1. Report: European Nuclear Facilities Need Security Upgrades
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Nuclear sites in Europe controlled by the Air Force need upgrades to meet Defense Department security requirements, according to an internal report recently made public.
The 118-page investigative report was part of broad review of U.S. nuclear weapons facilities around the world under Air Force command. The report concludes that "nuclear surety in the USAF is sound, but needs strengthening."
The report was completed by the Air Force in February. A copy was obtained by the Federation of American Scientists and posted on the group's Web site Thursday.
The review also concludes that expertise with nuclear weapons in the Air Force has declined as airmen who were on duty during the Cold War leave the service. It also warns that the "nuclear enterprise" in the force is fragmented and inspection programs need to be standardized.
Referring to facilities in Europe, the report noted "inconsistencies in personnel, facilities and equipment" provided by host nations. It specifically cited support buildings, fencing, lighting and security systems that were in need of repair.
"A consistently noted theme throughout the visits was that most sites require significant additional resources to meet DOD security requirements," the report reads.
Investigators recommended consolidating resources to "reduce vulnerabilities."
1. World to Witness Blasting of NKorean Cooling Tower: Officials
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North Korea has invited five media organisations from foreign countries to cover live the blowing-up of a cooling tower at its main nuclear site, officials said Sunday.
The invited organisations -- one each from North Korea's five negotiating partners at six-party disarmament talks -- include US news channel CNN, Seoul's top nuclear envoy Kim Sook said.
The United Sates, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia have been in talks with North Korea to dismantle Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme.
"Five news organisations -- one each from the five nations -- have been invited to cover the North's blasting of the cooling tower," Kim said.
"CNN of the United States has been invited, and our country also has one broadcaster invited. North Korea has contacted us via the channel of six-party talks, and we've informed the broadcaster of it."
Kim disclosed no further details, including the names of the other invited media outlets and a proposed date for the event.
But South Korean broadcaster MBC confirmed Sunday it had accepted an invitation.
"We have decided to comply with the North's invitation. Our camera crew have been told to get prepared for that," an MBC official told AFP.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency, quoting diplomatic sources, has said Pyongyang will submit a declaration on its nuclear activities around June 26 as part of an aid-for-disarmament deal.
In a symbolic gesture the North would then blow up the cooling tower at its main Yongbyon nuclear complex, possibly on June 27 or 28. But it was demanding cash in return, according to Yonhap.
Kim said North Korea would submit the long-awaited declaration of its nuclear activities "sooner or later" to six-party talks host China, which will then immediately organise a new round of negotiations.
He added that once North Korea submitted its declaration, the United States would start the process of dropping the reclusive state from a terrorism blacklist.
The South Korean envoy said he would fly to China later Sunday for talks with his US and Chinese counterparts to discuss schedules for talks and other follow-up measures to take after the North's declaration.
North Korea, which staged a nuclear test in October 2006, is now disabling its plutonium-producing reactor and other plants under a 2007 six-party deal.
But disputes over the promised declaration of its nuclear activities that was due by the end of last year have blocked the start of the final phase of the process -- the permanent dismantling of the plants and the handover of all material.
In return for abandoning the atomic programmes, the North would receive energy aid, a lifting of US sanctions, the establishment of diplomatic ties with Washington and Tokyo, and a formal peace treaty.
U.S. officials say Israel carried out a large military exercise this month that appeared to be a rehearsal for a potential bombing attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, The New York Times reported on Friday.
Citing unidentified American officials, the newspaper said more than 100 Israeli F-16 and F-15 fighters took part in the manoeuvres over the eastern Mediterranean and Greece in the first week of June.
It said the exercise appeared to be an effort to focus on long-range strikes and illustrates the seriousness with which Israel views Iran's nuclear program.
The newspaper said Israeli officials would not discuss the exercise.
A spokesman for the Israeli military would say only that the country's air force "regularly trains for various missions in order to confront and meet the challenges posed by the threats facing Israel," according to the Times.
A Pentagon official who the Times said was briefed on the exercise, said one goal was to practice flight tactics, aerial refuelling and other details of a possible strike against Iran's nuclear installations and long-range conventional missiles.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a second goal was to send a clear message that Israel was prepared to act militarily if other efforts to stop Iran from producing bomb-grade uranium fail.
"They wanted us to know, they wanted the Europeans to know, and they wanted the Iranians to know," the Pentagon official said, according to the Times. "There's a lot of signalling going on at different levels."
Several U.S. officials told the newspaper they did not believe Israel had decided to attack Iran or think such a strike was imminent.
The U.N. Security Council has imposed several rounds of sanctions on Iran for defying council demands that it suspend its uranium enrichment program, which could be used to make fuel for power plants or atomic weapons.
Iran has refused to buckle to the sanctions and has spurned previous offers of economic benefits to suspend its uranium enrichment, which it says is to produce fuel for electrical power plants rather than for nuclear weapons.
Iran said Thursday it was ready to negotiate over a new package of economic incentives put forward by major powers seeking to persuade Tehran to curb its nuclear work.
U.N. nuclear sleuths looking into allegations that Syria is hiding secret atomic activities expressed hope Sunday that a fact-gathering trip to Damascus will be the start of a thorough investigation.
The International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors face a daunting task. Syrian officials are expected to place strict limits on where they go and what they see during their three-day visit.
Still, IAEA Deputy Director General Olli Heinonen spoke optimistically of the mission's chances before boarding the flight to Damascus on Sunday, saying he and his two-man mission hoped to start to "establish the facts this evening."
Syrian authorities have placed strict constraints on media reporting on the visit and there was no official word by Sunday evening out of the Arab nation if the delegation had arrived.
Despite the low-key nature of the visit, the stakes are immense.
Damascus denies working on a secret nuclear program. But Washington hopes the U.N agency team will find evidence backing U.S. intelligence that a structure destroyed by Israeli war planes in September was a nearly completed plutonium-producing reactor.
If so, the trip could mark the start of massive atomic agency investigation similar to the five-year inquiry into Iran's activities. What's more, the investigation could draw in countries such as North Korea, which Washington says helped Damascus and Iran. Media reports also have linked Iran with Syria's nuclear efforts.
After months delay, Syria agreed to allow the nuclear inspectors visit the bombed Al Kibar, but not three other locations suspected of harboring secret nuclear activities.
Syrian President Bashar Assad said earlier this month that visits to sites other than Al Kibar were "not within the purview of the agreement" with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The agency has little formal inspection rights in Syria, which has declared only a rudimentary nuclear program using a small 27-kilowatt reactor for research and the production of isotopes for medical and agricultural uses.
Before the trip, both IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei and the United States urged Syria to show transparency.
"Syria was caught withholding information from the IAEA," Gregory L. Schulte, the chief U.S. delegate to the IAEA, told The Associated Press. "Now Syria must disclose the truth about Al Kibar and allow IAEA's inspectors to verify that there are no other undisclosed activities."
Diplomats accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, told the AP that the agency only learned a few days ago it would be able to bring ground-penetrating radar needed to probe below the concrete foundation of a new building erected on the site of the bombed facility.
It also was unclear how much freedom inspectors would have to move around the site, said the diplomats, who were briefed before the mission but who spoke with the AP on condition of anonymity because their information was confidential.
Specifically, the inspectors want to examine the remnants of water pipes leading to the site as well as a nearby pumping plant, in order to establish whether they match the specifics of the North Korean reactor prototype U.S. intelligence asserts was being built, the diplomats said.
They also want to tour sites where the debris from the bombing ï¿½ and an apparent subsequent controlled explosion by the Syrians to obliterate the remains ï¿½ was stored, the diplomats said.
The inspectors will be looking for minute quantities of graphite, which is used as a cooling element in the North Korean prototype allegedly being built with the help of Pyongyang. Such a reactor contains hundreds of tons of graphite, and any major explosion would have sent dust over the immediate area.
But if the Syrians are interested in a cover-up, they will have scoured the region to bury, wash away and otherwise remove any telltale traces.
One diplomat said the team would ask for information related to allegations of secret Syrian nuclear procurements, either from North Korea or the nuclear black market headed by renegade Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan.
But the agency has little leverage, and its success will depend on what they are allowed to see and do.
India's leaders considered pushing ahead with a landmark U.S.-India nuclear energy deal Friday, a move that could bring down the government and lead to early elections, two people involved in the deliberations said.
The debate among India's leaders revived hopes that the nuclear accord, seen as a cornerstone in the budding partnership between New Delhi and Washington, could be clinched before U.S. President George W. Bush leaves office in January.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and ruling Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi were holding informal discussions Friday with their coalition partners about whether to force a confrontation with opponents of the deal and, if need be, hold elections in November or December, said a businessman involved in the talks. The government's term officially ends in May.
The nuclear deal would reverse three decades of American policy by allowing the shipment of atomic fuel and technology to India, which has not signed international nonproliferation accords and has tested nuclear weapons. India, in exchange, would open its civilian reactors to international inspections.
For Bush, the deal would be a major foreign policy success amid the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. For India, it would provide much-needed nuclear fuel for its energy-hungry economy.
But the deal has faced stiff opposition from India's communist parties, which don't want to see New Delhi drawn closer to Washington.
The Congress party's Singh, who has staked his premiership on the nuclear accord, was now pushing hard in private talks with his coalition Friday to break with the communists, said the businessman, who insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.
India's CNN-IBN television news station reported that Singh had even threatened to resign if the government does not try to finalize the nuclear deal.
A Congress party official involved in the discussions confirmed that Singh and Gandhi were talking with the party's coalition partners about the nuclear issue but would not provide any additional details. He too insisted on anonymity.
The communists are not part of India's governing coalition, led by the Congress party, but their support props up the government. They have threatened to pull their support if the administration tries to finalize the nuclear deal.
Singh and Gandhi have already backed down once in their confrontation with the communists, deciding in September that they weren't ready to risk early elections.
With no guarantee that the next U.S. president will be as strong a proponent of the deal as Bush, Singh and Gandhi are re-evaluating that position and appear willing to hold elections if the communists won't budge, the businessman said.
A major factor in their reasoning, he said, is the early monsoon rains, which could result in a strong fall harvest, pushing down food prices just as the elections would take place.
That would also help the government tame inflation, which hit a 13-year high of 11.05 percent Friday.
U.S. officials said earlier this year that with American elections coming up ï¿½ and no guarantee the next American administration will keep the deal on the table ï¿½ India needed to complete its end of the pact before the U.S. Congress starts its summer break in July because many lawmakers will be busy campaigning in the fall.
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