1. U.S., South Korea, China Meet on North Korea Reactor (Update1)
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The U.S., South Korea and China will meet tomorrow for talks on disarming North Korea, after the government in Seoul said Kim Jong Il's regime has begun reassembling its Yongbyon nuclear reactor.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill and South Korean Ambassador Kim Sook will travel to Beijing for talks with Chinese officials, South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung Hwan told reporters today in Seoul.
``We are very much concerned about the recent developments and urge North Korea to resume disabling and return to negotiations,'' he said.
The three countries, along with Russia and Japan, are trying to persuade North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. The communist nation tested a nuclear device in 2006 and is demanding normalized diplomatic ties with the governments in Tokyo and Washington and economic aid in return for disarming.
North Korea said last month that it stopped disabling Yongbyon on Aug. 14 after the U.S. failed to remove the nation from a list of state sponsors of terrorism. Kim's regime hasn't commented on whether reassembling work has started at the Yongbyon plant.
The Foreign Ministry in Seoul said late yesterday the regime has begun ``restoration work'' at the reactor that would put back the ``process of denuclearization.''
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said yesterday North Korea had made no effort to ``reconstruct'' equipment. The North Koreans were ``moving some equipment around that they had previously put into storage,'' he told reporters, citing information from U.S. monitors at the reactor.
Japan has received ``information that North Korea appears to be moving equipment out of storage'' at the plant, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura told reporters in Tokyo today. ``We are concerned about this situation.''
The Bush administration is downplaying the issue so the U.S. doesn't appear to be under pressure from Kim's regime, according to Koh Yu Hwan, a professor of North Korea studies at Dongguk University in Seoul. South Korea expressed concern to emphasize President Lee Myung Bak's self-declared tough stance on North Korea, he added.
``There is no difference in how South Korea and the U.S. assess the recent developments,'' Foreign Minister Yu said. ``We may express it in different ways.''
North Korea agreed to disable the five-megawatt reactor at six-party talks last October. It blew up a cooling tower located next to the reactor in June.
The regime submitted an inventory of nuclear materials and programs at the end of June, prompting President George W. Bush to give a minimum 45-day notice period to Congress that he intends to remove the nation from the terrorism list. The earliest deadline passed on Aug. 11.
The Bush administration says the regime will stay on the terrorism blacklist until a mechanism is in place to verify the nuclear dossier.
Lee, who took office in February, has pledged to be tougher with North Korea than his predecessors Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun, who pursued a policy of engagement. Lee has said that additional economic ventures with North Korea would be ``difficult'' if the communist country maintains a nuclear program.
2. U.S. doubts North Korea is rebuilding nuclear facility
International Herald Tribune
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The South Korean government said Wednesday that North Korea had begun reassembling its main nuclear complex, but the United States later threw doubt on the claim.
The North had been expected to take this step since it announced last week that it had stopped disabling the nuclear facilities and threatened to get them up and running again in an angry reaction to a delay in removal of its name from a U.S. list of sponsors of terrorism.
The action would threaten five years of on-and-off talks between North Korea and the five regional powers seeking to end its nuclear weapons programs. It could also derail a main diplomatic achievement for the Bush administration.
"Our government expresses serious concern because this goes against the movement toward denuclearizing North Korea and damages the six-nation process," Moon Tae Young, spokesman for the South Korean Foreign Ministry, said in a statement. "We urge the North not to aggravate the situation any further."
Moon gave no further details. But earlier Wednesday, Japan's public broadcaster NHK and the Kyodo news agency reported that North Korea had started putting its nuclear facilities back together Tuesday. The reports cited unidentified officials related to the disarmament talks. Today in Asia - Pacific Prime minister proposes Thai referendum China suggests building defects led to quake deaths After U.S. raid, Pakistan says it will defend territorial integrity
However, the State Department said later Wednesday that, while North Korea had begun moving around some previously stored equipment at its Yongbyon nuclear plant, it did not appear to be trying to rebuild the facility, Reuters reported.
"To my knowledge, based on what we know from the folks on the ground, you don't have an effort to reconstruct, reintegrate this equipment back into the Yongbyon facility," said a State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack.
Since last year, experts from the United States and the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency, together with North Korean engineers, had been disabling key facilities at Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, in a move that temporarily shut the North's plutonium-based nuclear weapons program. North Korea is suspected of running a separate, clandestine weapons program using enriched uranium.
Much of the Yongbyon facilities had already been disabled before the North suspended the work last month. South Korean officials said it would take at least a year for the North to reassemble the complex.
North Korea said it was reversing its course because Washington had failed to keep its promise to remove the North from the terrorism blacklist, once it made a declaration of its nuclear programs, as the North did in June.
In response, Washington repeated its demand that North Korea first agree to a comprehensive method of checking whether its nuclear accounting was complete. It seeks inspections to determine how many nuclear weapons the North has produced and whether it keeps any hidden uranium enrichment program.
Fox News quoted an unidentified U.S. official as saying Wednesday that the reassembling was seen as a "symbolic gesture" because the facility had been largely taken apart.
The official was quoted as saying that the North had been threatening the move for some time and it was considered as a way for it to express anger and "to put further pressure on us."
North Korea has not yet threatened to expel U.S. and IAEA experts from Yongbyon.
North Korea often uses delays and backtracking its earlier commitments as a negotiating tactic. Reassembling its main nuclear complex would complicate Bush's hopes of achieving a breakthrough in North Korean nuclear disarmament before he leaves office in January. Shutting down Yongbyon has been billed as a key diplomatic victory for President George W. Bush.
Russian nuclear experts are in Iran monitoring construction of the Middle East nation's first nuclear power plant.
Leonid Reznikov, director of Atomstroiexport, the Russian company building the power plant in Bushehr, is accompanied by his deputy and a delegation of experts for the three-day visit that winds up Wednesday, the Fars News Agency reported.
The Russian delegation is meeting with a team of Iranian experts headed by Ahmad Fayaz Bakhsh, deputy director of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization.
Konstantin Beschetnov, a member of Russia's Parliament, said while he is certain the Bushehr facility will be completed successfully it is too early to say when that will be.
"This project is so unique that it is too early to announce a completion date. As with any business project it has experienced a number of complications," RIA Novosti quoted Beschetnov as saying.
However, the heads of the nuclear energy agencies for both nations have said it will be operational by the end of the year. Iran is under international sanctions for pursuing its nuclear ambitions.
The Iran-Russia joint project has been delayed at least five times for various reasons, the Fars News Agency noted.
1. U.S. Denies Setting New Conditions for India Nuclear Agreement
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U.S. Ambassador to India David Mulford said a State Department letter doesn't contain fresh conditions for a nuclear energy agreement between the two nations before the Nuclear Suppliers Group meets to approve the accord.
``This letter contains no new conditions and there is no data in this letter which has not already been shared in an open and transparent way with members of Congress and with the government of India,'' Mulford said in a release last night.
The State Department said in a note to the late Representative Tom Lantos on Jan. 16 that the U.S. would cease nuclear cooperation with India, including the supply of fuel, if the South Asian nation undertook an atomic test, the Washington Post reported, citing the letter. The letter was made public Sept. 2 by Representative Howard L. Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the Post reported on its Web site.
The Nuclear Supplier Group, which was unable to reach an agreement last month, meets in Vienna beginning today to consider a waiver that will enable India to begin nuclear fuel and technology commerce. Indian opposition parties have said the State Department letter contradicts Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's assurances to parliament on weapons testing.
The Indian government said any agreement would adhere to conditions stipulated in the accord between the two nations.
``We will be guided solely by the terms of the bilateral agreement between India and the U.S., the India-specific safeguards agreement and the clean waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which we hope will be forthcoming in the meeting of the NSG'' scheduled for today and tomorrow, the foreign ministry said in a release.
India has repeatedly said that it expects unconditional exemption from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group to buy fuel and technology for its energy plan.
``Insofar as the issue of testing is concerned, our position is well known,'' India's foreign ministry said. ``We have a unilateral moratorium on testing. This is reflected in the India- U.S. joint statement of July 18, 2005.''
The NSG, set up 34 years ago to prevent countries from copying India's route to the atomic bomb, adjourned after a second day of meetings in Vienna on Aug. 22. The NSG needs to vote unanimously on the U.S.-India agreement to lift its ban on the trade of nuclear fuels and technology, imposed after India's first nuclear test in 1974.
The accord would allow the world's second-most-populous nation to satisfy rising energy demands through the purchase of nuclear reactor technology. The International Atomic Energy Agency has endorsed a plan for inspections of India's nuclear plants, a crucial step toward implementing the accord.
``The U.S. and India stand shoulder-to-shoulder in their desire for a clean exception and we will continue to work with our Indian partners to persuade the Nuclear Suppliers Group countries,'' Mulford said in a release Aug. 25.
The two countries will continue joint advocacy for the initiative at the highest levels of governments before the scheduled NSG plenary today, Mulford said at the time.
India's National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan said last month the government is hopeful of getting an unconditional waiver at the next meeting of the suppliers group, Press Trust of India reported.
China, some European countries and New Zealand resist the deal because they oppose supplying nuclear technology to atomic weapons states outside the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The U.S. Congress needs to ratify the accord after the backing of the NSG is secured.
India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and the communist parties, former allies of federal ruling coalition, accused the government of misleading the nation.
``It is clearly the Manmohan Singh government which has deliberately and knowingly misled the people and parliament of India on this deal,'' the Bharatiya Janata Party said in a release. ``With his falsehoods nailed once again, Manmohan Singh must resign here and now and fresh elections'' should be held.
Prime Minister Singh and Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee have said in parliament that the accord doesn't prevent India from conducting atomic tests.
``The government stands thoroughly exposed before the country for compromising India's vital security interests,'' the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said in a release in New Delhi. The party demands the government ``suspend all further moves to operationalize the anti-national nuclear deal.''
Singh in July won a confidence vote after his communist allies withdrew support on concern the accord will weaken the nation's independent foreign policy.
1. Russia, Bulgaria start building nuclear power plant
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The head of a Russian nuclear power plant construction company and the Bulgarian premier took part in a ceremony on Wednesday to mark the start of the building of a nuclear power station in northern Bulgaria.
The Belene nuclear power plant is the largest bilateral project involving the two countries. Two power units with Russian VVER-1000 pressurized water reactors are to be built.
Atomstroyexport, Russia's nuclear power equipment and service export monopoly, won the tender in 2005 for the Belene contract, worth around 4 billion euros ($5.8 billion).
The French-German consortium Areva-Siemens is also involved in the project.
"This project is both Bulgarian and European," Bulgarian PM Sergei Stanishev said, adding that it had undergone a thorough inspection by the European Commission.
Atomstroyexport commissions over 20% of global orders. It is currently involved in the construction of two power units for India's Kudankulam power plant, and is building a power unit for Iran's Bushehr NPP.
The Russian company also took part in the construction of the Tianwan nuclear power plant in China, where two power units have been built and are now being tested.
1. Iran, Nigeria to share peaceful nuclear technology
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An Iranian trade delegation announced an agreement Thursday for Iran to share peaceful nuclear technology with Nigeria, to help Africa's biggest oil producer bolster its woeful electricity-generation capacity.
Officials of both countries stressed that the agreement involves only the peaceful uses of atomic energy.
Iran is under sanctions for defying U.N. Security Council demands to halt uranium enrichment until it answers Western suspicions its nuclear program is trying to develop atomic weapons. Iran insists its program is intended only to use nuclear reactors to generate electricity.
Iran, with Russian help, is finishing construction of its first nuclear-powered electricity station, a 1,000-megawatt reactor in the southern city of Bushehr scheduled to begin operation early next year. The Tehran regime has said it plans to build six more nuclear plants by 2021.
Mohammad Ali Zeyghami, a commerce official leading the Iranian delegation, said Iran has the right to share its nuclear know-how with Nigeria. He said oil and other fossil fuels will run out one day and it is crucial to develop other energy sources.
"Nobody can limit the use of knowledge anywhere in the world," Zeyghami said.
Details of the deal were not announced, so it was unclear what technology Iran would provide to Nigeria, which does not have a nuclear energy program now.
Tijanni Kaura, a senior Nigerian Foreign Ministry official, said the agreement deals only with peaceful nuclear technology and shouldn't be seen as an attempt by Africa's most populous nation to start an atomic weapons program.
"Nigeria is never entering into any agreement with Iran for any matter that has to do with weapons," Kaura said.
"There shouldn't be a misunderstanding between exploration or uses of energy to provide power and the uses of energy for weapons ... so that our relationship with Iran will not be misconstrued by Nigerians and the entire international community."
Nigeria is Africa's biggest petroleum producer, but decades of neglect and corruption in the energy sector have left the country with almost no way to refine crude oil into fuels used to power electricity-generating stations.
Most of the country's 140 million people get only a few hours of state-provided electricity a day, and businesses must rely on costly diesel generators to power their plants.
The Nigerian government has identified the power system as a major hindrance in the country's development.
Lawmakers say about $10 billion has been spent on Nigeria's power sector since civilians replaced military rulers in 1999, but electricity production has stagnated for nearly a decade.
Iran is an even bigger oil producer but its economy also is struggling, and the Tehran government argues it needs to turn to nuclear energy for its elecricity needs as oil fields are pumped out.
The U.S. initially opposed Russian participation in the building of Iran's Bushehr power plant. But it reversed its position to win Moscow's support for the first set of U.N. sanctions against Iran in the dispute over uranium enrichment, which produces material that can be used as a reactor fuel but also as the core of atomic warheads.
The United States and Russia have said the agreement by Moscow to supply nuclear material to fuel the Bushehr reactor means Iran has no need to continue its own uranium enrichment program.
Iran has refused to give up uranium enrichment. It says its own domestic production will ensure it has fuel for a 300-megawatt reactor planned for the southwestern town of Darkhovin. On Sunday, Iran's official news agency said the country also had begun designing a second 360-megawatt nuclear facility.
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