1. North Korean Call to Open Reactor Seals `Regrettable,' Han Says
Heejin Koo and Allan Dodds Frank
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North Korea's demand that United Nations inspectors remove seals and surveillance equipment from its Yongbyon nuclear reactor is ``regrettable,'' South Korean Prime Minister Han Seung Soo said.
``That's very much an area we're worried about, because this is a return to the old times, and they are not going to continue with the disablement process,'' Han said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in New York yesterday. ``At this juncture North Korea's action is very regrettable.''
Disarmament talks stalled last month when North Korea stopped disabling Yongbyon to protest delays in being removed from a U.S. terrorism blacklist. President George W. Bush says North Korea, which tested a nuclear device in 2006, must allow international inspectors to verify the extent of its atomic program before the nation can be removed from the list.
North Korean authorities asked the International Atomic Energy Agency to remove the seals at Yongbyon to ``enable them to carry out tests at the reprocessing plant, which they say will not involve nuclear material,'' IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said in Vienna yesterday.
Work to restore the plant has ``in effect begun,'' North Korea's Foreign Ministry envoy Hyun Hak Bong said last week at a meeting with South Korean government officials in Panmunjom, a village in the demilitarized zone between the countries.
China should play a more active part in ending the delay in the disarmament process, Han said.
``As the chair of the six-party talks, China has played a very important and constructive role so far,'' he said. ``We hope that China will play another important role in trying to bring North Korea back to the table to settle this issue.''
Bush spoke with Chinese President Hu Jintao yesterday, expressing concern about North Korea's announcement that it planned to restore the nuclear plant to its original state.
``The two presidents agreed that they would work hard to convince the North to continue down the path established in the six-party talks toward denuclearization,'' White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in an e-mailed statement.
South Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia are trying to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
They reached an agreement in February 2007 when North Korea said it would disable its nuclear programs in return for normalized diplomatic ties with the U.S. and Japan and fuel aid. It agreed to disable the five-megawatt Yongbyon reactor, the source of the regime's weapons-grade plutonium, last October and blew up a cooling tower at the site in June.
``We are seeing a tough line in the last month from them,'' Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the chief U.S. nuclear negotiator, said yesterday, referring to North Korea's decision to stop disabling work at Yongbyon. ``It's a rough and tumble moment in the negotiating process.''
Hill is in New York with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for discussions during the UN General Assembly with China, Russia, Japan and South Korea on how to break the deadlock. He said those governments are ``advocating the notion of being patient, working through the issue.''
Rice met yesterday with South Korea's Foreign Minister Yu Myung Hwan to discuss the current stalemate.
``We were in agreement that the participants need to speed up their efforts, so we can complete by the end of October the removal from the terrorism list, setting up a verification mechanism and finalizing the economic and energy aid to North Korea,'' Yu told reporters in New York.
Yu also met Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi there and discussed the issue, South Korea's Foreign Ministry said.
2. US tries to salvage crumbling NKorean nuke talks
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Even as North Korea moves to take back hard-won concessions on its nuclear program, the Bush administration is hoping to salvage a crumbling international effort to get the communist state to give up nuclear arms.
While admitting the situation is dire, especially after Pyongyang took yet another step Monday to restart its atomic reactor, officials say the talks are not dead and have survived troubled fits and starts before.
Over the next week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will meet her counterparts in the negotiations ï¿½ China, Japan, South Korea and Russia ï¿½ to discuss possible routes ahead despite North Korea's apparent unwillingness to remain a part of the process.
"The six-party process has had its difficult moments in the past and we're certainly experiencing another one now," said chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill. "Clearly, it is a difficult moment ... and it's a time when we're going to have to work together."
"This is a very rough and tumble moment in the negotiation process," he said following an announcement from the U.N. atomic watchdog that North Korea had asked it to remove seals and surveillance equipment from its Yongbyon nuclear reactor.
That step follows the uncrating and reassembling of equipment that had been removed and dismantled in June when the North submitted a long delayed accounting, or declaration, of its nuclear activities as part of the negotiating process.
Since then, amid reports that began to surface in August about the failing health of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, North Korea has essentially halted cooperation and refused to accept a U.S.-proposed scheme to verify its declaration. This has kept Washington from meeting one of the North's main demands: removal from a U.S. terrorism blacklist.
"They are not ready to reprocess now, but certainly they have taken the machinery out and put it back together," Hill said. "We are concerned about this."
In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said: "Everyone views this issue with the utmost of concern. ... We want very seriously to bring North Korea back on the path that was outlined."
Hill noted that recent North Korean actions corresponded with the timing of reports about Kim's ill health ï¿½ "We are seeing a tough line in the last month," he said ï¿½ but declined to say whether U.S. officials believe the two developments are related.
Instead, he said the U.S. focus was on persuading the North Koreans to reverse their steps to restart Yongbyon and agree to an intrusive verification regime to prove they were telling the truth in their declaration.
"The North Koreans provided a declaration, but unless it is verifiable, we really only have half a loaf here," he said, adding, "We've been able to get through tough spots before."
Hill spoke to reporters after Rice held the first of her North Korea-focused meetings on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly session with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung Hwan.
She had a private dinner Monday with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, whose country chairs the negotiations and plays a key role in the process. Rice will meet later in the week with the foreign ministers of Russia and Japan.
North Korea said last week it was making "thorough preparations" to start up Yongbyon, which it began disabling last year under a now-stalled disarmament-for-aid deal that took on huge urgency after the country detonated an atomic device in 2006.
1. Russia engages in 'gangland' diplomacy as it sends warship to the Caribbean
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Russia flexed its muscles in Americaï¿½s backyard yesterday as it sent one of its largest warships to join military exercises in the Caribbean. The nuclear-powered flagship Peter the Great set off for Venezuela with the submarine destroyer Admiral Chabanenko and two support vessels in the first Russian naval mission in Latin America since the end of the Cold War.
ï¿½The St Andrew flag, the flag of the Russian Navy, is confidently returning to the world oceans,ï¿½ Igor Dygalo, a spokesman for the Russian Navy, said. He declined to comment on Russian newspaper reports that nuclear submarines were also part of the expedition.
The voyage to join the Venezuelan Navy for manoeuvres came only days after Russian strategic nuclear bombers made their first visit to the country. Hugo Chï¿½vez, the President, said then that the arrival of the strike force was a warning to the US. The vehemently antiAmerican Venezuelan leader is due to visit Dmitri Medvedev, the Russian President, in Moscow this week as part of a tour that includes visits to Cuba and China.
Peter the Great is armed with 20 nuclear cruise missiles and up to 500 surface-to-air missiles, making it one of the most formidable warships in the world. The Kremlin has courted Venezuela and Cuba as tensions with the West soared over the proposed US missile shield in Eastern Europe and the Russian invasion of Georgia last month. Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister, said recently that Russia should ï¿½restore its position in Cubaï¿½ ï¿½ the nation where deployment of Soviet nuclear missiles in 1962 brought Russia and the United States to the brink of nuclear war.
Igor Sechin, the Deputy Prime Minister, made clear that Russia would challenge the US for influence in Latin America after visits to Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba last week. He said: ï¿½It would be wrong to talk about one nation having exclusive rights to this zone.ï¿½
Moscow was infuriated when Washington sent US warships into the Black Sea to deliver aid to Georgia after the war. Analysts said that the Kremlin was engaging in gunboat diplomacy over the encroachment of Nato into the former Soviet satellites of Georgia and Ukraine.
Pavel Felgengauer, a leading Russian defence expert, told The Times: ï¿½Itï¿½s to show the flag and the finger to the United States. They are offering a sort of gangland deal ï¿½ if you get into our territory, then we will get into yours. You leave Georgia and Ukraine to us and we wonï¿½t go into the Caribbean, OK?ï¿½ He described the visit as ï¿½first and foremost a propaganda deploymentï¿½, pointing out that one of the support vessels was a tug in case either of the warships broke down.
Latin America was one of the arenas of the Cold War in which the US and the Soviet Union battled for ideological dominance. Russia has agreed to sell more than $4 billion (ï¿½2 billion) worth of armaments to Venezuela since 2005 and disclosed last week that Mr Chï¿½vez wanted new antiaircraft systems and more fighter jets.
Mr Dygalo denied any link with Georgia and said that Mr Chï¿½vez and Mr Medvedev had agreed on the exercises in July.
ï¿½ In the Battle of Tsushima in 1905 ï¿½ the largest naval battle since Trafalgar ï¿½ the Russian fleet sailed 18,000 miles (33,000km) to Port Arthur in the Pacific, where it was outmanoeuvred and destroyed by Japanese forces ï¿½ During the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, the Soviet Navy conducted 180 voyages on 86 ships to transfer weapons to Cuba
Hurricanes Gustav and Ike are gone from mainland United States, but Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is flying into a perfect financial storm that could make the US-India nuclear deal, a pet project of the Indian leader and the US president, a momentary casualty.
Singh, a distinguished economist himself, will understand that, and perhaps even revel in studying the Bush administration's titanic struggle to contain the cataclysm on Wall Street ahead of the nuke deal. By the time he lands in New York late on Tuesday, America's financial landscape would have changed, with the transformation of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, the last of the hoary investment firms on Wall Street, into humble retail bankers who will submit to more rigorous control by Washington in return for greater protection.
"What a fall there was, my countrymen," might well be the week's ironic refrain in reference to the monumental changes on the first day of autumn, the equinox falling on September 22. As the Bush administration rushed its $ 700 billion rescue package to the Hill on Monday, there were dirges aplenty for "the death of capitalism."
There was also a political confrontation brewing in Washington DC over the "You've Got Bail," rescue package that augured ill for the nuclear deal. Democrats sought greater oversight over the $ 700 billion bailout and protection for homeowners. Bush urged them not to stall the emergency legislation to tag their provisions.
"The whole world is watching to see if we can act quickly to shore up our markets and prevent damage to our capital markets, businesses, our housing sector, and retirement accounts... Failure to act would have broad consequences far beyond Wall Street. It would threaten small business owners and homeowners on Main Street," Bush warned, as America held its breath about the next steps for its flailing economy. Oil shot up by $ 25 a barrel ï¿½ a record for a single day ï¿½ because of the uncertainty.
The immediate consequence for India of this crisis was the stalling of the nuke deal, a singular obsession for the media in India even though it is on the margins in the US. A Senate panel which held a hearing on the deal last week did not list it for mark-up at Tuesday meeting although it scheduled Nato expansion protocols, US-Brazil Energy Pact, and Foreign Service Overseas Pay Equity Act among other items for consideration.
The House side has not even scheduled a hearing. Congress adjourns on September 26, and Prime Minister Singh is slated to visit Washington on 25th afternoon. There are indications that Congress might extend its sitting by a week or more to deal with the financial crisis, in which case there will be a more time to vote on the agreement, although it won't be done when, or by the time, the prime minister is here.
Both sides are keen that it be tied up before the PM comes here and officials are exploring all kinds of legislative strategies, including a "continuing resolution," to get around the wrinkles, but with little help from a distracted Congress. Some Democratic law-makers, especially on the House side, also want to ensure that President Bush does not take home bragging rights for the nuclear deal ï¿½ even if it means the Indian prime minister has to return from Washington empty-handed. All that may come out of Singh's meeting with Bush may be a hello, thank you, and goodbye, but no one is ruling out surprises.
1. France to help Brazil build first Latin American nuclear sub
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France will assist Brazil in the construction of a nuclear-powered submarine to protect vast oil reserves off its coast, the Brazilian defense minister said Tuesday.
Speaking during large-scale military exercises along the Brazilian coast, Nelson Jobim said a massive technology transfer from France was essential to Brazil's hopes of building a nuclear submarine.
"We will build the nuclear submarine together. Brazil will be responsible for the conventional part of the project," he said.
According to the minister, Brazil and France discussed the technology transfer in January at talks in France, and a relevant agreement could be signed before the end of this year during the official visit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy to Brazil.
If the deal is successful, Brazil hopes to have the vessel built by 2020 and become the first Latin American nation to possess a nuclear-powered submarine. The deal would also include the joint construction of four diesel-powered submarines.
Brazil, with its nuclear power plants, vast reserves of uranium, advanced refinement capabilities, trained nuclear scientists and various research facilities, and Argentina are the only Latin American countries with significant nuclear capabilities.
The Brazilian military, which has five conventionally powered submarines in service with the Navy, has been seeking to build a nuclear submarine for decades amid worries about the security of its offshore oil reserves.
The current Operation Atlantic exercises to thwart a simulated attack on Brazilian oil drilling facilities involve 20 ships, several submarines, 9,000 troops and as many as 50 aircraft.
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