1. Secretary-General Welcomes Entry into Force of Historic Treaty on Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia
U.N. News Center
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The following statement was issued today by the Spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:
The Secretary-General welcomes the entry into force of the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia. Opened for signature on 8 September 2006, it has now been ratified by all five Central Asian States and will enter into force on 21 March 2009.
The Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia, for which the Government of Kyrgyzstan is the depositary, has five States parties: the Republic of Kazakhstan; the Kyrgyz Republic; the Republic of Tajikistan; Turkmenistan; and the Republic of Uzbekistan. The Treaty is of particular significance. This will be the first nuclear-weapon-free zone to be established in the northern hemisphere and will also encompass an area where nuclear weapons previously existed. It will also be the first nuclear-weapon-free zone that requires its parties to conclude with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and bring into force an Additional Protocol to their Safeguards Agreements with IAEA within 18 months after the entry into force of the Treaty, and to comply fully with the provisions of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).
In order to ensure the effective implementation of the Treaty, the Secretary-General would like to urge the States concerned to address any outstanding issues that may affect its operation.
As the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons approaches, the Secretary-General trusts that the entry into force of the Treaty on a Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone in Central Asia will reinforce efforts to strengthen the global nuclear non-proliferation regime, underline the strategic and moral value of nuclear-weapon-free zones, as well as the possibilities for greater progress on a range of issues in the pursuit of a world free of nuclear weapons.
Available at: http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2009/sgsm12143.doc.htm
1. Research Reactor Fuel Management Meeting in Vienna Focuses on Non-Proliferation
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This week 230 experts from over 30 countries gather in Vienna, Austria to discuss the most critical issues facing research reactor fuel management.
Operators of the world´s 250 working research reactors are discussing the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) as well as conversion of research reactors to use different fuel. The use of HEU poses a global nuclear proliferation and security risk because it can be used to make nuclear explosives.
According to Pablo Adelfang, Head of the IAEA´s Research Reactors Group, "The main issue during this conference is the development of very high density low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel, as well as the conversion of the most demanding high-flux research reactors to use LEU instead of HEU."
The 13th International Topical Meeting on Research Reactor Fuel Management, being held from 22 - 25 March 2009, will serve as an international forum for researchers, operators and decision-makers to discuss research reactor use, and help improve operational efficiency and fuel safety. Participants will also contribute to the search for back-end solutions for spent fuel, that is, transportation, final disposal and reprocessing.
"More research is still needed to create and test the fuel required to convert some very high-end reactors - like high-flux research reactors. This is under development and is drawing keen interest," says Mr. Adelfang.
Another critical issue is the shortage of the medical isotope technetium-99m (Tc-99m), which is used for health care and treatment. The international community has become increasingly concerned about shortages of the isotope, which is produced by some of the world´s oldest research reactors.
"Ninety-five percent of the world´s needs are supplied by only five reactors, all of them over 40 years old," said Nuclear Energy Agency Director General Luis Echávarri, "Outages of these reactors and of the downstream processing facilities have recently resulted in significant shortages of Tc-99m."
The conference is organised by the European Nuclear Society in cooperation with the IAEA. In its supporting role, the IAEA is funding participation of some experts from developing countries.
Available at: http://www.iaea.or.at/NewsCenter/News/2009/fuelsolution.html
1. N.K. Threatens Boycott of Six-Party Talks if U.N. Sanctions Rocket Launch
Yonhap News Agency
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North Korea warned Tuesday it will boycott the six-party nuclear talks if the United Nations imposes sanctions over its rocket launch, saying such punitive measures violate a multilateral agreement on mutual respect.
"If such a hostile activity is carried out under the name of the U.N. Security Council, that would be a breach of the Sept. 19 joint statement by the U.N. Security Council itself," the North's Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement, referring to a 2005 accord reached at the six-party talks. The talks involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.
South Korea, the U.S. and Japan have been threatening U.N. sanctions if North Korea goes through with its launch, scheduled between April 4-8, citing a Security Council resolution adopted in 2006 that bans Pyongyang from engaging in any missile-related activities.
"Space development and its peaceful use are legitimate rights that every nation on earth is equally entitled to," an unnamed ministry spokesman said.
The spokesman rejected the argument opposing the North's rocket launch, that technologies used for shooting a satellite and a missile are indistinguishable. The U.S. and Japan have already put their own satellites into orbit, meaning they have more advanced missile technology, the spokesman noted.
Such an argument, the spokesman said, is tantamount to "thieves' logic."
"There is no authority to interfere with the independent right of sovereign nations with regard to peaceful space development and space use," the spokesman said.
North Korea has warned that any foreign attempt to shoot down its Kwangmyongsong-2 satellite will lead to a war on the Korean Peninsula.
The six-party talks have been stalled since the latest round broke down in December due to a dispute over how to verify North Korea's past nuclear activity.
Available at: http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/northkorea/2009/03/24/66/0401000000AEN20090324008200315F.HTML
South Korea's top nuclear negotiator arrived in Beijing on Tuesday for talks aimed at reviving efforts to verify North Korea's nuclear programs amid growing unease over Pyongyang's plans to launch a rocket.
Wi Sung-lac was scheduled to meet with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei on Tuesday and Wednesday before heading to Washington for further discussions.
Wi told reporters at the Beijing airport that key topics are "the missile problem and the nuclear six-party talks" but did not elaborate.
The flurry of activity comes amid concerns about North Korea's declaration that it will fire a rocket in early April in violation of a U.N. ban prohibiting the country from ballistic activity. Some fear the launch will be a cover for a long-range missile.
Wi will focus on working out contingency plans in case Pyongyang goes ahead with the rocket launch, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said.
"As the clock ticks, we are placing more weight on countermeasures after a launch," he was quoted by Yonhap as saying before he left for Beijing on Tuesday.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang gave few details of the talks, but said China continued to back the six-nation format for pursuading North Korea to give up its nuclear programs.
"China believes the most important thing is to continue with the six party talks, proceeding from the objective of achieving a peaceful, stable, non-nuclear Korean Peninsula, and we call on all sides to show restraint and act in the common interest," Qin told reporters.
North Korea's premier visited Beijing last week and met with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, both of whom urged the country to return to negotiating table after talks stalled late last year over verification of Pyongyang's nuclear program. The talks also include the U.S., Russia, Japan and South Korea.
Wi also visited Japan last week to meet with Tokyo officials.
North Korea has declared its intention to send a communications satellite into orbit sometime between April 4-8, stoking concern among neighboring countries that the launch is a cover for a test of its advanced missile technology.
Yonhap quoted an unnamed intelligence official Monday as saying authorities "strongly believe" the launch will take place April 4-5 and believe it will involve a long-range missile — not a satellite.
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gT90ZD_cMUStWkxQj_1IcXMtH1YAD9749QB81
3. US, SKorea, Japan Envoys on NKorea to Meet: Media
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The US, South Korean and Japanese envoys to North Korea denuclearisation talks plan to meet in Washington on Friday ahead of the regime's expected rocket launch, Japanese media reported.
Their first three-way meeting since US President Barack Obama took office would aim to show their unified stance against North Korea's planned rocket launch, Kyodo news agency reported Tuesday quoting unnamed sources.
Global concern has been mounting about North Korea's announcement it would launch a communications satellite between April 4 and 8.
The United States, Japan and other allies believe Pyongyang is actually testing a missile that could, in theory, reach Alaska.
A top US general last week said the United States could shoot down the projectile if it was determined to be a ballistic missile, and Japan also said it would try to shoot down any rocket heading for its territory.
North Korea has resisted pressure to call off the launch and warned that any attempt to shoot down the rocket would be regarded as an act of war.
China, meanwhile, has called on all sides to exercise restraint and return to the stalled six-nation nuclear talks, which group China, the United States, North and South Korea, Japan and Russia.
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hkSyH3F17_PLzJhRQlUTgXVwuvMQ
4. Aid Possible Before Full Denuclearization of N. Korea: Official
Yonhap News Agency
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South Korea will provide economic assistance to North Korea even before the North completely gives up its nuclear ambitions if the communist nation agrees in principle to give them up, a senior advisor to South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Monday.
Kim Tae-hyo, secretary for national security strategy, also said Seoul will continue to seek dialogue with Pyongyang even after the communist nation launches what it claims is a communications satellite, believed by many to be a long-range missile.
"Currently, there are many misunderstandings about our North Korea policy," Kim said in a security forum hosted by the ruling Grand National Party.
Even before his inauguration some 13 months ago, the South Korean president repeatedly called on the communist North to give up all its nuclear programs, vowing in return to help bring the North's per capita income to US$3,000 under an initiative he named "Denuclearization, Openness, 3000."
Pyongyang snubbed the offer as an insult and has since cut off all dialogue with Seoul.
Kim, a former political science professor, said Seoul's goal was not to wait for the North's regime collapse, but rather to engage Pyongyang in dialogue as soon as possible. But he added the conditions would first have to be met.
"We are saying we would like to begin with an agreement from North Korea that denuclearization is our final destination even though it will be difficult to resolve the issue right away," he said.
The presidential aide said Seoul can expand and even start new economic cooperation projects between the two Koreas if Pyongyang agrees to eventual denuclearization.
"To this end, slandering each other has to go away," Kim noted.
Since Lee's inauguration, Pyongyang has labeled him a puppet of "U.S. imperialists" and a "traitor," despite past accords between the two Koreas that prohibit slander or defamation of each other's leaders.
Kim said Seoul will work to get North Korea to abide by these past accords.
Available at: http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/northkorea/2009/03/23/44/0401000000AEN20090323008800315F.HTML
5. U.S. Doesn't Want to Use Force in Denuclearizing N.K.: Envoy
Yonhap News Agency
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The United States is committed to diplomatic efforts in denuclearizing North Korea, its envoy to Seoul reiterated Monday, dismissing the possibility of resorting to military force.
"We have to be very persistent and strong. We don't want to see war here," responded U.S. Ambassador Kathleen Stephens after a lecture to university students in Seoul when asked whether Washington would consider using force as an option to end North Korea's nuclear program.
The U.S. has been engaging in multilateral talks to end the North's nuclear developments through six-party talks, also involving South Korea, China, Japan and Russia. The negotiations have been stalled since December as Pyongyang rejected a proposed protocol on verifying its past nuclear activities and stockpile.
"Nobody wants to see war and violence on the Korean Peninsula. Everyone understands what a disastrous course that would be," Stephens said.
Washington also wants to see "renewed dialogue" between the two Koreas, Stephens said.
"We want to see renewed dialogue between the North and South, a better relationship and an end to the sort of provocative rhetoric and behavior that we've seen recently," said Stephens.
As the U.S. and South Korea wrapped up an annual 12-day joint military drill on Friday, the North restored a military communication line with the South on Saturday, which it had cut off in protest of the joint exercise.
The North had sealed the inter-Korean border three times during the drill period and arbitrarily held South Koreans visiting a joint industrial complex in its border city of Kaesong.
On the issue of two American reporters detained by North Korea since last week, Stephens said that there were "a lot of diplomatic efforts going on."
"As the (U.S. State Department) spokesman has said, Secretary (Hillary) Clinton has engaged (on the matter) and we'll continue to be engaged on it," the ambassador said.
Pyongyang confirmed Saturday it is holding two U.S. female reporters who allegedly illegally crossed the border into the North.
Concerning U.S.-South Korean relations and coordinated plans to tackle the global economic crisis, Stephens said the leaders have a "big agenda" for a bilateral summit expected to be held on the sidelines of the G20 economic summit slated for next month in London.
"I'm sure President (Barack) Obama and President Lee Myung-bak will discuss some of these steps (to improve bilateral ties), as well as all the global challenges we face when they meet in about 10 days' time in London," Stephens said on the first expected face-to-face meeting between the two leaders, without providing more details.
Available at: http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/northkorea/2009/03/23/13/0401000000AEN20090323010100315F.HTML
South Korea is considering actively taking part in the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) to prevent the spread of the weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), a foreign ministry spokesman said Monday.
The government is reviewing full participation in the PSI in an effort to prevent the spread of WMDs, the spokesman, Moon Tae-young, told reporters.
If Pyongyang refuses to drop plans to launch a long-range missile, which is scheduled for early April, Seoul may have to adapt to the changed security situation on the Korean Peninsula, the spokesman said.
Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said last Friday that the South may have to consider full participation of the global non-proliferation campaign if the North fires its long-range missile, which the communist regime claims a ``satellite.''
Eleven countries agreed to the PSI Statement of Interdiction Principles in 2003, which calls for interdicting WMD shipments and preventing proliferation facilitators.
More than 90 countries have joined the initiative, but the Seoul government has been reluctant to fully participate due to fears of aggravating inter-Korean relations.
Some experts, however, believe that full participation will help ``diplomatically solve'' the North Korean nuclear issue.
South Korea agreed in 2005 to participate as an observer, joining five of eight PSI activities.
Available at: http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2009/03/113_41822.html
2. U.S. to Work With India on Nuclear Non-Proliferation
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The Obama administration wants to build on a U.S.-India civilian nuclear power deal to work with the Indians to strengthen the global non-proliferation system, a senior U.S. diplomat said on Monday.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg said the 2005 atomic power deal allowing New Delhi to import nuclear technology after a 33-year freeze gave both countries a duty to shore up the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty system.
"Both the United States and India have the responsibility to help to craft a strengthened NPT regime to foster safe, affordable nuclear power to help the globe's energy and environment needs, while assuring against the spread of nuclear weapons," he said.
India, which is not a signatory to the NPT, is nonetheless "in the position to look at the kinds of commitments it can make to be part of an international approach," Steinberg said at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
The 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group agreed in September to lift a ban on nuclear trade with India, imposed after its first nuclear test in 1974 and for its refusal to join the NPT.
Washington overcame significant opposition to win the NSG waiver in order to implement the nuclear cooperation pact, a key strategic, clean energy, environmental and commercial goal of the United States.
India, Pakistan and Israel are the only countries never to have signed the NPT.
India's special envoy for nuclear issues and climate change said the nuclear deal and NSG waiver meant his country was "now accepted as a partner in the global nuclear domain."
"Thanks to the civil nuclear agreement, we are now, potentially at a different level of engagement on these hitherto sensitive and even contentious issues," envoy Shyam Saran said at Brookings.
"How we deal with bringing India and Pakistan into the NPT world is a critical question," Steinberg said.
How Washington and New Delhi would cooperate on non-proliferation issues would be worked out in talks once the Obama administration filled key posts and following India's general elections in April and May, he added.
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/politicsNews/idUSTRE52M5IU20090323
3. Russia, U.S. Could Agree New START Treaty by December - Moscow
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Russia and the United States have every chance of reaching an agreement on a new arms reduction treaty to replace START-1 by December this year, a Russian deputy foreign minister said on Friday.
"There is ample time before December to work out a serious and detailed document," Sergei Ryabkov said.
The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-1) signed between the Soviet Union and the United States in 1991 places a limit of 6,000 strategic or long-range nuclear warheads on each side. The treaty expires in December 2009.
Ryabkov also said that Moscow was pinning great hopes on a forthcoming meeting between President Dmitry Medvedev and his U.S. counterpart, Barack Obama, scheduled for April 1 in London.
"The widely discussed 'reboot' initiated by our American partners has really begun. We are doing well. We hope that further development of the dialogue and its reinvigoration ... will enable us to build up the positive quality of bilateral relations," he said.
Relations between the former Cold War archrivals have been strained in recent years over a host of differences, including the planned U.S. missile defense in Eastern Europe and Russia's armed conflict with U.S. ally Georgia in August.
The two countries' top diplomats made a symbolic reboot to improve ties when they met in Geneva earlier this month.
Ryabkov warned, however, that Russia would never mindlessly go along with the U.S. plans for a missile shield.
"We are ready for cooperation on the missile shield, but not in the role of a draft horse that puts on a harness and pulls in the direction ordered by a teamster," he said.
The United States has cited Iran's controversial nuclear program as one of the reasons behind its plans to deploy a missile base in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic. The missile shield has been strongly opposed by Russia, which views it as a threat to its national security.
Top Russian officials have repeatedly expressed their hope that President Obama will not follow through with the missile defense plans of his predecessor, George W. Bush.
Available at: http://en.rian.ru/world/20090320/120660229.html
1. 'No Proof' Iran Seeks Atom Bomb: Russian Minister
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Saturday there was no proof that Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon and urged the West to respect and reach out to the Islamic republic.
"There is no proof that Iran even has decided to make a bomb," he told the Brussels Forum conference, alongside EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who on behalf of world powers has led talks to curb Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
Lavrov said the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was best placed to monitor Iran's activities and establish whether it might try to covertly develop a weapon under the guise of a civilian programme.
Lavrov said that "as long as the IAEA works in Iran," real concerns it may develop a bomb could be allayed.
Uranium enrichment, a process that the IAEA monitors, is used to make fuel for a nuclear reactor, but at highly refined levels it can serve to produce the core of an atomic weapon.
"To change it to the weapon grade uranium, you need to do manipulations which would be immediately known by cameras," Lavrov said.
His comments come after US President Barack Obama issued a video message to Iran, offering to open a new chapter in relations with the Islamic Republic. The two nations have not had diplomatic ties since 1980.
"This is an example of how people should be self critical even at the top," Lavrov noted about the message.
"Iran must be engaged as a constructive part of the solution and not of the problem," he said.
"It's negotiations, it's respect and it's engagement of Iran in all the areas... including security dialogue with Iran on all the issues in the Middle East, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon."
Russia, a member of the United Nations Security Council, has generally resisted a more hard-line approach against Iran taken by former US president George W. Bush and is helping Tehran build a nuclear power station.
Solana said it was vital for Moscow and the West to work together to encourage the Islamic republic to accept an international offer of political and economic incentives in exchange for suspending uranium enrichment.
"Cooperation on Iran is fundamental. We really have to face the problem of Iran in a coordinated fashion. This one of the most important challenges. If we get that, we will get a tremendous amount of work done," he said.
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hBPU3NuguY_rj19oOwLADdyt-E2w
As politicians and analysts in Iran and around the world debate the country’s nuclear programme, the opinions of the Iranian public have been conspicuous by their absence.
News broadcasts of massive, government-organised rallies in support of the nuclear drive and protesting against foreign objections may give the impression that Iranians are united in wanting a nuclear programme and the development of nuclear weapons. But a survey of opinions from different sectors of Iranian society suggests attitudes towards the programme are diverse and nuanced.
For the vast majority of people who spoke to The National, developing nuclear power as a replacement for oil and gas should be a top priority for the government – a necessity recently brought into sharp relief by falling oil prices – though the need for a nuclear weapon proved a more divisive issue.
“We need a substitute for fossil fuels; everyone knows that,” said Manouchehr Haghighi, a taxi driver in his 40s from south Tehran. “I support the nuclear programme 100 per cent.”
Leaning against his green taxi on a quiet street in north Tehran, Mr Haghighi said Iranians are frustrated that the international community subjects the Islamic republic’s nuclear ambitions to an exceptional level of scrutiny while many western and some Middle Eastern countries have nuclear programmes and even weapons.
He said the development of nuclear power, not weapons, was essential because the country will one day depend on it for energy.
But, he added: “If other countries have these weapons, why shouldn’t we?”
Narges Ali Daie, 21, a student of medical management at Iran University of Medical Sciences in Tehran, said she was in favour of nuclear power and eventually developing nuclear weapons, but the economy and other social issues were of far greater importance.
“Most Iranians want a nuclear programme, but there are other things to sort out first,” she said after coming out of an English-language class in north Tehran. “But we want to have nuclear weapons for protection. This is our right. This is not just the feeling in Iran, but every country.”
But Vahid Abedini, 26, a political analyst and member of the reformist Islamic Alliance, said the country had no need for nuclear weapons.
“Why would we need a nuclear bomb? Why on Earth would the government consider bombing Israel? It’s ridiculous,” Mr Abedini said at a downtown coffee shop.
His friend Mohsen, 26, a political science student at Tehran University and also a member of the Islamic Alliance, questioned the intentions of the government’s nuclear activities.
“If the government is not developing a nuclear weapon, why do they keep installing centrifuges?” he said, referring to the devices necessary for the refinement of nuclear fuel.
A 2006 poll by the state-run Iranian Students Polling Agency found that 85.4 per cent of Iranians backed the nuclear programme, though that figure dropped to 64 per cent if economic sanctions were to be imposed on the country as a result.
A poll taken in April by WorldPublicOpinion.org, an independent public opinion research centre based in the United States, seemed to support this, finding that 81 per cent of Iranians consider it “very important” for Iran to have a “full-fuel-cycle nuclear programme” enabling the country to produce nuclear fuel for energy production.
On nuclear weapons, however, the poll found that 66 per cent were opposed to their development, with 58 per cent saying it was against Islamic principles, and only 20 per cent in favour.
Indeed, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader, has said the possession of a nuclear weapon would be a violation of Islam.
And many Iranians who support the programme express the same view.
“Religiously we are not allowed to have a weapon of mass destruction,” said Fatima, 22, a member of the Baseej, a pro-regime militant group that was founded after the 1979 revolution and forged in the eight-year war with Iraq. “Iran wants [nuclear energy] to make peaceful progress.”
Asking only to use her first name, Fatima, a philosophy student at Tehran University who wears the chador, accused the United States and the European Union of using the issue as a pretext to deprive Iran of much needed energy resources and keep it weak.
The United States, Israel, the European Union and most Gulf states are in varying degrees opposed to Iran’s nuclear programme, accusing it of enriching uranium to construct a nuclear warhead.
Their suspicions have been excited by International Atomic Energy Agency findings that Iran is enriching uranium at its nuclear plant in Natanz, a crucial step in producing a nuclear weapon.
Some in Iran say that is not something to apologise for.
In a carpet store in the labyrinthine Tehran bazaar, the store owner, who asked not to be named, said Iran needed nuclear technology as much as any other country and should take instruction from no one on what form that should take.
“Iran was founded 10,000 years ago – when was the US founded?” he said. “Iran does not need anyone. We have the oil, gas, the people and the technology.”
But for most Iranians the development of a nuclear programme, while essential to the country’s future development and even sovereignty – the state will become energy dependent once fossil fuels run out – should be peaceful in nature.
“Anyone who knows about this issue is in favour of a peaceful nuclear programme,” said Hamid Reza Taraghi, a member of the conservative Motalefeh party.
“But in the next 10 years nuclear energy will have the last word and countries that have it will be able to develop independently. Countries without it will have to rely on those that do.”
Available at: http://www.thenational.ae/article/20090322/FOREIGN/372844183/1011/NEWS
3. Obama Offers New Start; Iran Wants Action Not Talk
Matt Spetalnick and Parisa Hafezi
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U.S. President Barack Obama made his warmest offer yet of a fresh start in relations with Iran, which cautiously welcomed the overture but said on Friday it was waiting for "practical steps," not talk.
"The United States wants the Islamic Republic of Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations. You have that right -- but it comes with real responsibilities," Obama said in an unprecedented video message released to Middle East broadcasters to mark the Iranian New Year.
"...that place cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization."
Relations have been almost deep-frozen for decades, and remain blighted by differences over Iran's nuclear program, Iraq, Israel and other issues.
In separate New Year messages to Iranians, neither Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei nor President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad mentioned Obama's offer. Khamenei said world powers had been persuaded they could not block Iran's nuclear progress.
Aliakbar Javanfekr, aide to Ahmadinejad, told Reuters: "The Iranian nation has shown that it can forget hasty behavior but we are awaiting practical steps by the United States.
"The Obama administration so far has just talked," he said, calling for "fundamental changes in his policy towards Iran."
The United States accuses Tehran of backing militant groups and seeking to develop a nuclear bomb under cover of a civilian atomic power program -- a charge Iran denies.
Javanfekr said Iran welcomed "the interest of the American government to settle differences." But he said the United States "should realise its previous mistakes and make an effort to amend them."
Washington's sanctions against Tehran were "wrong and need to be reviewed." Its backing for Israel, Iran's main enemy in the region, was "not a friendly gesture."
The White House distributed the Obama video with Farsi subtitles and posted it on its website. It was not shown or mentioned on Iran's main state television news, but was reported by Iranian news agencies.
"I think it's important that the president wanted to deliver this unique message directly to the people and to the leaders to understand that there's a rightful place in the community of nations ... without terror or arms or violence, and that, through peaceful actions, the two countries can work together towards their mutual ends," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.
France and Germany, which with Britain have led unsuccessful European Union efforts to persuade Iran to give up uranium enrichment, both welcomed the Obama initiative.
"I think the message reflects exactly what the Europeans have always wanted -- that an offer is being made to Iran and... (I hope) that this is being used," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at an EU summit in Brussels.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said: "For my part I remain convinced that with a barrel of Brent (crude oil) well under $50 the policy of sanctions remains relevant, while at the same time there is need for dialogue."
Mohammad Hassan Khani, assistant professor of international relations at Tehran's Imam Sadiq University, described Obama's message as a positive gesture but noted it came only a week after the extension of U.S. economic sanctions.
"This is somehow conflicting and making people here confused," he said.
Obama has already expressed a readiness to have face-to-face diplomatic contacts with Tehran, a major shift from former President George W. Bush's policy of trying to isolate a country he once branded part of an "axis of evil."
Ahmadinejad has demanded Washington apologize for decades of "crimes" against the Islamic Republic. Tehran also says it cannot let down its guard as long as U.S. troops are posted on its borders in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Analysts have said that Iran is setting tough conditions for dialogue to buy time for its ponderous, opaque decision-making process. Adding to uncertainty, Iran holds a presidential election in June that could strengthen moderate voices backing detente over more hardline opponents.
Ultimately policy will be determined by the supreme leader, Khamenei.
Rapprochement with Washington would reverberate through the Middle East -- for example in Lebanon, where the Shi'ite movement Hezbollah, with a powerful guerrilla wing, is backed by Tehran.
"Although it is a timid overture, it is a good beginning, particularly for Lebanon," said Ousama Safa, director of the Lebanese Centre for Policy Studies.
Obama made no specific offers, but said he wanted "a future with renewed exchanges among our people and greater opportunities for partnership and commerce."
"This won't be reached easily," he acknowledged.
The United States cut off diplomatic ties with Iran during a 1979-1981 crisis, when militant Iranian students held 52 U.S. diplomats hostage at the American embassy for 444 days.
Obama said earlier this year he was ready to extend a hand of peace to Iran if it "unclenched its fist." His administration has said it will invite Tehran to a conference on Afghanistan this month. Iran has said it will consider the invitation.
Available at: http://uk.reuters.com/article/oilRpt/idUKLK37415820090320?sp=true
1. Russia Could Focus on Tactical Nuclear Weapons for Subs
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Russia may prioritize the development of nuclear-powered attack submarines armed with nuclear-capable cruise missiles in the future, while maintaining its fleet of strategic subs, a senior Navy official said.
The Russian Navy maintains a fleet of about 60 submarines, including 10 nuclear-powered strategic submarines, over 30 nuclear-powered attack submarines, diesel-electric submarines and special-purpose subs.
"Probably, tactical nuclear weapons [on submarines] will play a key role in the future," Vice Admiral Oleg Burtsev, deputy head of the Navy General Staff, told RIA Novosti. "Their range and precision are gradually increasing."
"There is no longer any need to equip missiles with powerful nuclear warheads. We can install low-yield warheads on existing cruise missiles," he said.
The admiral mentioned Russia's new Severodvinsk nuclear-powered attack submarine, which will be commissioned with the Navy in 2010-2011, as an example.
The fourth-generation Graney class submarine combines the ability to launch a variety of long-range cruise missiles (up to 3,100 miles) with nuclear warheads, and effectively engage hostile submarines and surface warships.
However, Russia will maintain and upgrade its fleet of strategic submarines, carrying ballistic missiles, as a naval component of the nuclear triad.
"In this regard, we will build at least six Borey-class strategic submarines to serve in the Northern and the Pacific fleets," Burtsev said.
The first Borey-class submarine, the Yury Dolgoruky, was built at the Sevmash plant in northern Russia, and is undergoing mooring trials. It will carry up to 16 Bulava-M sea-based ballistic missiles.
Two other Borey class nuclear submarines, the Alexander Nevsky and the Vladimir Monomakh, are currently under construction at the Sevmash shipyard and are expected to be completed in 2009 and 2011.
Available at: http://en.rian.ru/russia/20090323/120688454.html
Russian prime minister's press secretary Dmitry Peskov has described Iran as an influential power in the region despite sanctions.
Given Tehran's position in the region, the official, who was speaking to Voice of Russia on Saturday, said that his country, Iran and Turkey had great cooperation prospects lying ahead.
Peskov said that there is a great deal of work Moscow, Tehran and Ankara can do together in the fields of energy, oil and gas, fuel transportation as well as in nuclear energy.
"Now that Russia is completing the construction of the Bushehr nuclear power station in Iran, what are our chances of entering the nuclear energy market also in Turkey?"
"Russian companies are now vying for the right to build nuclear power facilities there and our chances of winning the ongoing tender are pretty good. I hope we'll soon be getting good news from there," Peskov commented.
Dmitry Peskov also said that Russia, Turkey and Iran could jointly develop nuclear energy projects in other countries to help them become less dependent on oil and gas imports.
This is while a senior researcher at the Institute of World Economics and International Relations of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Georgy Mirsky, described Iran as the sole power in the Middle East which has developed its might over the years.
"Those who strictly oppose to Washington and Tel Aviv's policies have pinned their hopes on Iran," he was quoted as saying by IRNA.
"Tehran strongly backs the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) and its support for the Palestinian Authority is stauncher than that of Saudi Arabia, and there's no sign that the country would stop supporting resistance or halt its enrichment activities in favor of ties with Washington," Mirsky said.
The Russian analyst's remarks come following a recent video message from the US President, Barack Obama, in which he says that his administration is committed to 'diplomacy' with Iran, promising to pursue 'constructive ties' with the Islamic Republic and the international community.
Iranian officials say they welcome the idea of talks based on 'mutual respect', urging a 'real' shift of policy in the US administration and not a change in tactics.
Washington and Tehran ended all relations in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Available at: http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=89302§ionid=351020104
1. Bulgaria in Talks for Russian Funding for Belene Nuclear Station
The Sofia Echo
(for personal use only)
Bulgaria has started negotiations with Russia to draw a 3.8 billion euro loan for the construction of the Belene nuclear power plant, Economy Minister Petar Dimitrov told Bulgarian National Radio on March 22.
Dimitrov flew to Moscow on March 20 to meet with Russian energy minister Sergey Shmatko and Sergey Kiriyenko, the head of Russia’s state-run nuclear holding company Rosatom. Upon his return, the Economy Ministry said that Belene funding was discussed during the meetings, without giving further details.
During his visit to Sofia in January 2008, Russia's then-president Vladimir Putin, now the country's prime minister, said that Moscow had put aside 3.8 billion euro in its state budget for the Belene project. Russia's Atomstroyexport was picked by Bulgaria to build the twin 1000MW reactors at Belene.
"We hoped that we would not need to use that resource, but in the current situation it would be good to find out on what terms we can get the loan," Dimitrov said.
German power conglomerate RWE, which has agreed to buy 49 per cent in the company that would build and operate the power station, had agreed to the talks, he said. In fact, it was RWE's reluctance to commit any funds for construction work in 2009 that prompted Bulgaria's Cabinet to look into the option of taking the loan, Dimitrov said.
RWE insisted that it pays any of the 1.275 billion euro that its stake would cost, only after Bulgaria finds the rest of the funds needed to build the power plant. BNP Paribas was picked by power grid operator NEK, which will own the remaining 51 per cent in Belene, to arrange the loans and was given until the end of the year to raise the money.
Analysts have said that credit crunch and the spiralling costs of construction are two other factors that will make it difficult for BNP Paribas to secure the funds, especially with the French bank unwilling to put any of its own money down for the project.
Bulgaria's contract with Russian Atomstroyexport set the construction costs at just under four billion euro, but analysts have warned that the final costs could rise to as high as seven billion euro.
Belene is meant to once again make Bulgaria the leading electricity exporter in the Balkans, a position it lost after it had to shut down four units at its Kozloduy nuclear power station before joining the European Union in 2007.
Available at: http://www.sofiaecho.com/2009/03/22/693595_bulgaria-in-talks-for-russian-funding-for-belene-nuclear-station
The global nuclear renaissance could potentially see a big chunk of new equipment manufacturing capabilities shifting eastwards.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expects India, along with China and South Korea, to figure as big contributors to global nuclear construction expertise and core manufacturing capacity, going forward. This includes the growth of nuclear capability through localisation of many of the skills and capabilities in the Asian countries, according to IAEA’s “International Status and Prospect of Nuclear Power” report.
“During the period of peak construction there were major nuclear system supply companies in Canada, France, Germany, Japan, the Russian Federation, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US… (Now) in India, China and the Republic of Korea, the growth of nuclear capability through localisation of many of the skills and capabilities provides the possibility that these countries may contribute further to meeting the world’s need for nuclear construction expertise,” the report has noted.
In the wake of the opening up of the Indian nuclear market, the domestic industry has unveiled plans to step-up nuclear manufacturing in a big way, with an eye on both the domestic market and possible export opportunities. This includes plans by Bharat Forge, which has already tied-up with French nuclear major Areva, to set up a nuclear forgings facility. Engineering majors Larsen & Toubro (L&T) and state-owned Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL) are also eyeing the nuclear forgings space.
Besides, tie-ups by L&T and BHEL for reactor equipment manufacture and the conventional island portion of new Light Water Reactor-based nuclear projects are on the anvil. While L&T has already tied-up with Westinghouse and AECL of Canada for reactor manufacture, BHEL is slated to follow suit and is evaluating joint venture opportunities.
The IAEA report notes that designers of currently available nuclear steam supply systems have been reduced to a small group who increasingly work closely together. “The nuclear supply industry has adjusted to the past 25 or so years through 18 consolidations. Questions have been raised about whether there is capacity available to meet the near term demand if the high growth projections for nuclear power come true… There is some evidence of concern about the industry’s ability to meet demand for key components (such as pressure vessels and key forgings)… An increase in manufacturing capacity will be needed if the higher expectations for growth in new nuclear power plants are to be met,” the report has noted.
No spare capacity
Globally, a shortage of contractors with nuclear certification, key component manufacturers and that of skilled workers is already being felt. Besides the Russian nuclear industry, only two major companies — Japan Steel Works and French firm Creusot Forge — are currently equipped to make critical reactor parts such as pressure vessels. Both these firms are fully booked, with no capacity to spare till 2010.
“There is a big shortage of facilities manufacturing critical equipment, including forgings and castings, for nuclear projects. Indian firms have a big opportunity to step into the critical equipment space,” a senior BHEL official said.
Available at: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2009/03/22/stories/2009032251360300.htm
1. Russia Vies for Bangladesh Nuclear Power Plant Deal
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Russia entered a race with China and South Korea on Sunday to win a contract to build a 1,000 megawatt nuclear power plant for energy-starved Bangladesh, officials said.
Russian envoy Gennady Trotsenko presented a proposal to Yafes Osman, state minister for science and information and communication technology.
China and South Korea have made similar proposals in the last year, but Bangladesh was yet to make a decision.
"We have placed a proposal for undertaking efforts to set a nuclear power plant in Bangladesh," Trotsenko told reporters after meeting Osman.
A senior science ministry official said the authorities were also studying the offers from China and South Korea to build the nuclear plant.
Bangladesh plans to set up the 1,000 MW power plant at Rooppur, 200 km (125 miles) northwest of the capital Dhaka, by 2011 to help narrow a growing gap between demand and supply, he said, without giving details.
Bangladesh's total daily electricity generation is around 3,800 MW against demand for over 5,000 MW, energy ministry officials said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last year approved energy-starved Bangladesh's plan to set up a nuclear power station.
"Anyone of these three countries may get a contract for building the plant as Bangladesh seriously needs to boost electricity generation," the official of the science ministry said.
Bangladesh's nearly 60 power plants, mostly decades old, are fuelled by gas and coal, but the country's reserves of gas and coal were quickly depleting, officials said.
With more than 13 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves, Bangladesh produces about 1,800 million cubic feet of gas (mmcf) per day versus demand of more than 2,050 mmcf.
Bangladesh may fully exhaust its gas reserves by 2011 unless new fields are found, officials say.
Available at: http://uk.reuters.com/article/oilRpt/idUKDHA10027520090322?sp=true
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