1. Russia Hopes for New Strategic Arms Deal with U.S. by Yearend
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Russia expects to reach a new nuclear arms reduction treaty with the United States by the end of the year, an aide to the president of Russia said on Sunday.
The effective Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1) was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union on July 31, 1991, five months before the U.S.S.R. collapsed. The treaty is set to expire on December 5, 2009.
Speaking before journalists on the eve of a meeting between the Russian and U.S. presidents to be held as part of a summit of the G-8 group of industrialized nations in Japan set to open on Monday, Sergei Prikhodko said that there had been no progress of late in reaching an understating between Russia and the United States on strategic arms.
Prikhodko said that the United States was expressing its readiness to reach an understanding on a new nuclear arms pact only in words.
"We hope that George Bush will be able during the remaining period of his stay in the White House to reverse the situation to reach mutually acceptable accords already by the end of the year. The entire international community is expecting this from us," Prikhodko said.
2. Russian Lawmakers OK US Weapons Dismantling Deal
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Russian lawmakers on Wednesday approved agreements in which the United States will provide aid to help the country dismantle its nuclear, chemical and other weapons.
The lower house of parliament, the State Duma, voted 336-9 with four abstensions to approve two protocols to the 1992 U.S.-Russian agreement on safe transportation, storage and disposal of weapons.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak said the U.S. aid under that agreement has totaled more than $2 billion and Russia expects to receive another $1 billion through 2013 to help dismantle its aging arsenals.
"The agreement is in the interests of the Russian Federation," Kislyak said. "It allows us to save significant budget funds."
The 1992 agreement was signed at a time when the cashapped Russian government desperately needed foreign aid to safely store and dispose of huge Soviet-era arsenals of nuclear and chemical weapons.
While surging oil prices have reversed Russia's economic fortunes, Moscow has continued to receive aid from the U.S. and other Western nations for its weapons dismantling programs.
A South Korean government official says a new round of six-party North Korean nuclear talks will be held late this week after the current G8 summit.
The official, who wasn't identified by the South Korean Yonhap news agency, said Sunday the talks would be held July 11 or 12 in Beijing. Chinese officials, he said, would officially announce the talks Monday.
The six-way talks between the two Koreas and the United States, Japan, China and Russia have been stalemated since late last year. Yonhap says Pyongyang refuses to return to the negotiating table, complaining that even though it has followed through with promises to disclose its former nuclear activities, less than half of the economic aid it has been pledged has yet to arrive.
U.S. President George Bush began a process to remove North Korea from its terrorism watch list after disclosed information about its nuclear program and destroyed the cooling tower at its Yongbyon reactor.
1. Iran Indicates It's Willing to Discuss Nuclear Incentives Plan
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Iran indicated it's willing to discuss an incentives package from world powers intended to persuade the Persian Gulf nation to suspend uranium enrichment.
The government in Tehran has prepared and presented its reply ``with a focus on common ground and a constructive view,'' state television cited Saeed Jalili, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, as saying today in a telephone call with European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana.
Jalili didn't elaborate on the terms of the response nor say whether Iran might be prepared to call a halt to its atomic work. The U.S. and many of its allies accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran, under three sets of United Nations sanctions for refusing to stop the program, insists the work is aimed at producing electricity.
Crude oil fell from near a record after Jalili said the Iranian response would be delivered today. A compromise may allay concern that Israel is ready to attack Iran's nuclear installations, starting a conflict likely to cut supply from OPEC's second-largest oil producer.
Crude oil for August delivery fell as much as $1.41, or 1 percent, to $143.88 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange, trading for $144.14 at 2:03 p.m. London time.
Economic, Technology Incentives
Solana presented the package of economic and technology incentives to the government in Tehran on June 14 on behalf of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. Enriched uranium, the material the UN partners want Iran to stop producing, can fuel a power station or arm a nuclear weapon.
The plan includes an offer to recognize Iran's right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and to support the construction of a light-water reactor. The world powers have also proposed steps toward the normalization of trade and economic relations, greater Iranian access to international markets, and support for its admission to the World Trade Organization.
``We can confirm that there was a phone conversation this morning. Mr. Jalili called Mr. Solana. They had a good conversation and it was decided that they would remain in contact in the coming hours,'' Solana's office in Brussels said in a statement.
Iran's response to the incentives package was delivered by the country's ambassador in Brussels, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said, citing an unidentified official at the Supreme National Security Council. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki signed a response letter, the news agency said, adding that Jalili and Solana are scheduled to hold talks later this month.
Iran will view an attack on its nuclear facilities as an act of war and will respond, the head of the country's Revolutionary Guard Corps said earlier.
``Any act on Iran will be considered the start of war,'' General Mohammad Ali Jaafari told reporters yesterday in response to questions about the threat of an Israeli strike on Iranian atomic sites, according to remarks carried today on IRNA. Jaafari also said he thought it is unlikely such an attack would be carried out.
Reports that Israel may attack Iran have boosted oil prices. If attacked, Iran will ``impose control'' on the Strait of Hormuz, Jaafari said on June 28. About 20 percent of the world's daily supply of oil passes through the strait. Crude for August delivery rose $5.08, or 3.6 percent, to $145.29 a barrel this week on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Futures reached $145.85 a barrel yesterday, the highest since trading began in 1983.
`Vivid and Strong'
Iranian Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari, who was in Madrid for the World Petroleum Congress, yesterday reiterated his nation's pledge to respond to any strike.
``Iran's stance in this connection against enemies is clear, vivid and strong,'' Nozari told the Iranian news agency before leaving Madrid. ``Oil is an energy and industry for peace and its durability depends on peace and security. So, any tension in any region, especially in the Persian Gulf, which is the major supplier of the main part of the world's energy, will have an impact on the energy market which is principally unpredictable.''
More than 100 Israeli F-16 and F-15 fighter planes took part in a military exercise over the eastern Mediterranean and Greece during the first week of June, the New York Times reported on June 20. U.S. officials told the Times the maneuvers appeared to be training for a possible attack on Iran's nuclear sites.
Israel is increasingly likely to attack Iranian nuclear facilities this year, an unidentified Pentagon official told ABC News. The official said an Israeli strike might be triggered by Iran's production of enough enriched uranium to make a bomb, or by Iran taking delivery of a Russian SA-20 air-defense system, according to ABC's June 30 report. The State Department dismissed the report, while spokesmen for the Pentagon and the White House declined to comment.
Former Israeli Air Force General Isaac Ben-Israel, now a lawmaker in Israel's ruling Kadima party, told Germany's Spiegel in an interview published this week that his nation is ``prepared'' for an attack if diplomacy and United Nations sanctions fail to stop Iran from making a nuclear weapon.
Iraq's government has removed 550 tonnes of natural uranium left over from Saddam Hussein's era and sold it to a Canadian company, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.
The uranium, called yellowcake, had been stored in a compound at Tuwaitha, south of Baghdad, which was once the centre of Saddam's nuclear weapons program.
A U.S. embassy spokeswoman confirmed the U.S. military helped safely ship the uranium out of the country.
"The Iraqi government decided to get rid of the uranium, which amounted to 550 tonnes, because of its potentially harmful affects on Iraq and the region and because it causes pollution," Dabbagh said on Iraqiya state television late on Sunday.
The Tuwaitha nuclear complex was dismantled after the 1991 Gulf War. But tonnes of nuclear material remained there under the seal of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), until the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq when it was left unguarded and looted by Iraqi civilians.
Dabbagh said the uranium had not undergone any enrichment. He did not name the Canadian company that bought the stockpile, but other media reports said it was Cameco.
He said the removal had been carried out in cooperation with the IAEA.
Yellowcake is an impure mixture of uranium oxides obtained from processing uranium ore. It has to be enriched before it can be used in nuclear reactors or to make bombs.
"As far as the (nuclear) proliferation threat goes, natural uranium is not of direct use in a nuclear weapon," U.S. embassy spokeswoman Leslie Phillips said.
The Bush administration's claim that Saddam was developing nuclear weapons was a primary justification it gave for the invasion to topple his regime, but no evidence has been found that Saddam continued a nuclear weapons program after 1991.
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