N.K. Says Talks on Nuclear Disablement 'Successful'
Yonhap News Agency
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North Korea said Thursday it had "successful" talks with the United States on disabling the communist state's nuclear facilities.
Sung Kim, the U.S. State Department's top Korea expert, returned to Seoul Wednesday after holding two-day talks in Pyongyang on the North's disablement of its nuclear facilities as promised under a six-way deal.
"The negotiations proved successful," an unnamed spokesman for the North Korean foreign ministry told the country's official Korean Central News Agency.
"The negotiations discussed technical and practical ways of rounding off the disablement of the DPRK nuclear facilities and the issue of winding up the political and economic compensation for it," the spokesman said.
North Korea shut down its Yongbyon reactor in July, completing the first phase of the six-party denuclearization process. It began disabling the reactor and two other nuclear plants in November but has slowed down the disablement work since early this year. Pyongyang has accused five other negotiating partners of failing to meet their end of the deal -- that is providing 500,000 tons of heavy oil or equivalent energy aid and removing North Korea from the U.S. blacklist of terrorism-sponsoring.
The United States is expected to strike North Korea from the blacklist when it submits a list of its nuclear programs as promised.
Batting for the nuclear deal, the second time in as many days, PM Manmohan Singh said on Wednesday that it was in India's "national interest" and there was no pressure from the US to sign any test ban agreement in order to access civil nuclear energy from the world.
Even as Singh acknowledged the political problems holding up the deal, he said the proposed agreement would help the country meet its energy needs and protect its strategic interests. "This nuclear agreement that we signed with the US has run into some difficulties, but it protects our national interest, it protects our capacity to use nuclear power to protect our strategic interests."
"At the same time, it opens up new opportunities for civilian cooperation, and without that, I think, the trade in dual technologies ï¿½ sensitive advanced technologies ï¿½ cannot become a reality," the PM said while talking to Indian Foreign Service probationers at his residence.
The renewed pitch for the deal, surprisingly, comes at a time when the prospects of it going through are fast receding. Congress always seemed to be lacking the resolve to fight for the deal and the party's attention, after several electoral setbacks, has moved on to domestic issues. In the US, the Bush regime, in the twilight zone of its tenure, does not have the heft to take the deal past the opponents.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sought to answer critics of the deal, particularly in the BJP camp, who have opposed it on the ground that India would be required to sign CTBT in exchange for the agreement with the US.
"Despite the fact that we are not a signatory to NPT (nuclear non-proliferation treaty), and we have also said that if CTBT came into being, we will not sign it, there is no pressure from the US on India to sign NPT or any other international arrangement of that sort to enter into nuclear cooperation for civil energy," Singh said.
The PM's "no CTBT" assertion may seem odd at this point in time. CTBT, as a viable international agreement, is virtually dead, because Republicans in the US did not believe in it. But a resurgent Democratic party in the US, under a possible president Barack Obama, may be all set to reinstate it. It will play a large part in the Democrats' non-proliferation programmes in the coming years, if they come to power.
In fact, the spectre of the global test ban treaty was often cited as a reason for pushing forward the agreement in India. The nuclear deal, its negotiators said, would give India the ambiguity on nuclear testing that CTBT would close irrevocably. However, while Singh may have been forced to take refuge under the opposition to CTBT to purchase political support for the agreement, fending off pressure to sign off on the now-defunct treaty may not be easy should the US decide to re-activate it.
In 1998, months after conducting the nuclear tests, the then PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, told the UN General Assembly that India would not stand in the way of operationalizing the treaty. This was interpreted to mean that if everybody else signed, India would too. There is no question that India would be held to this commitment.
On Wednesday, Singh said, "Our domestic politics has prevented us from going ahead (with the deal). I still continue to hope that we will make progress in the months that lie ahead. It is very important for us to move forward to end this nuclear apartheid that the world has sought to impose on India."
Foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee, too, added his voice for the nuclear deal, saying that the spiralling price of oil made it even more imperative for India to go for nuclear energy. Speaking at a book launch in the capital, Mukherjee said: "In my view, nuclear power appears to offer India the most potent means to realize its long-term energy security."
India has finalized negotiations on a safeguards agreement with IAEA, but cannot put the agreement before the Nuclear Suppliers Group for an exemption until the IAEA board of governors ratifies it. And for that to happen, the Left would have to signal approval, which it is adamantly against.
It is now highly unlikely that the remaining steps of the deal would be concluded before the Bush administration comes to a close. NSG will not be a shoo-in either, where 45 countries with varying degrees of opposition to the deal get to do their thing against it.
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