1. Vladimir Putin set to bait US with nuclear aid for Tehran
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Russia is considering increasing its assistance to Iranï¿½s nuclear programme in response to Americaï¿½s calls for Nato expansion eastwards and the presence of US Navy vessels in the Black Sea delivering aid to Georgia.
The Kremlin is discussing sending teams of Russian nuclear experts to Tehran and inviting Iranian nuclear scientists to Moscow for training, according to sources close to the Russian military.
Moscow has been angered by Washingtonï¿½s promise to give Georgia ï¿½564m in aid following the Russian invasion of parts of the country last month after Tbilisiï¿½s military offensive. Kremlin officials suspect the US is planning to rearm the former Soviet republic and is furious at renewed support for attempts by Georgia and Ukraine to join Nato.
Last week a third US Navy ship entered the Black Sea with aid bound for Georgia. Moscow has accused the Americans of using the vessels to deliver weapons but has failed to provide any evidence.
Vladimir Putin, the prime minister of Russia, who has been the driving force during the crisis, has declared he will take unspecified action in response.
ï¿½Everything has changed since the war in Georgia,ï¿½ said one source. ï¿½What seemed impossible before, is more than possible now when our friends become our enemies and our enemies our friends. What are American ships doing off our coast? Do you see Russian warships off the coast of America?
ï¿½Russia will respond. A number of possibilities are being considered, including hitting America there where it hurts most ï¿½ Iran.ï¿½
Increasing nuclear assistance to Iran would sharply escalate tensions between Moscow and Washington. Over the past 10 years Russia has helped Iran build its first nuclear power station in Bushehr. Iran claims the plant is for civilian purposes. Officially at least, Moscow accepts that. The West has little doubt the aim is to build a nuclear bomb.
But diplomats say that despite its help with the Bushehr plant, Moscow has so far played a constructive role as a mediator between the regime in Tehran and the West and by backing United Nations sanctions.
Earlier this year, in one of his last actions as president, Putin added Russiaï¿½s stamp of approval to a UN security council resolution imposing fresh sanctions against Iran.
The document bans, with the exception of the Bushehr project, dual-technology exports that could be used for civil nuclear purposes and missile production.
ï¿½After the war in Georgia itï¿½s difficult to imagine relations between Russia and America getting worse,ï¿½ said a western diplomat. ï¿½Russia giving greater nuclear assistance to the Iranians would do the trick ï¿½ thatï¿½s for sure.ï¿½
Last month Russia agreed to sell missiles to Syria. ï¿½The mood among the hawks is very bullish indeed,ï¿½ said one source who did not rule out a resumption of Russian military action in Georgia to take the port of Batumi, where American vessels are delivering aid.
Hardliners were infuriated last week by the visit to Georgia of Dick Cheney, the American vice-president. ï¿½Georgia will be in our alliance,ï¿½ Cheney said. He also visited Ukraine, whose Nato aspirations could make it the next flashpoint between Russia and America.
However in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, events appeared to be moving Moscowï¿½s way. Viktor Yushchenko, the pro-western president, is fighting to stay in power in a crisis that could see him impeached.
ï¿½Iï¿½m amused by claims in the West that Russia is the loser in this crisis,ï¿½ said a former Putin aide. ï¿½What would Washington do if we were arming Cuba the way it armed Georgia? The postSoviet days when we could be pushed around are over.ï¿½
1. India gets go-ahead for unrestricted civil nuclear trade
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The 45-Nation Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG) responsible for regulating global nuclear trade has approved a distinctive US proposal that permits India to conduct civilian atomic commerce while retaining its strategic weapons programme.
The one-off controversial agreement, concluded at Vienna at the weekend after three days of protracted and fierce debate led by Ireland, Austria and New Zealand,does not require India to sign the global Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty instituted to limit the spread of atomic weapons.
Eventually, Saturday's NSG agreement was reached after these three countries lifted their objection to the US proposal following India's assurances it would not proliferate sensitive nuclear technology or material, and would uphold its moratorium on testing atomic weapons.
But senior Indian officials conceded that pressure from the US, France, Russia, Germany and the UK, all anxious to sell nuclear fuel and equipment to India worth billions of dollars, "persuaded" these small countries to concur.
It is also no secret that US president George Bush lobbied the NSG to ensure the successful completion of the agreement.
Ironically, the same NSG that started off as the London Suppliers' Group (also known as the London Club) to prevent atomic proliferation following India's first underground nuclear explosion in 1974 has, 34 years later, presided over Delhi being granted the very waiver its founding principles had opposed.
Critics of the deal claim it creates a dangerous precedent by allowing India to expand its civil nuclear power industry without adhering to any treaties circumscribing its strategic weapons' programme, as all other nations must.
They believe it undermines arguments for isolating Iran over its nuclear programme and will be a disaster for international nuclear non-proliferation efforts, which have been building momentum since 9/11 and the subsequent global war against terrorism.
Under the terms of the deal, India is to separate its civilian and military reactors, placing 14 of its 22 nuclear facilities under international safeguards.
India's prime minister Manmohan Singh said the NSG decision "marked the end of India's decades-long isolation from the nuclear mainstream and of the technology denial regime" and would help the country meet its rising energy demands to ensure its impressive growth rate.
Last month Mr Singh had staked the future of his government on the deal, facing a close-run confidence vote over it in parliament. The deal now needs ratification by US Congress before it can be "operationalised" by Washington, but allows India to acquire civil nuclear equipment and fuel from any supplier.
India has already negotiated tentative nuclear deals with France and Russia, but has assured Washington that it would wait for the US Congress to clear the agreement before acting upon any of them.
However, India's opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the communists attacked the deal, saying it would curtail India's nuclear weapons programme and "subjugate" the country to US "hegemonic" designs.
"India has walked into the non-proliferation trap set by the US," senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said.
1. Australia: no uranium sales to India, despite end of supply ban
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Australia will not sell uranium to India unless it signs a key non-proliferation pact, despite a decision by nuclear supplier nations to end a ban on trading with New Delhi, a minister said Monday.
Australia's government pledged it would scrap a landmark deal, negotiated by the former conservative administration before it lost power last November, to sell uranium to India for its nuclear energy programme.
"(The government) shouldn't be changing its policy to not supply to countries that are not signatories to the Non-Proliferation Treaty," said Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean. "India understands that."
The comments came after the United States, which has signed a nuclear technology sharing deal with India, on Saturday persuaded supplier nations to lift a 34-year-old embargo on nuclear trade with India.
The Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which controls the export and sale of nuclear technology, reached consensus in Vienna on a one-off waiver of its rules for India, which refuses to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Australia has the world's largest reserves of uranium, which is used as nuclear fuel, but has no nuclear power industry and only operates three yellowcake mines.
But Crean said that while Australia welcomed the safeguards and commitment India has agreed to regarding its civilian nuclear programme, it was in its best interests not to sell yellowcake to a nation that has not signed the NPT.
"I think that we should be using our strength as a supplier of uranium to really ensure that the appropriate safeguard measures are in place," he said.
"(India) hasn't asked for supplies of uranium from us. They've sought our support as a member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group but they haven't sought supplies of uranium from us. If they do, they know what our policy is."
Washington wanted a special waiver of the NSG on nuclear trading with India so it can share civilian nuclear technology with New Delhi.
Critics say the deal undermines international non-proliferation efforts and accuse the nuclear powers of pursuing commercial and political gains.
1. US holds off on civilian nuclear pact with Russia
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Now is not the right time for the U.S. to move forward on a once-celebrated deal for civilian nuclear cooperation with Russia, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Saturday.
Her comment increased speculation that President Bush is planning to punish Moscow for invading Georgia, a former Soviet republic, by canceling the agreement. Such a move is being planned, according to senior Bush administration officials, but is not yet final.
"The time isn't right for the Russia agreement," Rice told reporters while flying from Tunisia to Algeria during a visit to North Africa. "We'll be making an announcement about that later."
U.S.-Russian relations have cooled considerably since last month's military standoff between Russia and Georgia. On Saturday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the war has shown the world that "Russia is a nation to be reckoned with."
Traveling in Italy, Vice President Dick Cheney pushed back against Moscow, saying: "Russia's actions are an affront to civilized standards and are completely unacceptable."
The nuclear deal was signed in May by U.S. and Russian officials and is now before Congress. It would give the U.S. access to modern Russian nuclear technology and clear the way for Russia to establish itself as a lucrative center for the import and storage of spent nuclear fuel from American-supplied reactors around the world.
Such a deal was seen as crucial to boosting relations with Russia, and to fulfilling Bush's vision of increasing civilian nuclear energy use worldwide as a way to combat rising energy demands and climate change.
Withdrawing the agreement from Capitol Hill would have little effect. The deal probably would not have been approved before Bush's term ends in January. But pulling it would send a message to Russia that its actions in Georgia are not acceptable and will not go unanswered.
"I am relieved the administration finally appears to be heeding calls from Congress to withdraw the ... agreement with Russia from consideration," said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn. "I have long believed that it is highly inappropriate to reward Russia with nuclear cooperation when it is recklessly providing Iran with sensitive technologies to protect its nuclear program."
1. US nuclear envoy meets China in N. Korea impasse
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The top U.S. nuclear envoy met with his Chinese counterpart Saturday as part of the latest round of talks aimed at breaking a deadlock over verification of North Korea's nuclear programs.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill met Wu Dawei, who represents China in six-nation negotiations that also involve both Koreas, Japan and Russia.
The efforts come as Pyongyang is taking steps that indicate it may be reversing its promised disarmament.
Hill, who met with South Korean and Japanese envoys on Friday, said the U.S. was willing to sit down again with representatives from the five other countries. He was scheduled to speak with the Russian ambassador in Beijing later Saturday.
"What we need to do is verify their nuclear declaration and we have put together a protocol that's based on international standards," Hill told reporters late Friday. "I think there's a lot of support within the six-party process for getting this done."
He said there were no plans for talks with North Korea before he heads back to Washington.
The North began moving disassembled parts of its main nuclear reactor back to the plutonium-producing facility this week, putting into action its threat to restore atomic facilities that had been partially disabled under a disarmament pact.
But Washington has played down the development, saying Pyongyang just moved some equipment out of storage and it has not yet started to "reconstruct, reintegrate this equipment back into the facility."
South Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, Kim Sook, said before leaving for Beijing that he did not have information on whether Pyongyang had done more to undo its disarmament steps, beyond moving equipment out of storage and placing it near the atomic reactor at its Yongbyon plant.
North Korea says the United States has not held up its end of their disarmament deal ï¿½ a promise to remove the regime from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Washington says it will take the North off the list only after it complies fully with the disarmament requirements.
"We have publicly said on a number of occasions that we are prepared to complete our obligations as they complete theirs, but a declaration without a protocol is only half of the obligation," Hill said.
The North conducted an underground nuclear test blast in October 2006. It later agreed to disable the Yongbyon plant in exchange for aid and diplomatic concessions. Work began in November last year.
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