1. Gates Turns to Gulf Allies in Drive for Iran Sanctions
Dan De Luce
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US Defence Secretary Robert Gates flew to Abu Dhabi on Thursday seeking support from oil-rich Gulf allies for tough sanctions on Tehran, drawing an angry response from Iran's hardline president.
Gates was due to hold talks with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, who is also the deputy commander in chief of the armed forces in the United Arab Emirates, as part of high-stakes diplomacy designed to tighten pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme.
The defence secretary's visit came a day after Gates appealed to Saudi leaders to back the US-led drive for punitive measures in discussions in Riyadh, the latest in a series of high level visits to the region by President Barack Obama's deputies.
The American focus on the Gulf prompted a warning on Thursday from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who accused "corrupt" powers of destabilising the Gulf.
"What are you doing in our region?" Ahmadinejad said in a speech in the Gulf port of Bandar Abbas.
"Why have you sent your armies to our area? If you think you can control the oil of Iraq and the Persian Gulf, you are mistaken," he said.
The Iranian president has traded barbs with Gates this week, as Ahmadinejad's visit to Afghanistan overlapped with the US defence secretary's trip there.
In an earlier stop at a US military base in Southwest Asia en route to Abu Dhabi, Gates expressed amusement about how he and the Iranian president had "exchanged a few words through the media" this week over Afghanistan.
Before his meeting with the crown prince, Gates toured the vast Sheikh Zayed mosque in Abu Dhabi, named after the founder of the UAE, and told reporters the United States and the UAE had been "close partners" for years.
With Washington striving to disrupt funding of Iran's nuclear work, Gates planned to discuss with UAE leaders how "to increase pressure" on companies doing business in Dubai with links to Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard, a US defence official told reporters.
The UAE has a large Iranian expatriate community and is a major conduit for Tehran's trade with the outside world.
Gates' visit also highlighted Washington's lobbying of Gulf states to use their oil resources to sway China, which has been reluctant to back sanctions at the UN Security Council.
The Americans have asked the Saudis and Abu Dhabi leaders to reassure Beijing that they would be prepared to offset any shortfall in Iranian crude shipments.
The Washington Post has reported that Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal travelled to Beijing early this month to discuss the issue.
The role of the Gulf states is pivotal for the US diplomatic strategy, as they can exert genuine economic pressure on Iran while also ensuring a smooth flow of global oil supplies in the case of a possible cutoff of Iranian oil exports.
On Wednesday, Gates told the Saudis that after Iran had "largely rebuffed" US overtures for a conciliatory dialogue, the Obama administration was now focused on ramping up pressure on Tehran, the defence official said.
But Gates stressed in his talks that the United States wanted to see financial sanctions targeted on Tehran's Revolutionary Guard and not the country's population.
Gates also was expected to discuss a broader US effort to boost air and missile defences in the Gulf in the face of Iran's growing arsenal of ballistic missiles, a serious concern for Abu Dhabi.
The United States has promised to speed up weapons sales to the UAE and other Gulf states, which have bought billions of dollars worth of American weapons in recent years.
US officials believe the arms buildup in the Gulf sends a clear signal to Iran that its nuclear and missile programmes are counter-productive.
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gOJx0C60IZKwKPyRAy6OuVAJSnqQ
2. Iran Six Discuss Draft Proposals on Iran's Nuclear Issue
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday the Iran Six were discussing a possible new UN Security Council resolution imposing further sanctions against Tehran over its nuclear program.
Last week, diplomats from the United States, France and Britain said they had sent draft proposals to the Russian and Chinese delegations at the United Nations. The five countries, along with Germany, comprise a group of international mediators negotiating with Iran on its nuclear program.
"The issue is being discussed," Lavrov said. "There has been no draft resolution as such. Our Western partners are discussing the ideas that they think could comprise such a resolution."
Lavrov reiterated Russia's stance on Iran's controversial nuclear program. Moscow insists the problem should be resolved by diplomatic means and new sanctions against Iran, if adopted, should be a "balanced" last resort.
The Russian foreign minister said, however, that the Iranian nuclear issue would be discussed in the Security Council if the Islamic Republic did not provide a "constructive response" to IAEA proposals on uranium enrichment.
Under a plan drawn up by the IAEA last October, Iran was to ship out its low-enriched uranium to Russia, where it would be enriched and then sent to France to be made into fuel rods and returned to the Islamic Republic for use in its research reactor in Tehran.
The proposal was approved by the six international mediators on Iran's nuclear program but then rejected by Tehran, which suggested it could consider a simultaneous swap of its low-enriched uranium for 20%-enriched uranium, but that the exchange would have to take place on its own territory.
Last week, Iran threatened to withdraw up its counter-proposal if new sanctions were adopted.
Western powers suspect that Iran's nuclear program is aimed at making weapons, while Tehran claims it is pursuing nuclear technology for its civilian energy needs.
Available at: http://en.rian.ru/world/20100309/158136041.html
3. Israel: Outlook for Tough U.N. Steps on Iran "Grim"
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The outlook for imposing tough new U.N. sanctions on Iran is increasingly grim, as Russia and China work to slow down a U.S. and European drive for swift action, Israel's U.N. envoy said on Tuesday.
The United States, Britain, France and Germany have agreed on a watered-down proposal for a fourth round of U.N. sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program and given it to Russia and China for comments. Russia's initial reaction has been negative and China has not reacted, Western diplomats say.
"It now seems that Russia and China are still dragging their legs and they are still looking to the diplomatic track," Israel's U.N. Ambassador Gabriela Shalev told reporters at U.N. headquarters.
"We are more than suspicious because these diplomatic overtures took over the last years and the Iranians are mocking them," she said.
Western diplomats say they had hoped to get a sanctions resolution through the Security Council next month but that timeframe is now looking increasingly unrealistic.
Iran denies Western allegations that its nuclear program is a covert quest to develop the capability to produce atomic weapons and has resisted international calls to curtail it. Tehran says the program is for electricity, not bombs.
Shalev said that Russia had initially appeared supportive of efforts to impose a new punitive measures against the Islamic Republic for defying five U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding that it halt nuclear enrichment.
But Moscow does not appear very supportive, she said.
"The chances now seem grim regarding sanctions that will be crippling," she said.
Shalev defined "crippling" sanctions as steps that would not hurt the Iranian people but Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and key firms and individuals. Three earlier sanctions resolutions imposed travel bans and asset freezes on a small group of Iranians and Iranian companies and one bank.
MILITARY OPTION "ON THE TABLE"
She reiterated that if the 15-nation Security Council fails to agree on sanctions, or passes weak measures that are more symbolic than painful, Israel hopes the United States, European Union and others will impose their own sanctions on Iran.
Shalev added that non-permanent council members Turkey, Brazil, Bosnia-Herzegovina and others remained "mysterious," adding that Israel was lobbying all of them to support new sanctions. Diplomats say Turkey, Brazil and Lebanon do not support new steps against Iran and might abstain or vote no.
Originally the United States, Britain, France and Germany had hoped to persuade Russia and China to agree to a U.N. blacklisting of Iran's central bank. But the latest draft, written to make it more palatable to Moscow and Beijing, only urges states to be "vigilant" regarding Iran's central bank.
The proposal also includes no sanctions against Iran's oil and gas sectors, as France had pushed for.
It does, however, call for restrictions on new Iranian banks abroad, a full arms embargo, a crackdown on insurance and reinsurance for cargo coming in and out of Iran, and a black listing of at least one shipping firm. It would also include a new focus on the IRGC and firms controlled by it.
Shalev made clear that the military option remained "on the table" as a means of dealing with Iran's nuclear program. However, she added that a military solution, like allowing Iran to press ahead with its nuclear program, was a "bad option."
Still, she said that the military option was a focus of discussion between the United States and Israel, though she declined to say whether the administration of President Barack Obama was arguing for or against it.
Available at: http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=10056596
US lawmakers are stepping up efforts to tighten sanctions on Iran after a report revealed that Washington had awarded 107 billion dollars in payments to American and international companies doing business with the country.
"We need to send a strong, clear signal to Iran that until it halts its nuclear ambitions, the dangerous state will be denied the benefits of access to the global economy," Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement Monday.
"Company offenders whose profits serve to fuel Iran's nuclear ambitions should not be allowed to do business with the US, period," said Gillibrand.
Iran, a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), says its nuclear work is directed at the civilian applications of the technology.
However, the US and its allies accuse Tehran of pursuing a military objective in its nuclear program, despite affirmation by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of Iran's non-diversion in its activities.
Under the allegation, western countries have imposed three rounds of UNSC sanctions on Iran and are currently lobbying for a fourth. The US, meanwhile, has opted to impose unilateral sanctions on Tehran for its nuclear enrichment program.
Senator Gillibrand called for the immediate adoption of a pending bill that could deny US government contracts to companies that provide Iran with gasoline or invest in the country's energy sector.
She also called for imposing a three-year ban on government contracts for companies that falsely claim they do not do business with Iran's refined petroleum sector.
On Saturday, The New York Times reported that while pushing for tougher sanctions on Tehran, the US government has given more than 107 billion dollars in contract payments, grants and other benefits over the past decade to foreign and multinational American companies doing business in Iran.
The sum included nearly 15 billion dollars paid to firms that breached the law on US sanctions against Iran by making large investments that helped the country develop its vast oil and gas reserves, said the paper.
In response, US representatives called for toughening a 1996 law aimed at punishing companies that invest more than 20 million dollars in Iran's oil and gas sectors, noting it has never led to sanctions on any company.
"The US government should be enforcing the Iran Sanctions Act, not rewarding firms that violate it," said Republican congressman Mark Kirk.
Available at: http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=120416§ionid=351020101
Recep Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, has cautioned against further UN Security Council sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme during a visit to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.
"I don't believe that any further sanctions will yield results," Erdogan told journalists, adding that earlier rounds of sanctions "have never yielded results."
Turkey, which has good relations with its neighbour Iran, has offered to host an exchange of Iran's low-enriched uranium (LEU) with 20 per cent enriched uranium to be supplied by world powers to Tehran as part of a UN-drafted deal.
Tehran and members of the UN Security Council are locked in a stalemate over the deal, which envisages shipping out Iran's LEU to France and Russia for further conversion into higher-grade uranium.
Iran has said that its nuclear programme is purely for peaceful purposes and denies that it is trying to build a nuclear weapon.
But the US and other nations have been pressing the UN Security Council to impose a fourth set of sanctions against Iran on the issue.
The UN Security Council has said it is considering the matter after Yukiya Amano, the chief of the the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said last month that he could not verify that all of Tehran's atomic activities were peaceful.
At a meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation board in Vienna, the Austrian capital, in February, Amano said he could not "confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities".
Amano also accused Iran of failing to co-operate with the IAEA and said he wanted Tehran to clarify issues about its nuclear programme.
"We would like to have a discussion with Iran to clarify the outstanding issues and issues that have a possible military dimension," he said.
In October, Erdogan accused Western nations of hypocrisy in criticising Iran's uranium enrichment programme while remaining silent on Israel, which is believed to have an undeclared nuclear arsenal.
He made the remarks during a vist to Tehran where he held bilateral talks with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president.
Erdogan had told journalists travelling with him in Iran that the country's nuclear programme "is an energy project with peaceful, humanitarian purposes".
The same month he told The Guardian, a British newspaper, that Western powers were treating Iran unfairly and referred to Ahmadinejad as a "friend".
Available at: http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2010/03/201039133146904308.html
1. North Korea's Reform Will Fail if Nuclear Ambition Persists: Minister
Yonhap News Agency
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North Korea's limited economic reforms will fail unless the country chooses to abandon its nuclear weapons ambition, South Korea's unification minister warned Thursday.
"North Korea is seeking changes at present, but not at the level that is expected by the international community," Minister Hyun In-taek told a forum on the South's resort island of Jeju, according to a script released by his aides here.
"The fundamental reason the North is still suffering from food shortages is that its economy is not improving," the minister said, citing U.N. sanctions as another underlying factor.
Hyun went on to say that the international community wishes to provide cooperation and support for the North to develop its economy after the country drops its nuclear arms programs.
North Korea went ahead with a surprise currency revaluation last year in an effort to tame inflation and reassert government control on market activities, but the currency reform has reportedly caused severe inflation, social unrest and starvation.
The country, whose food shortages are expected to worsen this year according to outside analysts, is also reportedly wooing foreign investment to revitalize its economy that has been hamstrung by tight U.N. sanctions slapped on it for nuclear testing.
South Korea has said that it will not resume its massive food assistance to North Korea unless Pyongyang recognizes Seoul as a full partner in nuclear negotiations and makes progress in denuclearization.
On Thursday, North Korea reaffirmed its refusal to allow its nuclear arms programs to be discussed in talks with the South, arguing the issue must be addressed between Pyongyang and Washington.
Inter-Korean talks remain largely stalled despite several meetings between officials of the two countries this year on joint economic ventures. Tension heightened this year when the North fired hundreds of artillery shots along their Yellow Sea border in late January. The sides remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce.
Available at: http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/northkorea/2010/03/11/79/0401000000AEN20100311008300315F.HTML
2. U.S. Won't pay North Korea to Return to Six-Party Talks: Kissinger
The Korea Herald
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The United States will not pay North Korea to return to the six-party talks, although it is sincerely committed to negotiations on ending the North's nuclear program, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said yesterday.
Kissinger noted, however, that the countries involved in the nuclear talks, including the United States, will have to decide when negotiations will stop if North Korea continues to develop nuclear arms and refuses to give them up.
"I think (Barack) Obama is trying to find an end to the North Korean nuclear issue, partly for reasons of South Korea, partly reasons for Asia, but also for reasons of the world," Kissinger said during a lecture organized by the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, an independent think tank in Seoul.
"They (the United States) are sincerely interested in finding a solution," he added.
Kissinger said that Washington sincerely wants to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons program not because it poses a serious threat to the United States, but because of the "overwhelming" example it could set for other states with nuclear ambitions if the country is allowed to develop and proliferate nuclear weapons.
"We have very little fear from North Korea's nuclear capability. The kind of weapons that North Korea can produce we can surely handle with whatever defensive system we have," he said.
"But the real danger is, if North Korea, a state which has no significant resources, by starving its population can create nuclear capability, the temptation for other countries to follow that road would be overwhelming."
North Korea recently demanded the removal of U.N. sanctions and the start of talks on a peace treaty as conditions for its return to the six-nation negotiating table.
Kissinger said if North Korea really wants to solve the issue through negotiations, it must show its willingness by returning to the talks without any preconditions.
"My general view is that unless all parties are equally interested in the outcome, you can't make them interested by paying them a price for entering the negotiations," he told the forum.
The top U.S. diplomat of the Nixon administration noted North Korea's continued boycott of negotiations might cause its dialogue partners to consider other options.
"If no progress is made, at some point, it'd be obvious that negotiations have not succeeded," he told reporters later.
Available at: http://www.koreaherald.co.kr/NEWKHSITE/data/html_dir/2010/03/12/201003120035.asp
3. Japan Seeks DPRK's Denuclearization Along with Resolution of Abduction Issues: Japanese Ambassador
Xinhua News Agency
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The Japanese Ambassador to Seoul said Wednesday Japan is seeking denuclearization of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) along with the resolution of abduction issues between the two countries, local media reported Wednesday.
"If North Korea (DPRK) moves toward the resolution of abduction issues based on agreements between Tokyo and Pyongyang, Japan will also take action in response," Toshinori Shigeie told a local defense forum, referring to issues of Japanese civilians believed to have been kidnapped to the DPRK, according to Yonhap News Agency.
The ambassador also voiced support for South Korea's so-called "grand bargain" proposal aimed at achieving the DPRK's denuclearization at once, rather than gradually approaching the goal in phases, in return for international aid and other incentives for the DPRK.
He added that the DPRK's return to the stalled six-party nuclear talks and ending the nuclear programs in a verifiable manner remain a priority, calling the multilateral disarmament talks a "very realistic framework," according to Yonhap.
The ambassador reportedly spoke against the DPRK's recent proposal to reach a peace treaty to replace a truce that ended the 1950-1953 Korean War, which left the two Koreas technically at war, saying the proposal will sway attention away from Pyongyang's denuclearization process.
Available at: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/world/2010-03/10/c_13204860.htm
4. U.S. Not to Attempt to Change DPRK Through Force: U.S. Ambassador
Xinhua News Agency
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The United States is not seeking to bring down the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) government, and is ready for dialogue between the two sides within the six-party framework, U.S. ambassador to Seoul said Wednesday.
"The United States has no hostile intent towards the people of North Korea (DPRK) nor are we threatening to change the North Korean regime through force," Kathleen Stephens was quoted as telling a forum by South Korea's Yonhap News Agency.
"Our aim is to find diplomatic solutions to working with North Korea," she added.
Her remarks came after the DPRK threatened to halt its denuclearization process and strengthen its nuclear deterrence in protest of the ongoing annual joint South Korea- U.S. military drills, codenamed the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, which begun Monday.
The exercises, which Pyongyang denounces as preparation for invasion, is said to be aimed at rehearsing the defense of South Korea in case of emergencies and improving combined and joint operational posture between the two militaries.
Stephens also said Washington is willing to engage in bilateral talks with Pyongyang within the framework of the stalled six-party process over the DPRK's denuclearization, noting that the DPRK has shown "positive signs" hinting at a possible return to the negotiation table despite its conventional threats.
"The language has become more positive," she said, adding the DPRK now needs to show action.
Expectations run high that the suspended talks will soon resume, following a recent exchange of high-level visits between Beijing and Pyongyang and a flurry of diplomatic efforts for reopening the talks.
The six-party talks were launched in 2003 but reached an impasse after Pyongyang in April last year unilaterally quit them in protest against UN sanctions triggered by its second nuclear test.
Officials here repeatedly said efforts to bring Pyongyang back to the disarmament talks are ongoing through various diplomatic channels among member countries, namely China, the two Koreas, the U.S., Japan and Russia, but cautioned against predicting when exactly the talks would reopen.
Available at: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/world/2010-03/10/c_13204793.htm
1. India May Join Russia in Establishing Angarsk Nuclear Fuel Bank
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India may join Russia's nuclear center of a low-enriched uranium (LEU) reserves project in Angarsk, the chairman of India's Atomic Energy Research Commission said.
"India is interested as a donor country and we are looking into it," Srikumar Banerjee said.
Russia's state-run nuclear power corporation Rosatom said on Monday that Russia would provide by the end of 2010 the first batch of low-enriched uranium for an international nuclear fuel reserve bank under the control of the UN nuclear watchdog.
Banerjee said India considers the participation in the project to be an "attractive" possibility, however he added that it "requires a very detailed techno commercial dealings which have not been completed."
"We have to evaluate the facility, and economics here comes as a major factor," Banerjee said. "It is not just a political arrangement, so I cannot straight away say that India is joining just now, but India has a capability of joining as an equal partner in some of these activities."
Russia has earlier proposed to establish international reserves of LEU to ensure stable fuel supplies to IAEA member countries in case of emergency, including "insurmountable political difficulties."
Russia proposed in 2007 the creation of a nuclear center with LEU reserves in Angarsk, 5,100 km (3,170 miles) east of Moscow, to enable countries including Iran to develop civilian nuclear power without having to enrich their own uranium.
Russia has pledged to give access to the reserves "to any IAEA member country that honors its non-proliferation commitments."
The IAEA Board of Governors approved the establishment of a nuclear fuel reserve bank in November 2009.
Rosatom's head Sergei Kiriyenko said a detailed agreement between Russia and the IAEA on the nuclear fuel bank could be signed in April-May.
Available at: http://en.rian.ru/russia/20100310/158147430.html
2. Putin Eyes Multi-Billion Dollar Deals with Old Ally India
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Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin heads to India Thursday to strengthen the close partnership Moscow and New Delhi have enjoyed since the Soviet era with an estimated 10 billion dollars of new deals.
The highlight of the visit is set to be the signing of deals to sell Russian military hardware, including an accord on a Soviet-era aircraft carrier whose troubled history had raised fears over the future strength of relations.
Other deals will include a contract to sell India 29 MiG fighter jets and an agreement to install additional nuclear power units in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Putin's foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov told reporters.
"A preliminary estimate shows that the volume of the business deals in monetary value will top 10 billion dollars," Ushakov said, estimating that at least 14 agreements would be signed. "We have an enormous interest in India."
The sale of the Admiral Gorshkov has been marred by a series of price disputes and delayed deliveries, compounding concerns in Moscow that India could be tempted to end its dependence on Russian military equipment.
An Indian government source told AFP Putin was keen to use the trip to sort out all remaining sticking points related to the vessel's sale. Ushakov pledged the new agreement would help the two countries put the dispute behind them.
"Judging by everything, we are approaching an agreement that will suit both sides," he said.
Russia supplies 70 percent of India's military hardware but New Delhi has in recent years also looked towards other military suppliers including Israel and the United States.
Russian business daily Vedomosti reported earlier this month that officials had hoped to sign three military agreements worth some four billion dollars.
These will be for the refurbishment of the Admiral Gorshkov, worth 2.35 billion dollars; a 1.2-billion-dollar contract to sell India 29 MiG-29 carrier-based fighters; and a deal to jointly develop a transport aircraft, said the report.
Ushakov declined to give a breakdown of the 10-billion-dollar package.
An official with state aircraft holding United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) confirmed to AFP that UAC and India's HAL planned to sign a deal to create a "new joint venture" to develop the transport aircraft.
Russia and India have already pledged to commit 300 million dollars each to the project.
The strong ties between Moscow and New Delhi date back to the 1950s after the death of Stalin. But India has in recent years also taken care to balance this friendship with close ties to the United States.
Together with Brazil and China, Russia and India are part of the so-called BRIC grouping of major developing economies seeking to promote a multipolar world economy not dominated by the United States.
At just over 7.5 billion dollars in 2009, trade turnover is miniscule and the two countries will aim to increase it to 20 billion dollars by 2015.
Russia is already building two nuclear power units in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and agreed to install four more nuclear reactors there as part of an agreement signed during President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to India in 2008.
Putin, who last visited India as Russian president in 2007, is set to meet his counterpart Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Indian President Pratibha Patil. This will be Putin's first trip to India in his current capacity.
Ushakov said Russia hoped tighter ties with India would help Russia diversify its hydrocarbons-based economy.
"Relations with India are also important with an eye to conducting reforms in the Russian economy, with an eye to securing a quality technological breakthrough," he said.
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jVDgSas1nSU85NtvqRJSo5AYREZw
The United States said on Tuesday it is not trying to rush negotiations with Russia to reach an agreement on the START arms reduction pact before a planned nuclear summit in April.
"Obviously, they are working on the last few remaining issues to a new treaty and we are certainly hopeful that that can done in short order," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
U.S. and Russian arms control officials are beginning what both sides hope will be a final push to clinch a treaty cutting their strategic nuclear arsenals.
Pressed on whether the U.S. aim was to try to get a treaty in time for a summit Obama is convening April 12-13 on nuclear non-proliferation, Gibbs said U.S. negotiators are willing to work on it "many more weeks past April" if that is what it takes.
"We're not looking to rush the negotiations in order to ... have a signing ceremony prior to that important meeting with countries throughout the world," he said.
Available at: http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2010/3/10/worldupdates/2010-03-10T022611Z_01_NOOTR_RTRMDNC_0_-467818-1&sec=Worldupdates
4. Vietnam Attends International Conference on Nuclear Power
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A Vietnamese delegation led by Minister of Science and Technology Hoang Van Phong attended the International Conference on Access to Civil Nuclear Energy in Paris on March 8-9.
Initiated by France and jointly held by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development’s Nuclear Energy Agency (OECD/NEA), the conference aimed to encourage the responsible use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes. It took place as part of the lead up to the Global Summit on Nuclear Safety scheduled for April 12-13 in Washington, D.C.
Speaking at the event, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, IAEA General Director Yukiya Amano and OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria emphasised the important role of nuclear energy in sustainable development, especially in the context that the world is struggling against climate change and facing the exhaustion of fossil fuel resources.
The French President called on delegates to look toward cooperation and solidarity among nations for a stronger, cleaner and fairer world economy.
On the sidelines of the conference, the Vietnamese delegation had several bilateral meetings with the Japanese delegation and French partners such as Electricity of France (EDF) and the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA).
Minister Phong spoke highly of cooperation and assistance from countries, including Japan and France, as well as international nuclear organisations such as IAEA and NEA.
International cooperation and assistance are very important for the successful implementation of Vietnam’s civil nuclear energy programmes, he said, adding that the country wishes to receive more international support to accelerate its civil nuclear development for peaceful purposes.
Representatives of the Japanese delegation, EDF and CEA expressed their desires to strengthen cooperation with Vietnam in this field, especially nuclear safety, human resources training and the development of support industries.
Available at: http://english.vovnews.vn/Home/Vietnam-attends-intl-conference-on-nuclear-power/20103/113336.vov
1. Experts Say Earthquakes Shouldn't Hinder Chile Nuclear Power
The Wall Street Journal
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Despite a devastating 8.8-magnitude earthquake that rocked Chile's central-southern regions, experts believe a nuclear power plant could be safely built and operated in the country.
On Feb. 27, one of the strongest earthquakes on record and an ensuing tsunami wave rocked the Andean nation, snapping bridges, toppling buildings and claiming hundreds of lives throughout the Maule and Bio Bio regions.
In the wake of the disaster, neither of Chile's two test nuclear reactors, located in the Santiago Metropolitan region, suffered damage or operational errors, according to the Energy Ministry.
Chile's government is studying the possibility of using nuclear power as it seeks to diversify its sources of electricity, as it's been vulnerable in the recent past. A few years ago, Argentina cut off natural gas supplies, forcing Chile to import more expensive fuels, while droughts have reduced hydroelectric production.
President-elect Sebastian Pinera, who takes office Thursday, will continue those studies but isn't likely to decide on the construction of a nuclear power plant, Ricardo Raineri, incoming Energy Minister, previously told Dow Jones Newswires.
Any plant built in Chile would necessarily have to be prepared for earthquakes. The entire 4,300 kilometers of this Andean country's extension lie along major tectonic plates which generate earthquakes and volcanos.
According to a 2009 study by the University of Chile's geology department, the probability of catastrophic natural events shouldn't rule out the use of nuclear power in Chile.
Plants are designed taking into account topography, geology and proximity to fault lines, flood zones and areas prone to sea swells, as well as peak ground acceleration--a measure of how much the earth shakes in a given geographic area, said Antonio Godoy, seismic expert at the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"Engineers are very conservative and we incorporate the possibility of earthquakes of magnitudes greater than historical values," said Godoy, who is the acting head of the IAEA's International Seismic Safety Centre.
That means in the case of Chile, a power plant located in the Maule or Bio Bio regions would be designed to safely withstand an earthquake greater than 9.5-magnitude, which is the strength of a 1960 earthquake, the strongest on record, which flattened the southern city of Valdivia.
The risks associated with a nuclear reactor are still less than that of a hydroelectric dam or even something as rare as the impact of a meteorite, said Julio Vergara, a professor at the Universidad Catolica de Chile and a former board member of Chile's Nuclear Energy Commission.
Construction costs are typically between 10% to 20% higher when designing a plant to withstand earthquakes, Vergara said.
One way of decreasing the risk of damage is by installing multiple medium- or small-sized nuclear reactors, Vergara said. Reactors of less than 700 megawatts are considered medium-sized, and less than 300 megawatts are considered small.
Engineers, however, have sometimes overlooked or underestimated external hazards, as was the case with Japan's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 7,965-megawatt nuclear power plant, the world's biggest, which was walloped by a magnitude-6.6 earthquake in July 2007.
The earthquake "very significantly exceeded" the level of seismic activity for which the plant was designed. While the plants shut down as planned, some radioactive water spilled into the ocean, although the level wasn't considered dangerous.
Nuclear power plants, which are often located near the coastline because of the large amounts of water required for operation, are also at risk to being damaged by ocean swells and tsunamis.
After the devastating December 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, which killed almost a quarter of a million people and caused widespread damage, two power units at the the Kalpakkam nuclear power plant in India were hit by giant waves.
Plant designers had never planned for a tsunami, but did take cyclone storm surges into account, so the Kalpakkam plants performed well under duress, an IAEA report stated.
"With an adequate design basis and proper planning, the hazard of a tsunami won't preclude you from building a power plant on the coast," Godoy said.
Available at: http://online.wsj.com/article/BT-CO-20100310-714871.html?mod=WSJ_World_MIDDLEHeadlinesAmericas
Syria, which has been investigated by the UN nuclear watchdog over its alleged attempt to build a secret nuclear reactor, would like to develop atomic energy, its government said Tuesday.
Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told an international conference on civilian nuclear power in Paris that Damascus needs "to consider alternative sources of energy, including nuclear energy."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy opened the conference on Monday with a call for many more countries to adopt nuclear power to produce electricity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ease pressure on energy prices.
But Syria's candidacy for the nuclear club will cause particular concern, given the regime's close ties with Iran and the still unanswered questions over an earlier alleged attempt to build a reactor in secret.
The International Atomic Energy Agency complained last year that Damascus had refused to cooperate with its investigation of a remote desert site called Dair Alzour, which was bombed by Israel in September 2007.
Inspectors have found unexplained traces of uranium at the site, as well as at a nuclear research reactor in Damascus, amid reports that Syria has been working with Tehran and North Korea on covert nuclear programmes.
France is now spearheading moves to bring Syria out of diplomatic isolation and persuade it to distance itself from Tehran's Islamic regime, which western powers believe is trying to develop and build a nuclear weapon.
"Syria benefited from the peaceful application of nuclear energy in many fields such as health and medicine, scientific research, etc. However more is needed, including international cooperation in these areas," Mekdad said.
"We appreciate the position of President Sarkozy that the peaceful application of nuclear energy should not be monopolised by the few who own this technology but that it should be available equally to all countries."
Earlier at the same Paris conference, Syria's arch-foe Israel said it was ready to work with France and at least some of its Arab neighbours to develop a joint nuclear power plant in its Negev desert.
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jE9l1eCzpD4lCokS4YGxnJPithEg
3. India, US Iron Out Key Differences Over Reprocessing
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India and US have bridged key differences towards finalising a pact on the arrangements and procedures for reprocessing US-origin spent fuel. The text, sources said, was almost sealed at expert-level talks last week and the negotiations are practically over with no more meetings likely to be held now.
It is, however, learnt that the text agreed between the negotiating teams still has to obtain formal approval of the political leadership in both countries. The text will have to be cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security here while Washington too will need to play it back to the White House.
Given that each phase of the talks were being closely monitored by top officials in respective governments, sources said the two sides were hopeful of an early closure to the negotiations. With Prime Minister Manmohan Singh slated to visit the US next month for the Nuclear Security Summit, the government is keen that this last step of the Indo-US civil nuclear initiative be completed in time.
Once done, the agreement will allow India to reprocess US-origin spent fuel for its civilian programme and, more importantly, it will serve as a template for other foreign-origin spent fuel too. Under the Indo-US 123 agreement, US had agreed to grant India the right to reprocess but it was stipulated that this could only be operationalised after a bilateral agreement on arrangements and procedures for reprocessing such fuel had been reached. These negotiations were aimed at finalising this pact.
To ensure that political exigencies do not force US to hold back on this commitment later, India had also won an assurance to conclude the negotiations within one year of starting the talks. The conversation started last July and there was hope that these would be concluded by last November itself when the PM travelled to Washington on a state visit.
However, both sides got stuck on tricky issues with US officials insisting that India give the non-proliferation assurances as enshrined in the US Atomic Energy Act. New Delhi, on its part, made it clear that it would not step beyond the template of assurances enshrined in the 123 agreement, which itself had been arrived at after tough negotiations.
While this was resolved subsequently by way of introducing language acceptable to both sides, the other issue was that of the termination clause. This appears to have been more tricky than expected but, sources said, a way forward has been achieved in the meeting held in India last week.
The talks were led by R B Grover of the Department of Atomic Energy on the Indian side while the US delegation was led by Richard Stratford, the non-proliferation and disarmament expert in the State Department.
The third issue pertained to the number of fuel storage and reprocessing facilities as well as their security. It may be noted that the understanding reached during the 123 negotiations was that India will set up a dedicated reprocessing facility for US and other foreign-origin fuel under IAEA safeguards. During these negotiations, India proposed that it be allowed to set up not just one but multiple facilities. The US, sources said, does seem to have accepted this proposal.
Given that the government is pushing for a quick passage of the Civil Nuclear Liabilities Bill in this session, indications are that all key government processes linked with the nuclear deal will be concluded soon, as prioritised by the PM himself.
Available at: http://www.expressindia.com/latest-news/India-US-iron-out-key-differences-over-reprocessing/588605/
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