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The Magog Invasion

 

 Introduction:

 

The ancient people called Magog are commonly believed to have been the ancestors of the Russian nation. The prophet Ezekiel spoke of an invasion of Israel by Russia, which has not yet been fulfilled. What could cause Russia to come against the tiny nation of Israel -- which has no oil and no real strategic value? This question has puzzled Bible scholars for centuries. However, recent developments in the Middle East have for the first time in history lent credence to this long-awaited prophecy.


[READ THE FULL INTRODUCTION]

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Thousands flee major battle with Israel in Gaza

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:42:27 PMGo to full article
A Palestinian wheels an elderly woman as they flee their homes in the Gaza's Shijaiyah neighborhood, northern Gaza Strip, Sunday, July 20, 2014. A Gaza City neighborhood came under heavy tank fire Sunday as Israel widened its ground offensive against Hamas, causing hundreds of panicked residents to flee, including a woman in a wheelchair waving a white flag. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Escalating their ground offensive, Israeli troops backed by tanks and warplanes battled Hamas militants in a crowded neighborhood of Gaza City early Sunday. The fighting, including heavy Israeli tank fire, killed scores of Palestinians, forced thousands to flee and damaged or destroyed dozens of homes.
 
 

Hamas 'stubbornly' refusing ceasefire bid: Kerry

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:31:35 PMGo to full article
Fighters from Hamas run as smoke rises during an ongoing Israeli military offensive on the Shejaiya neighborhood between Gaza City and the Israeli border, on July 20, 2014US Secretary of State John Kerry Sunday blamed Hamas for the continuation of the conflict in Gaza, saying the Islamic militants were refusing all ceasefire efforts. "They've been offered a ceasefire and they've refused to take the ceasefire," Kerry told ABC television, adding Hamas has "stubbornly" refused efforts to defuse the conflict "even though Egypt and others have called for that ceasefire." By its behavior, Hamas had "invited further actions" by the Israelis to stop the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel, Kerry said.
 
 

More than 70 killed in Israeli shelling, clashes in Gaza

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:26:43 PMGo to full article
By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - More than 60 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers were killed as Israel shelled a Gaza neighborhood and battled militants on Sunday in the bloodiest fighting in a near two-week-old offensive. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of carrying out a massacre in Shejaia in the eastern suburbs of the city of Gaza and declared three days of mourning. Israel's army said it was targeting militants from Gaza's dominant Hamas group whom it alleged had fired rockets from Shejaia and built tunnels and command centers there. It was the Israeli military's highest one-day death toll since a 2006 war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.
 

U.S.'s Kerry defends Israeli effort to stem rocket, tunnel attacks

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:09:14 PMGo to full article
The United States believes Israel has a right to defend itself from rockets fired from Gaza and from attacks launched from cross-border tunnels, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday."You have a right to go in and take out those tunnels," Kerry told Fox News.
 

Prayers across Netherlands for Ukraine crash dead

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎03:33:48 PMGo to full article
People sign a condolence register at St. Vitus church in Hilversum, Netherlands, Sunday, July 20, 2014. An attack on a Malaysian jetliner shot down over Ukraine on Thursday killed 298 people from nearly a dozen nations, more than half being Dutch. Worshippers at church services across the Netherlands prayed Sunday for the victims of the Ukraine air disaster and their next of kin, as anger built over the separatist rebels' hindering of the investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. (AP Photo/Patrick Post)THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Worshippers at church services across the Netherlands on Sunday prayed for the victims of the Ukraine air disaster and their next of kin, as anger built over the separatist rebels' hindering of the investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
 
 

Pope expresses concern for Iraqi Christians

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎01:19:39 PMGo to full article
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis has expressed concern for Christians forced to flee Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, where Christians have resided for centuries.
 

Israeli bulldozers destroy Hamas tunnels in Gaza

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎02:40:33 AMGo to full article
Palestinian boys read at a United Nations school where dozens of families have sought refuge after fleeing their homes following heavy Israeli forces' strikes in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, Saturday, July 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli bulldozers on Saturday demolished more than a dozen tunnels the military said were being used by Hamas gunmen to sneak beneath the southern border of the Jewish state and carry out attacks on its soldiers and civilians.
 
 

Qatar to host Gaza ceasefire talks with Abbas and U.N. chief

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎01:43:22 AMGo to full article
By Amena Bakr DOHA (Reuters) - Qatar will host a meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday to try to reach a ceasefire agreement with Israel to bring an end to 12 days of warfare, a senior Qatari source told Reuters. Due to take place in Doha, the meeting will be headed by the Gulf state's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, who has been acting as a "channel of communication" between Hamas and the international community, said the senior source familiar with the matter. "Qatar has presented Hamas' requests to the international community, the list has been presented to France and to the U.N., the talks tomorrow will be to further negotiate these conditions." Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, has rejected Egyptian efforts to end fighting that has killed more than 300 Palestinians, mostly civilians, saying any deal must include an end to a blockade of the coastal area and a recommitment to a ceasefire reached in an eight-day war there in 2012.
 

47 Palestinians, 3 Israelis die as Gaza conflict escalates

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎12:35:53 AMGo to full article
A Palestinian relative mourns during the funeral of Rani Abu Tawila, who was killed during an Israeli raid on Gaza City, on July 18, 2014Israel's operation against Hamas saw one of its bloodiest days on Saturday, with 47 Palestinians killed in Gaza and two Israeli soldiers and a civilian killed by militant fire. As Israeli warplanes bombarded Gaza from the air, and ground troops pressed an assault on land, the Palestinian overall death toll on day 12 of Israel's Operation Protective Edge rose to 343, with rights groups warning that a growing number of victims were children. Despite the blistering Israeli offensive, Palestinian commandos in central Gaza managed to use tunnels to infiltrate southern Israel in three separate cases, killing two soldiers in one incident with four of their men dying in the attacks. Also Saturday, an Israeli Bedouin was killed when a rocket hit his encampment in southern Israel in an attack which also wounded four of his family, among them two young children, police said.
 
 

Israeli military seek and destroy Gaza tunnels

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎12:22:11 AMGo to full article
A Palestinian medic is overwhelmed by emotion as he takes a break treating wounded people by Israeli strikes, at the emergency room of the Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahiya, Saturday, July 19, 2014. According to the hospital, there were more than 35 wounded Palestinians from different Israeli strikes that arrived at the hospital Saturday -- five with serious wounds, and three were dead on arrival. A health official said Saturday's strikes raised the death toll from the 12-day offensive to more than 330 Palestinians, many of them civilians and nearly a fourth of them under the age of 18. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli bulldozers on Saturday demolished more than a dozen tunnels the military said were being used by Hamas gunmen to sneak beneath the southern border of the Jewish state and carry out attacks on its soldiers and civilians.
 
 

Gunmen kill 21 Egyptian military border guards near Libya

 
‎19 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎11:57:34 PMGo to full article
By Michael Georgy CAIRO (Reuters) - Gunmen killed 21 Egyptian military border guards near the frontier with Libya on Saturday, highlighting a growing threat from an area that security officials say has become a haven for militants seeking to topple the Cairo government. Security officials said the assailants were smugglers. The attack took place in Wadi al-Gadid governorate, which borders both Sudan and Libya. Two smugglers were killed in clashes with the guards, security officials said.
 

Extension of Iran nuclear talks gets mixed Israeli response

 
‎19 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:57:06 PMGo to full article
By Dan Williams JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel responded skeptically to the extension of Iranian nuclear talks with world powers on Saturday, saying it saw no cause for the optimism voiced by some Western diplomats about prospects for an accord. After failing to meet a July 20 deadline for a deal, international negotiators agreed to allow four more months for their high-stakes talks and let Iran access $2.8 billion of its cash frozen abroad during that period, though most sanctions against it stayed in place. Israel is not part of the negotiations, but wields lobbying clout in foreign capitals given its fear of its arch-foe gaining the means to make a bomb and its threats to launch a pre-emptive war if diplomacy fails. "The Israeli position was that we are not enthusiastic about an extension but that it would be better than a bad deal or a deal that is incomplete," Yuval Steinitz, Israel's minister for nuclear affairs, told Reuters.
 

French police and pro-Palestinian protesters clash

 
‎19 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:50:04 PMGo to full article
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators push a bin to raise a barricade, during a demonstration in Paris, Saturday, July 19, 2014. Police have clashed with thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters who defied a ban in Paris on marching to protest the Israeli offensive in Gaza. Some of the protesters threw stones and other objects at riot police, who responded with rounds of tear gas. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)PARIS (AP) — Police clashed on Saturday with thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters who defied a ban on a Paris demonstration over the Israeli offensive in Gaza. More than 30 people were arrested and it wasn't immediately clear if there were injuries.
 
 

Israelis destroy Hamas tunnels in Gaza offensive

 
‎19 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:36:41 PMGo to full article
A Palestinian medic is overwhelmed by emotion as he takes a break treating wounded people by Israeli strikes, at the emergency room of the Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahiya, Saturday, July 19, 2014. According to the hospital, there were more than 35 wounded Palestinians from different Israeli strikes that arrived at the hospital Saturday -- five with serious wounds, and three were dead on arrival. A health official said Saturday's strikes raised the death toll from the 12-day offensive to more than 330 Palestinians, many of them civilians and nearly a fourth of them under the age of 18. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli bulldozers demolished more than a dozen tunnels Saturday in the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian authorities reported intensified airstrikes and shelling as the death toll from Israel's ground offensive rose to at least 342 Palestinians. Diplomats struggled to revive a cease-fire.
 
 

Israeli troops battle Hamas, uncover Gaza tunnels

 
‎19 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:19:10 PMGo to full article
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli troops uncovered more than a dozen cross-border tunnels and battled Gaza militants on the second day of an open-ended ground operation Saturday, as the Palestinian death toll climbed past 330 and diplomats scrambled to revive cease-fire efforts.
 

Thousands join Pro-Palestinian rallies in London, Paris

 
‎19 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:42:01 PMGo to full article
Protesters lie-down as they take part in demonstration against Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, during a rally in central London, on July 19, 2014Thousands joined a pro-Palestinian rally in London on Saturday, chanting "Israel is a terror state", while protesters defying a ban in Paris clashed with riot police blocking their march. The London rally organisers said they expected a turnout of up to 20,000 people on the march from Prime Minister David Cameron's office to the Israeli embassy. In Paris, despite a rare police ban and warnings from President Francois Hollande, hundreds began massing for their march but clashed with police who blocked their route.
 
 

Iran warned of 'last chance' in nuclear talks after deadline missed

 
‎19 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:21:59 PMGo to full article
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and diplomats leave a news conference in ViennaBy Louis Charbonneau and Fredrik Dahl VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran faced Western pressure on Saturday to make concessions over its atomic activities after it and six world powers failed to meet a July 20 deadline for a deal to end the decade-old dispute but agreed to keep talking. The countries agreed to extend the high-stakes negotiations by four months, and let Iran access another $2.8 billion of its cash frozen abroad during that period, though most sanctions on the Islamic Republic stayed in place. Germany - one of the major powers trying to persuade Iran to curb its nuclear program - warned that the extended talks might be the last chance for a long time to reach a peaceful solution. Echoing the views of other envoys, a Western diplomat said there had been some progress during nearly three weeks of marathon discussions in Vienna's 19th century Coburg palace and that gaps in positions were not "unbridgeable".
 
 

Israel troops battle Hamas, uncover Gaza tunnels

 
‎19 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:34:40 AMGo to full article
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel pounded Hamas rocket launchers, uncovered more than a dozen cross-border tunnels and engaged in gunbattles with Palestinian militants Saturday on the second day of its open-ended ground operation in Gaza, as the Palestinian death toll there topped 300.
 

UN chief Ban heading to Mideast in Gaza peace bid

 
‎19 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:38:44 AMGo to full article
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will leave Saturday for the Middle East to help end the conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, the U.N. political chief said Friday.
 

Iran nuclear deadline extended by four months

 
‎19 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:01:43 AMGo to full article
Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief, gives a press statement with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Vienna, on July 18,2014Iran and world powers on Saturday gave themselves some four more months, until November 24, to negotiate a historic nuclear deal after failing to close major gaps in marathon talks in Vienna. "While we have made tangible progress on some of the issues and have worked together on a text (for a deal) ... there are still significant gaps on some core issues," lead negotiator and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said. In November last year Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany agreed an interim deal under which Iran froze certain nuclear activities for six months in return for some sanctions relief. US Secretary of State John Kerry, who himself this week spent days in Vienna trying to broker a breakthrough, said Friday the "short extension" was "warranted by the progress we've made and the path forward we can envision".
 
 

Israel steps up Gaza ground offensive, Hamas fires more rockets

 
‎19 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎03:48:02 AMGo to full article
Israeli ground troops enter the Gaza StripBy Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ari Rabinovitch GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli forces on Saturday pressed ahead with a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, where Palestinian militants kept firing rockets deep into Israel's heartland, pushing the death toll past 300 in almost two weeks of conflict. Palestinian officials said 65 Palestinians, at least 15 of them under the age of 18, have been killed since Israel sent ground forces on Thursday into the densely populated enclave of 1.8 million Palestinians. During that time, more than 135 rockets have been fired from Gaza, though many were shot down by Israel's Iron Dome missile-defense shield, including some over the country's commercial capital Tel Aviv, causing no casualties. The Israeli military said it killed 17 Palestinian gunmen while 21 others surrendered and were taken for questioning after the infantry and tank assault began in the territory dominated by the Islamist Hamas.
 
 

U.N. chief to travel to Middle East in bid to end fighting

 
‎19 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎03:43:17 AMGo to full article
By Michelle Nichols UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will travel to the Middle East on Saturday in a bid to end the fighting between Israel and Palestinians, alarmed at a serious escalation that includes a ground offensive by Israel, said a senior U.N. official. Israel intensified its offensive in Gaza with artillery, tanks and gunboats on Friday and warned it could "significantly widen" an operation Palestinian officials said was killing ever greater numbers of civilians. "Israel has legitimate security concerns, and we condemn the indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel that ended yesterday's temporary ceasefire.
 

NBC sends reporter back to Gaza after sudden exit

 
‎19 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎03:13:09 AMGo to full article
NEW YORK (AP) — NBC said Friday it was sending Middle East correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin back to the Gaza strip this weekend after he left the region for unexplained reasons following his eyewitness report on the killing of four Palestinian boys on a beach this week.
 

Nuclear talks extended as 'significant gaps' remain: Iran, EU

 
‎19 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎02:12:36 AMGo to full article
By Louis Charbonneau and Parisa Hafezi VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran and six world powers have agreed to a four-month extension of negotiations on a nuclear deal with Tehran after failing to meet a July 20 deadline due to "significant gaps" between the two sides, the European Union and Iran said on Saturday. "There are still significant gaps on some core issues which will require more time and effort," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a joint statement. Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China had set a July 20 deadline to complete a long-term agreement that would resolve the decade-old dispute over Tehran's nuclear ambitions. It has been clear for days that Iran and the six powers would miss the Sunday deadline to reach an accord on curbing Iran's nuclear program in exchange for the gradual lifting of sanctions due to disagreements on a number of key issues.
 

Christians flee jihadist ultimatum in Iraq's Mosul

 
‎19 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎02:10:21 AMGo to full article
Iraqi Christians fleeing the violence in the towns of Qaraqush and Bartala pray at the Saint George church on July 1, 2014 in ArbilHundreds of Christian families fled their homes in Mosul Saturday before a jihadist ultimatum threatening their community's centuries-old presence in the northern Iraqi city expired. An AFP correspondent in Mosul, the main Iraqi hub of the Islamic State (IS) group's proclaimed "caliphate", said Christians squeezed into private cars and taxis to beat the noon deadline. "Some families have had all their money and jewellery taken from them at an insurgent checkpoint as they fled the city," said Abu Rayan, a Mosul Christian who had just driven out with his family. The jihadists who have run the city since a sweeping military offensive that began six weeks ago has told the thousands of Christians in Mosul they could convert, pay a special tax or leave.
 
 

Israel pushes in Gaza, expanding ground operation

 
‎19 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎12:36:02 AMGo to full article
Palestinian medics treat a wounded girl at the emergency room of the Shifa hospital in Gaza City, northern Gaza Strip, early Friday, July 18, 2014. The heavy thud of tank shells, often just seconds apart, echoed across the Gaza Strip early Friday as thousands of Israeli soldiers launched a ground invasion, escalating a 10-day campaign of heavy air bombardments to try to destroy Hamas' rocket-firing abilities and the tunnels militants use to infiltrate Israel. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)Israeli troops pushed deeper into Gaza on Friday in a ground offensive that officials said could last up to two weeks as the prime minister ordered the military to prepare for a "significantly" wider campaign.
 
 

Iran, six powers agree to four-month extension of nuclear talks: envoys

 
‎19 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎12:34:24 AMGo to full article
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and diplomats leave a news conference in ViennaIran and six world powers on Friday agreed to a four-month extension of negotiations on a long-term nuclear deal that would gradually end sanctions on Tehran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme, diplomats close to the talks said. Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China had set a July 20 deadline to complete a long-term agreement that would resolve the decade-old dispute over Tehran's nuclear ambitions. It has been clear for days that Iran and the six powers would miss the Sunday deadline to reach an accord due to disagreements on a number of key issues in the discussions. Among the issues dividing them are the permissible scope of Iran's nuclear fuel production capacity and how to address the country's suspected past atomic bomb research.
 
 

In US, fearful campers eye Middle East conflict

 
‎19 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎12:30:21 AMGo to full article
In this photo made Thursday, July 17, 2014, Seeds of Peace camp counselor Eias Khatib, 25, of Palestine, left, talks with a camper in Otisfield, Maine. At summer camps in the Maine woods, the suburbs of Chicago and San Diego, fighting in Israel and Palestine has made for a summer of high tension, tearful calls from home, and unlikely friendships between people who might otherwise identify each other as enemies. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)OTISFIELD, Maine (AP) — Fighting in the Middle East has made for a summer of high tension, tearful phone calls and unlikely friendships between Israelis and Palestinians attending camps in the U.S. that host participants from the region.
 
 

Oil price remains high on global turmoil

 
‎19 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎12:10:12 AMGo to full article
NEW YORK (AP) — The price of oil retreated slightly Friday but remained elevated because of political turmoil around the world.
 

CNN reassigns reporter after 'scum' tweet

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎11:58:52 PMGo to full article
NEW YORK (AP) — CNN has pulled reporter Diana Magnay out of the Middle East after she referred to a group of Israelis who had allegedly threatened her while reporting on Gaza as "scum" in a tweet.
 

U.N. chief to travel to Middle East in bid to end fighting

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎11:08:49 PMGo to full article
By Michelle Nichols UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will travel to the Middle East on Saturday in a bid to end the fighting between Israel and Palestinians, alarmed at a serious escalation that includes a ground offensive by Israel, said a senior U.N. official. Israel intensified its offensive in Gaza with artillery, tanks and gunboats on Friday and warned it could "significantly widen" an operation Palestinian officials said was killing ever greater numbers of civilians. "Israel has legitimate security concerns, and we condemn the indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel that ended yesterday's temporary ceasefire.
 

UN chief to fly to Mideast in Gaza peace push

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:54:37 PMGo to full article
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on July 17, 2014 at UN headquarters in New YorkUN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will fly to the Middle East in an effort to broker and end to the violence in Gaza, an official told an emergency session of the Security Council on Friday. Under secretary general for political affairs Jeffrey Feltman said a two-state solution was the only way to break the "seemingly endless cycle" of Israeli-Palestinian violence. He will leave for the region tomorrow to express solidarity with the Israelis and Palestinians," Feltman told emergency talks at the Council. The UN chief will "help" Israelis and Palestinians "in coordination with regional and international actors, end the violence and find a way forward," Feltman said.
 
 

Jihadist ultimatum sparks Christian exodus from Iraq's Mosul

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:34:36 PMGo to full article
Iraqi Christians fleeing the violence in the towns of Qaraqush and Bartala pray at the Saint George church on July 1, 2014 in ArbilThousands of Christians abandoned their homes and belongings to flee the Iraqi city of Mosul Friday following an ultimatum by jihadists who overran the region last month and proclaimed a caliphate. As militants attempted to break government defences in strategic areas and edge closer to Baghdad, Christians joined hundreds of thousands of Shiite and other refugees into Kurdistan. Their flight to the safety of the neighbouring autonomous region coincided with the expected homecoming of Iraq's Kurdish president, Jalal Talabani, after 18 months of treatment in Germany. The Islamic State group running Mosul had already demanded that those Christians still in the city convert, pay a special tax or leave but messages blaring on mosques' loudspeakers appeared to spark an exodus.
 
 

Palestinians threaten legal action against Israel

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:11:03 PMGo to full article
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The Palestinian U.N. ambassador is threatening to go to U.N. and international courts which would likely include the International Criminal Court if the Security Council doesn't act to protect Palestinian civilians from Israeli attack and end the conflict in Gaza.
 

S.African Nobel laureate Tutu likens Mid-East crisis to apartheid

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:00 PMGo to full article
Former South African President and Nobel Peace Laureate F. W. De Klerk (L) and Nobel Peace prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu on July 18, 2014 in Cape Town, South AfricaTwo South African winners of the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday urged Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate peace, with former archbishop Desmond Tutu comparing the regional crisis to apartheid. Their comments came as Pretoria condemned Israel's ground offensive into the Gaza strip and several prominent South Africans of Jewish descent called for the country to cut ties with Israel. It is a human rights crisis with roots to what amounts to an apartheid system of land ownership and control," Tutu said at a news conference on this year's annual summit of peace prize winners to be held in Cape Town in October.
 
 

Turkey's Erdogan condemns Israel over Gaza

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:40:43 PMGo to full article
Pro-Palestinian Turks shout slogans against Israel during a protest rally outside the Israeli consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, early Friday, July 18, 2014. Israel launched an offensive late Thursday after becoming increasingly exasperated with unrelenting rocket fire from Gaza on its cities, especially following Hamas' rejection of an Egyptian cease-fire plan earlier in the week. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan intensified his fiery rhetoric against Israel over its ground invasion of Gaza on Friday, accusing the country of state terrorism and genocide and saying the two countries will not mend ties on his watch.
 
 

AP ANALYSIS: Israel and Hamas dislike status quo

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:26:17 PMGo to full article
A Palestinian man pauses as he inspects the rubble of building, destroyed by an Israeli strike, in Gaza City, northern Gaza Strip, Friday, July 18, 2014. Israeli troops pushed deeper into Gaza on Friday to destroy rocket launching sites and tunnels, firing volleys of tank shells and clashing with Palestinian fighters in a high-stakes ground offensive meant to weaken the enclave's Hamas rulers. If Israel and the Palestinian militants of Hamas can agree on one point, it seems, it's that things have to change. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)If Israel and Hamas can agree on one point, it seems, it's that things have to change.
 
 

Electrolux posts Q2 loss on restructuring costs

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:29:00 PMGo to full article
STOCKHOLM (AP) — Swedish home appliance maker Electrolux has posted a second-quarter net loss of 92 million ($13.5 million) kronor, citing large restructuring charges, but says demand in Europe and the United States is picking up.
 

Electrolux says 2nd-quarter profit up, sales down

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:59:55 PMGo to full article
STOCKHOLM (AP) — Swedish home appliance maker Electrolux says improved demand in Europe and the United States boosted the company's second-quarter profit 27 percent to 815 million kronor ($119 million) from 642 million kronor a year earlier.
 

Iraq's president Talabani to return from medical exile amid crisis

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:54:42 PMGo to full article
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani at a press conference in Baghdad on March 2, 2009Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was to return from months of treatment abroad, with his crisis-hit country on the brink of breakup but his native Kurdistan buoyant with statehood hopes. "President Talabani is coming home on Saturday July 19 after receiving successful health treatment in brotherly Germany," his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan said on Friday. The PUK said Talabani, due to fly into his Kurdish fiefdom of Sulaimaniyah, would resume his duties as head of state, in a statement also confirmed to AFP by his son Qubad. While most of Iraq's political power lies with the prime minister's office, the 80-year-old Talabani was long seen as a key mediator between Iraq's feuding factions.
 
 

France asks Qatar to get Hamas to agree Gaza ceasefire: source

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎05:02:26 PMGo to full article
France has asked Qatar, which has close links with Hamas, to use its influence with the Palestinian Islamist group to reach a ceasefire in the conflict in Gaza, a French diplomatic source said on Friday. Israel intensified its land offensive in Gaza with artillery, tanks and gunboats on Friday and warned it could "significantly widen" an operation Palestinian officials said was killing an increasing number of civilians. Israel briefly held fire on Tuesday after Egypt, which also borders Gaza, announced a truce plan, but Hamas and other militants balked saying their conditions had not been addressed.
 

U.N. aid agencies step up emergency aid to Gaza

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:35:29 PMGo to full article
By Stephanie Nebehay GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Friday it was stepping up emergency aid to Gaza, where Israel's military offensive has made water shortages worse and stoked fears of more sewage contamination and water-borne diseases. On Tuesday, U.N. aid agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that after years of Gaza's water system deteriorating, damage from the attacks meant the whole coastal strip was facing a water crisis within days. "We are still very concerned about the water supply in Gaza, about half of the population are without water supply at this time," U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) spokeswoman, Amanda Pitt, told a news briefing in Geneva.
 

Oil slips after steep climb on Ukraine crisis

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:22:54 PMGo to full article
The price of oil retreated slightly Friday after climbing to near $104 a barrel amid growing geopolitical concerns following the crash of a Malaysian jetliner in Ukraine and another round of U.S. sanctions on Russia.
 

Pope Francis phones Peres, Abbas to call for Gaza ceasefire

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎04:01:52 PMGo to full article
Israeli President Shimon Peres (left) shakes hands with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas as Pope Francis looks on following a peace summit at the Vatican, on June 8, 2014Pope Francis on Friday phoned Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to call for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza conflict, the Vatican said. Francis "reminded the presidents" about the need "to bring an end to hostilities, making efforts to promote a truce, peace and reconciliation in the hearts of those involved", read a statement from the Vatican. "The Holy Father Francis personally telephoned President Shimon Peres and President Mahmoud Abbas to share his very serious concerns regarding the current situation," it said.
 
 

Egypt's Gaza truce move highlights bid to break Islamists

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎03:27:29 PMGo to full article
By Yasmine Saleh CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's attempts to pressure Hamas into accepting a truce plan offering few concessions for the group to end the latest fighting with Israel show Cairo's determination to finish the job it began at home - crushing Islamists it sees as a threat.     Egypt has always regarded itself as the most effective mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.     This time Cairo was slow to react to warfare in Gaza and when it did its ceasefire proposal appeared designed to isolate Hamas - an offshoot of Egypt's outlawed Muslim Brotherhood - rather than secure an immediate end to the bloodshed. Hamas leaders complained that they were frozen out of talks and not consulted on the Egyptian initiative, and that it did not address their demands, such as an end to an economically crippling blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt.     Egypt's army toppled President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood - a close Hamas ally - a year ago and then mounted one of the fiercest crackdowns on Islamists seen in decades.     Security forces killed hundreds in the streets and jailed thousands of others.
 

China appoints special envoy for Afghanistan

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎12:11:55 PMGo to full article
Members of honour guards hold red flags during a welcoming ceremony in BeijingChina's Foreign Ministry said on Friday that it had appointed a special envoy for Afghanistan, underscoring Beijing's concerns that the withdrawal of NATO troops will leave a hotbed of militancy on its doorstep. Sun Yuxi, a former ambassador to both Afghanistan and India, has been named to the new position and will have "close communication" with Afghanistan and other relevant parties, the ministry said in a statement. "China and Afghanistan are traditional friendly neighbors. China pays great attention to developments in Afghanistan and is committed to deepening both countries' strategic partnership, and so decided to appoint a special envoy," it added.
 
 

Ericsson sees $394 million second-quarter profit

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:07:51 AMGo to full article
STOCKHOLM (AP) — Wireless equipment maker Ericsson says second-quarter profit rose 76 percent to 2.7 billion kronor ($394 million) mainly due to higher margins on its premium products, lower restructuring charges and improved overall efficiency.
 

Twenty-three Palestinians, Israeli soldier killed in Gaza ground offensive

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:33:27 AMGo to full article
By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel stepped up its ground offensive in Gaza early on Friday pounding targets with artillery fire and using tanks and infantry to battle Hamas fighters. Orange flashes illuminated the eastern Gaza Strip as Israeli gunboats off the Mediterranean coast fired shells and tracer bullets, and helicopters fired across the border. Hamas fired rockets back into Israel towards the southern towns of Ashdod and Ashkelon. Palestinian health officials said 23 Palestinians had been killed since Israel launched its ground offensive against the densely-populated strip of 1.8 million Palestinians on Thursday.
 

Oil jumps to nearly $104 as Ukraine crisis spirals

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:40:38 AMGo to full article
The price of oil continued to climb on Friday, reaching nearly $104 a barrel on concerns that the tensions over Ukraine and new sanctions against Russia could disrupt global supplies.
 

Israel launches ground offensive in Gaza Strip

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎01:59:16 AMGo to full article
By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel launched a Gaza ground campaign after 10 days of bombardments from the air and sea failed to stop militants' rocket attacks, stepping up an offensive that already has taken a heavy toll in civilian lives. Israel signalled the invasion would be limited in scope - targeting tunnels dug by gunmen - and said it was not intended to topple Hamas, the Gaza Strip's dominant Islamist group. Explosions lit up the sky in the early hours of Friday and residents in several areas of the densely populated strip of 1.8 million Palestinians said they saw small numbers of Israeli tanks that had crossed the border from Israel. A statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office late on Thursday said he had given orders to destroy tunnels that militants use to infiltrate Israel and carry out attacks.
 
 

 

 
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Report: drone market to remain strong

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:44:06 PMGo to full article
Farnborough, England (UPI) Jul 18, 2013
A new study on the unmanned aerial vehicle market forecasts increased spending on the systems and increased civil sector use of the aircraft. The Teal Group, an aerospace and defense market analysis firm, said it estimates UAV spending will nearly double over the next decade - from $5.7 billion annually to $9.9 billion annually. It also predicts changes in usage. "The UAV
 

Russian-made missile key suspect in MH17 crash

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:44:06 PMGo to full article
London (AFP) July 18, 2014
A Russian-made surface-to-air missile is the most likely cause of the suspected downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine, analysts said on Friday, as claim and counter-claim swirled over who launched the weapon. The truck-mounted "Buk" missile is capable of soaring to the height of a civilian airliner like Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, unlike lighter and more widely available shoulder-
 

India clears defence procurement worth $3.5 bn: report

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:44:06 PMGo to full article
New Delhi (AFP) July 19, 2014
India's new Hindu nationalist government cleared Saturday proposals worth nearly $3.5 billion to modernise the nation's ageing Soviet-era military hardware and boost its domestic defence industry, a report said. The move underscored the desire of the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to move quickly to update the country's military as India looks to defend itself against an incr
 

Iran nuclear talks end as deadline extended by four months

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:44:06 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 19, 2014
Marathon talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna ended Saturday after negotiators gave themselves four more months to try and bridge major gaps and strike a historic nuclear deal. New rounds of talks were expected in the coming weeks, with the date and place yet to be decided, diplomats said. "While we have made tangible progress on some of the issues and have worked together on a
 

North Korea blasts UN over missile condemnation

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:44:06 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 19, 2014
North Korea hit back at the UN Security Council Saturday over its recent censure of Pyongyang for launching several rounds of short-range ballistic missiles. In a statement carried on North Korean official media the foreign ministry described the UN criticism as "absolutely intolerable" and defended the missile launches as a response to "madcap war manoevres" by the United States. North
 

Storm Shadow missiles set for integration of RAF Typhoons

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:44:06 PMGo to full article
London (UPI) Jul 18, 2013
New Typhoon fighters to be flown by Britain's Royal Air Force will carry Storm Shadow missiles following an agreement between a NATO agency and Eurofighter. The Storm Shadow, made by MBDA, is a long-range air-to-surface weapon for use against targets such as bridges, airfields, harbors. The missiles were previously been deployed on Eurofighter's Tornado GR4 aircraft during operat
 

Christians flee jihadist ultimatum in Iraq's Mosul

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:44:06 PMGo to full article
Mosul, Iraq (AFP) July 19, 2014
Hundreds of Christian families fled their homes in Mosul Saturday as a jihadist ultimatum threatening their community's centuries-old presence in the northern Iraqi city expired. President Jalal Talabani flew home after 18 months abroad for medical treatment but restricted access at the airport in his Kurdish fiefdom of Sulaimaniyah offered no clue as to his health. There was little hope
 

Russia slams US for implicating rebels in jet crash

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:44:06 PMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) July 19, 2014
Russia on Saturday launched a blistering attack against Washington after US President Barack Obama said that a missile fired from territory controlled by Moscow-backed rebels downed the Malaysian Airlines flight over Ukraine. In his most extensive comments on the tragedy that killed 298 people aboard MH17 flight en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Obama said on Friday that "evidence ind
 

After extension, hope remains for Iran nuclear talks

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:44:06 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 19, 2014
If Iran and world powers couldn't clinch a nuclear deal after five hard months of bargaining, what hope is there that yet more time will help? Quite a lot actually, experts told AFP. Even though Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany remain far apart on key issues, some progress has been made, the analysts said. "The chances are better than ever
 

Royal Air Force's Tornado aircraft getting new RF jamming pods

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:44:06 PMGo to full article
London (UPI) Jul 17, 2013
A radio frequency jamming pod for use by Tornado GR Mk4 aircraft is to be designed, developed and delivered by Selex ES to Britain's Royal Air Force. Selex ES' Common Jamming Pod will sustain the aircraft's RF self-protection capability through the aircraft's operational life, the company said. "The program is based on the fast-track re-work of existing Skyshadow-2 pods to meet c
 

Airbus supplying more aircraft to Egyptian Air Force

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:44:06 PMGo to full article
Madrid (UPI) Jul 17, 2013
The Egyptian Air Force is increasing its fleet of Airbus C295 transports to 20 aircraft through an order for additional planes. Airbus Defense and Space said its new contract from Egypt is for eight aircraft but it did not provide a monetary value for the deal. Delivery of the C295s, which are manufactured in Spain, will begin next year. "We greatly appreciate the Egyptian
 

SIGAR questions supply of C-130s to Afghanistan

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:44:06 PMGo to full article
Arlington, Va. (UPI) Jul 18, 2013
A Congressionally created oversight body is urging the temporary suspension of U.S. plans to deliver two C-130H Hercules transport planes to the Afghan Air Force. U.S. Cargo planes already delivered to the Afghan Air Force are under-utilized, the U.S. Air Force had previously cautioned against the plan, and withholding the planes would save U.S. taxpayers money - as much as $45.5 milli
 

Basque group ETA claims new step towards disarming

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:44:06 PMGo to full article
Madrid (AFP) July 19, 2014
Basque separatist group ETA said it has dismantled the "logistical and operational structures" of its armed campaign in a step towards full disarmament, in a declaration published Sunday. The move is the latest tortuous step towards a potential end to western Europe's last major armed secessionist movement, once feared but now weakened by the arrests of many of its leaders. In the declar
 

Israel to expand Gaza ground offensive: army

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:44:06 PMGo to full article
Jerusalem (AFP) July 20, 2014
Israel's army said Sunday it was expanding its ground offensive against the Gaza Strip, as the bloodiest conflict since 2009 entered its 13th day with a death toll of over 360. "This evening, the ground phase of Operation Protective Edge expands, as additional forces join the effort to combat terror in the Gaza Strip and establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and s
 

Gunmen kill 21 Egyptian soldiers in checkpoint attack

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:44:06 PMGo to full article
Cairo (AFP) July 19, 2014
Egypt's military said militants firing machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades attacked a border checkpoint Saturday, killing 21 soldiers in one of the biggest assaults on security forces in years. The attack in a desert area 630 kilometres (390 miles) west of Cairo also left four soldiers wounded, the military said in a statement, blaming "terrorists". It said a rocket propelled gren
 

US Refusal to Host GLONASS Base a Form of Competition with Russia

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Moscow (RIA Novosti) Jul 18, 2014
The refusal by the United States to place base stations for Russia's GLONASS satellite navigation system on its territory is a form of competition, explained by Washington's fear of losing market monopoly enjoyed by its own GPS system, Ilya Rogachev, director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's department of new challenges and threats, told RIA Novosti. "The refusal [by the US] is based on t
 

Enertec Systems 2001 Ltd receives new Israeli order

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Montvale, N.J. (UPI) Jul 17, 2013
Enertec Systems 2001 Ltd is supplying a computer-based test, diagnosis and simulation system to an Israeli company for support of a missile defense system. The system, like the customer who placed the order, were not identified. The missile system is to be marketed worldwide by the customer and a U.S. defense contractor. "Our momentum in the aerospace segment continues to deliver
 

China to join military exercise with US, Australia

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 17, 2014
China's military will take part in an infantry exercise for the first time with Australian and US forces in October, the Pentagon said on Thursday. The joint exercise will take place in northern Australia and marks another step forward in efforts by Washington and Canberra to bolster relations with China's People's Liberation Army, officials said. "This is a small-scale exercise," Pentag
 

Russian GLONASS to Boost Yield Capacity by 50 percent

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Fortaleza, Brazil (RIA Novosti) Jul 18, 2014
Deployment of GLONASS satellite navigation systems to the BRICS states is very promising, the technologies allow to boost yield capacity up to 50 percent, Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the plenary session of the BRICS summit Tuesday. "The joint implementation of the Russian global navigation systems GLONASS looks very promising in a whole range of spheres: transportation, nation
 

US asks Israel to do more to protect civilians

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 17, 2014
The United States urged Israel on Thursday to do more to protect civilians caught in the crossfire between the Jewish state and Hamas, after Israeli air strikes killed four children in Gaza. "We ask (Israel) to redouble their efforts moving forward to prevent civilian casualties, given the events of the last couple of days," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. "We beli
 

Japan, Britain to launch joint missile research

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) July 17, 2014
Japan said Thursday it would join forces with Britain to jointly develop missile technology for fighter jets, while also moving to export Japanese-made parts for US surface-to-air missiles. The decision comes several months after Japan lifted a self-imposed ban on weapons exports, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks to expand Japan's diplomatic and military presence on the global stage. T
 

New UV laser capabilities being developed for Army

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
San Diego (UPI) Jul 17, 2013
Next-generation ultraviolet laser capabilities are to be developed for military use by Daylight Defense LLC under a U.S. Army contract. The value of the award was not disclosed, but Daylight Defense said it was granted under the U.S. Army Small Business Innovation Research program. "We are grateful that the U.S. government has entrusted Daylight to develop a next-generation capab
 

UN Council condemns N.Korea over missile launches

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
United Nations, United States (AFP) July 17, 2014
The UN Security Council on Thursday condemned North Korea for recently launching several rounds of short-range ballistic missiles. "The members of the Security Council condemn these launches as violations of Security Council resolutions," said Eugene Richard Gasana, the Rwandan chair of the 15-member council. North Korea on Sunday fired two missiles in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) that f
 

Mobile air traffic control communications system makes debut

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Basildon, England (UPI) Jul 17, 2013
A new mobile air traffic control communications system has been introduced by Selex ES. The Aerodrome Flight Information System, or AFIS, is on a mobile cart and can be transported on a C-130J aircraft or by ground vehicles for deployment. The company said the system is comprised of four radios for marine and aeronautical communications in the VHF and UHF spectrums, a UHF-band TE
 

China offers $20 billion fund for LatAm projects

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Brasilia, Brazil (AFP) July 17, 2014
Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed Thursday to create a $20 billion fund to finance infrastructure projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. The fund was announced at the end of a summit hosted by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff that marked the launch of the China-Latin America-Caribbean Forum. "They proposed to do it immediately so that it can be ready next year. This money is
 

45th Space Wing launches 6 second-generation ORBCOMM satellites

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Cape Canaveral AFB FL (SPX) Jul 18, 2014
The 45th Space Wing supported Space Exploration Technologies' (SpaceX) successful launch of their Falcon 9 rocket carrying six second-generation ORBCOMM communications satellites from Space Launch Complex 40 here at 11 a.m. EDT July 14. The rocket flew in the Falcon 9 v1.1 configuration with upgraded Merlin 1D engines, stretched fuel tanks, and a payload fairing. A combined team of m
 

US raises rights with China in counterterror talks

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 17, 2014
The United States said Thursday it raised concerns with China about human rights in the Xinjiang region after activists voiced outrage over a meeting between the two powers on counterterrorism. US and Chinese officials met Tuesday in Washington on counterterrorism cooperation, amid Beijing's widening crackdown on Uighur activists in the far western Xinjiang region following a string of deadl
 

Turkish patrol planes to have Raytheon's torpedo capability

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
London (UPI) Jul 17, 2013
Integration of torpedoes onto maritime patrol aircraft for Turkey will be conducted by Raytheon under a contract from Alenia Aermacchi. The 31-month engineering support services award is worth $5.7 million. Raytheon said its services will specifically involve supporting Alenia Aermacchi's test, integration and qualification for the external carriage and tactical employment of Ra
 

Sri Lanka announces probe into military's alleged rights abuses

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Colombo (AFP) July 17, 2014
Sri Lanka announced Thursday an investigation into its military over allegations of rights abuses, following intense international pressure for a war-crimes probe into the island's decades-long ethnic conflict. President Mahinda Rajapakse said a current government-appointed Commission of Inquiry (COI) would be expanded to probe the military and Tamil rebels over abuses allegedly committed du
 

14 Tunisian troops killed in deadliest attack on army

 
‎18 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:47:11 PMGo to full article
Tunis (AFP) July 17, 2014
Suspected jihadists killed 14 Tunisian soldiers near the Algerian border, officials said Thursday, in the worst such attack in the army's history as it presses a crackdown on radical Islamists. The attack took place in the Mount Chaambi region on Wednesday evening as the soldiers were breaking their day-long Ramadan fast. The defence ministry said 40 to 60 "terrorists", a term used to re
 

Sanctions on Russian launchers confers advantage to others

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
Moscow (Voice of Russia) Jul 16, 2014
Even though Russia's rocket industry is forced to operate under Western sanctions, thought these punitive measures can eventually do the industry more good than harm, Russia's deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, Interfax-AVN reports on Saturday. "Russia's space rocket industry and other innovative sectors are working under sanctions today," Rogozin stated at the Khrunichev space center
 

Obama, seeing Iran progress, hints at more time

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 16, 2014
US President Barack Obama signaled Wednesday that talks with Iran on its nuclear program may need to extend beyond a weekend deadline, saying negotiations have shown a "credible way forward." Obama said he was consulting with Congress - where there is strong criticism of his quest for a diplomatic deal with Iran - as negotiators meet in Vienna ahead of Sunday's expiration of a temporary de
 

US drone strike kills 18 in NW Pakistan

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
Bannu, Pakistan (AFP) July 16, 2014
A US drone strike on Wednesday killed least 18 people in a suspected militant compound in Pakistan's northwestern tribal belt, as the country's military wages a major offensive against insurgent hideouts. The attack came in North Waziristan, where for the past month the Pakistani military has been fighting to wipe out longstanding bases of Taliban and other militants. "A US drone fired t
 

S. Korea-US naval drill begins in face of North's anger

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 16, 2014
South Korea and the United States on Wednesday launched a five-day joint naval exercise in the face of angry North Korean protests and warnings backed by missile tests. Two separate drills began simultaneously in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) and off the southern port of Mokpo, South Korean military officials said. The drill off Mokpo was led by the USS George Washington aircraft carrier,
 

Drones take flight into a world of possibilities

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
Montreal (AFP) July 17, 2014
Like a well-trained dog, the HEXO+ follows you faithfully wherever you go. But it doesn't walk besides you - it's airborne. Developed by a French start-up, Squadrone System, the six-rotor HEXO+ - which handily totes a GoPro video camera - is billed as the first autonomous small drone for the mass market. It's also a prime example of the many ways in which automation will take to the
 

Hyperspec Sensors Target Vegetation Fluorescence

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
Fitchburg MA (SPX) Jul 16, 2014
Headwall is announcing the availability of a new hyperspectral imager targeting very high resolution spectral measurements of 0.1 nm over specific spectral ranges which yield indicators of vegetative fluorescence to measure plant health. The ability of the new High Resolution Hyperspec instrument to analyze chlorophyll fluorescence emissions at extremely high resolution and high throughput
 

Patriot getting enhanced radar capabilities

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
London (UPI) Jul 16, 2013
Raytheon is enhancing the Patriot air defense system for the U.S. Army and two allied countries through the supply of radar digital processor kits. The kits provide improved target detection and identification, a 40 percent improvement in overall radar reliability and decreased need for spare batteries for the system. "These RDP upgrades are yet another example of how we continue
 

Typhoon fighter program a boon for British companies

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
London (UPI) Jul 16, 2013
The Eurofighter Typhoon consortium is touting the benefits of the plane's production to supply chain companies in Britain. According to data disclosed, the Typhoon program spent more than $1.1 billion with British supply chain companies last year. Nearly $368 million made its way to the East Midlands region, where supplier Selex is located, while an equal amount was spent in the
 

Fear grips Israel-hit Gaza hospital

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
Shejaiya, Palestinian Territories (AFP) July 16, 2014
At Al-Wafa rehabilitation hospital near Gaza City, a handful of doctors and nurses hover over paralysed patients, wondering how to protect them from more air strikes as threatened by Israel. The patients lie mostly inert in beds lined up in the hospital's reception, where staff moved them after an Israeli rocket crashed into the fourth floor. The staff have appealed to international agen
 

Mali govt, rebels begin tough peace talks in Algiers

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
Algiers (AFP) July 17, 2014
The Bamako government and armed groups from northern Mali launched tough talks in Algiers on Wednesday for an elusive peace deal, with parts of the country still mired in conflict. The closed-door negotiations were to take place in the presence of six rebel groups, but they refused to meet simultaneously, according to an Algerian official. Instead, the three groups that signed the "Algie
 

Japan, Britain to launch joint missile research: report

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) July 17, 2014
Japan and Britain are to jointly develop missile technology for fighter jets, while Tokyo may also start exporting Japanese-made parts for US surface-to-air missiles, a report said Thursday. The plan - which comes months after Japan lifted a self-imposed ban on weapons exports - was likely to be approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet at a meeting of the National Security Council o
 

Projecting a Three-Dimensional Future

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
Tel Aviv, Israel (SPX) Jul 10, 2014
Since the 1960s, theatergoers have shelled out for crude 3-D glasses, polarized glasses, and shutter glasses to enhance their viewing experience. These basic devices, used to trick the brain into perceiving an artificial three-dimensional reality, may soon be rendered obsolete with the introduction of new holography technology developed by Tel Aviv University researchers. Tel Aviv Universi
 

Saab, Selex ES sign radar contract deal

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
Farnborough, England (UPI) Jul 16, 2013
Swedish defense company Saab is to equip its Gripen Next Generation fighters with Active Electronically Scanned Array radar from Finmeccanica-Selex ES. The contract for Selex's Raven was signed at the Farnborough International Airshow in Britain. Its value, however, was not disclosed. AESA radar provides an enhanced capability to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed
 

Second batch of four O3b satellites successfully launched

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
Cannes, France (SPX) Jul 16, 2014
The second four satellites in the O3b medium Earth orbit (MEO) constellation, operated by O3b Networks, have been successfully launched by Arianespace from French Guiana using a Soyouz rocket. The first four satellites have been orbiting for a year and they are offering hugely successful services - confirming the high-throughput and low latency of the O3b promise. Positioned at an al
 

Egypt truce failure gives Israel leeway in Gaza: analysts

 
‎17 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:44:23 PMGo to full article
Jerusalem (AFP) July 16, 2014
Israel's acceptance of a short-lived Egyptian truce which was rejected by Hamas, has set the scene for a much broader operation in Gaza, including a limited ground incursion, analysts say. Although the ceasefire plan unveiled by Cairo did not lead to an end to the latest round of violence, Israel's agreement to hold its fire for six hours - even as Hamas militants continued firing rockets o
 

US military awards contracts to design reusable spaceplane

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:42:37 PMGo to full article
Washington (XNA) Jul 16, 2014
The U.S. military said Tuesday it has awarded contracts to three companies to design an experimental spaceplane conceived as a reusable, unmanned booster with costs, operation and reliability similar to modern aircraft. The companies selected to develop the XS-1 spaceplane are Boeing, working with Blue Origin; Masten Space Systems, working with XCOR Aerospace; and Northrop Grumman, working
 

Australia Using Paramarine Submersible Design Software

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:42:37 PMGo to full article
Portsmouth, UK (SPX) Jul 16, 2014
QinetiQ, in association with the Re-Engineering Australia Foundation Ltd (REA), is assisting Australian schools participating in the Future Submarine Technology Challenge (SUBS in Schools) providing its Paramarine Ship and Submersible Design Software to the participating students. The challenge is being run in Australian schools to promote a holistic view of the role science, technology, e
 

Russia's Angara rocket not to be used as ICBM

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:42:37 PMGo to full article
Moscow (Voice of Russia) Jul 16, 2014
Russia's new Angara launch vehicle will not be used as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) First Deputy Head Alexander Ivanov said on Monday, July 14, reports ITAR-TASS. "This will not be done. This is a space vehicle only. Because of its characteristics, it cannot be used as an intercontinental ballistic missile," he said when asked whether Angara can
 

US admiral in China for top-level navy talks

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:42:37 PMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) July 15, 2014
The chief of the US Navy met his Chinese counterpart Tuesday for talks aimed at improving cooperation between their fleets following concerns over regional territorial disputes and potential armed conflict. Admiral Wu Shengli, commander in chief of China's navy, welcomed Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the US chief of naval operations, with a red-carpet ceremony and an honour guard at his headqua
 

New Fury precision glide bomb introduced

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:42:37 PMGo to full article
Farnborough, England (UPI) Jul 15, 2013
A new precision-guided glide weapon for use from a variety of aerial platforms has been introduced by Textron Systems' Weapon & Sensor Systems. The bomb, called Fury, was designed by Textron and its partner, Thales UK. It is 27 inches long, three inches in diameter, weighs 12.7 lbs. and uses a common interface for rapid integration on multiple manned and unmanned aircraft systems.
 

AgustaWestland's remotely controlled UAV put through paces

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:42:37 PMGo to full article
Rome (UPI) Jul 15, 2013
Demonstration of an optionally piloted helicopter system has been completed for the Italian Defense Ministry by AgustaWestland. The Rotorcraft Unmanned Aerial System/Optionally Piloted Helicopter, or RUAS/OPH, was based on the SW-4 and developed by the company and its Polish subsidiary, PSL-Swidnik. The demonstration of capabilities came under a national military research plan be
 

U.S., Norwegian companies partner for missile project

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:42:37 PMGo to full article
London (UPI) Jul 15, 2013
A joint strike missile for anti-surface warfare use is to be jointly developed by Raytheon and the Kongsberg Gruppen of Norway. The missile project for the Royal Norwegian Air Force has already been funded and coincides with the U.S. Navy's consideration of a cost-effective next-generation Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare system, or OASuW. "The U.S. and its allies gain new and inno
 

US lawmakers boost funding for Israel's Iron Dome

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:42:37 PMGo to full article
Washington July 15, 2014
With US ally Israel facing a barrage of rocket attacks from Gaza, a Senate panel on Tuesday approved a 50 percent funding boost for the Jewish State's Iron Dome anti-missile system. The measure, if it becomes law, would provide $621.6 million for Israeli missile defense programs for the 2015 fiscal year starting in October, including $351 million for the short-range Iron Dome system that has
 

Obama and China's Xi discuss Iran, North Korea: White House

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:42:37 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 15, 2014
US President Barack Obama told his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Monday he was determined to constructively manage growing differences between their two nations, at a time of high tensions in the Pacific region. In a telephone call, Obama and Xi also discussed the international effort to reach a deal on Iran's nuclear program in Vienna and the need to ensure North Korea complies with dem
 

S. Korea warns North over missile tests

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:42:37 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 15, 2014
South Korea on Tuesday warned North korea it was playing a dangerous game with a series of missile, rocket and artillery tests that appear to be inching ever closer to their joint border. In the latest incident on Monday, the North fired 100 shells into the sea from multiple rocket launchers in a live-fire drill close to the eastern maritime boundary. "Some civilian tourists at the east
 

Iraq parliament elects speaker as Tikrit push falters

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:42:37 PMGo to full article
Baghdad (AFP) July 15, 2014
Iraq's sharply divided parliament elected a speaker Tuesday in a step forward in the delayed government formation process, as a renewed bid to recapture Tikrit from militants ended in retreat. World powers and Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, have piled pressure on MPs to set aside their differences in the face of a jihadist-led offensive that has overrun swathes of
 

US, Iran lay ground for nuclear talks extension

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:42:37 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 15, 2014
US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart laid the groundwork Tuesday for an extension of a Sunday deadline to strike a historic nuclear deal after intense talks in Vienna. A Western diplomat went as far as to say that it was now "highly probable" Iran and world powers would agree to such a move, and that the extension would be months not weeks. "As it's highly improba
 

Colombia rebels, government resume Havana peace talks

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:42:37 PMGo to full article
Havana (AFP) July 15, 2014
Marxist FARC rebels and representatives from Colombia's government sat down together on Tuesday for the first time in more than a month, tying up loose ends as they embark on a new round of peace talks. The meeting is the first between the two sides since the re-election last month of President Juan Manuel Santos, which gave a big push to the negotiations. Officials told AFP that a few u
 

India PM, China's Xi pledge stronger ties in first meeting

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:42:37 PMGo to full article
New Delhi (AFP) July 15, 2014
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed on the need to resolve a decades-old border dispute during talks before the BRICS summit in Brazil, a statement said Tuesday. The leaders also pledged to strengthen trade and diplomatic ties during the 80-minute meeting in Fortaleza, their first since nationalist hardliner Modi won landslide elections in May. "B
 

Qatar to buy Patriot missiles in $11 bln arms deal: US

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎06:42:37 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 15, 2014
Qatar will buy US Patriot missiles for the first time in a major arms deal worth $11 billion, officials said Monday, as Washington awaits a decision by the Gulf state on a lucrative fighter jet contract. The sale will provide Qatar with roughly 10 batteries for Patriot systems designed to knock out incoming missiles, as well as 24 Apache helicopters and 500 Javelin anti-tank missiles, the US
 

Air Force seeks new long-range bomber

 
‎15 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:59 PMGo to full article
Washington (UPI) Jul 14, 2013
A Request for Proposal has been issued to Industry by the U.S. Air Force for its Long Range Strike Bomber, or LRS-B. The request sets out a future contract's requirements and precedes competitive selection based on contractor proposals. "The LRS-B will be an adaptable and highly-capable system based upon mature technology," said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James. "We h
 

Chinese remote sensing drone sets 30-hour flying record

 
‎15 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:59 PMGo to full article
Beijing (XNA) Jul 15, 2014
A new Chinese unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) set a new record for the country's remote sensing drones by flying for more than 30 hours consecutively, the UAV's developer, the Chinese Academy of Surveying and Mapping (CASM), announced on Wednesday. The previous record time was 16 hours. Coupled with China's Beidou Navigation Satellite System, the UAV system can carry out rapid mapping withou
 

China probes three allies of former security chief

 
‎15 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:59 PMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) July 14, 2014
Three prominent allies of China's former security chief Zhou Yongkang are under investigation for corruption, state prosecutors said Monday, as the noose appears to tighten around one of the country's most powerful men. China's top prosecutor's office announced bribery probes into former vice minister of public security Li Dongsheng and Jiang Jiemin, formerly a top regulator of state-owned e
 

NATO denounces new Russian troop build-up on Ukraine border

 
‎15 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:59 PMGo to full article
Brussels (AFP) July 14, 2014
NATO on Monday said Russia had increased its troops near the Ukraine border to as many as 12,000 after reducing them to less than 1,000 in June, hurting efforts to ease the crisis. "This is not a step in the right direction. It is a step away from de-escalating the situation," a NATO official said. "Our current assessment is that between 10,000 and 12,000 Russian troops are in the area."
 

China blasts Australia over Abbott's WWII comments

 
‎15 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:59 PMGo to full article
Beijing July 14, 2014
China on Monday slammed a remark by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott praising Japanese military personnel during World War II, while state-run media said Australia was once "roamed by rascals". China's Global Times daily, linked to the ruling Communist party, said Australia was in no position to criticise China's human rights record in part because it "used to be a place roamed by rasca
 

Team forms for Gripen acquisition

 
‎15 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:59 PMGo to full article
Brasilia, Brazil (UPI) Jul 14, 2013
Embraer of Brazil and Saab of Sweden will partner to provide project management if Brazil orders Saab's Gripen fighter for its F-X2 program. F-X2 is a program to modernize Brazil's Air Force and simultaneously stimulate the country's industrial base. The country's military recently chose the Gripen as the favored aircraft for production in Brazil under the program but no contract
 

Ex-POW Bergdahl reports for duty, and a desk job: US

 
‎15 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:59 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 14, 2014
An American soldier who was held captive by Afghan insurgents for nearly five years returned to regular military duty Monday and will be taking a "desk job," the Pentagon said. Following his release on May 31 in a swap with the Taliban, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl underwent medical exams and counseling at a military hospital in San Antonio, Texas, to prepare him for "reintegration" into the army.
 

Drone lighting

 
‎15 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:59 PMGo to full article
Boston MA (SPX) Jul 14, 2014
Lighting is crucial to the art of photography. But lights are cumbersome and time-consuming to set up, and outside the studio, it can be prohibitively difficult to position them where, ideally, they ought to go. Researchers at MIT and Cornell University hope to change that by providing photographers with squadrons of small, light-equipped autonomous robots that automatically assume the pos
 

North Korea fires 100 artillery shells into sea

 
‎15 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:59 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 14, 2014
North Korea fired 100 artillery shells into the sea Monday in a live-fire drill near the eastern maritime border with South Korea that followed a recent series of missile tests. The drill began shortly before midday (0300 GMT) using land artillery units based at the eastern tip of the Demilitarised Zone that bisects the Korean peninsula, the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said. It l
 

Indonesia receiving refurbished U.S. fighters

 
‎15 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:59 PMGo to full article
Hill Air Force Base, Utah (UPI) Jul 14, 2013
The U.S. government is well on its way to refurbishing and modernizing two dozen F-16 Fighting Falcon jet fighters for Indonesia. The first three of the 24 planes refurbished under a 2011 contract were being delivered to the Asian country Monday (July 14). The remainder will be delivered by the end of 2015. "This F-16 program currently stands as the flagship program of the defens
 

Turkey hosts Iraqi Kurd leader in show of support

 
‎15 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:59 PMGo to full article
Ankara (AFP) July 14, 2014
The president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region met Turkish leaders in Ankara on Monday, as Turkey closely watches moves for an independent Iraqi Kurdistan amid the chaos in its conflict-torn neighbour. Massud Barzani met President Abdullah Gul and then went into talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in what officials said was a show of a support by Ankara for the Iraqi Kurdish a
 

Days before deadline, Kerry in 'very tough' Iran talks

 
‎15 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:59 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 14, 2014
Iranian nuclear talks were hanging in the balance six days before a deadline to get a historic deal, after intensive talks on Monday described by US Secretary of State John Kerry as "very tough". "We are in the middle of talks about nuclear proliferation and reining in Iran's programme, it is a really tough negotiation I will tell you," Kerry said during a second day of high-stakes discussio
 

Militants press Iraq assault, political deadlock set to drag on

 
‎15 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:59 PMGo to full article
Baghdad (AFP) July 14, 2014
Police and tribesmen battled an assault on Monday that could bring militants a step closer to Baghdad, as Iraq's flagging government formation process seemed set to drag on. World powers and Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, have piled pressure on MPs to put aside their differences, with the country facing a major jihadist-led onslaught that has overrun territory in t
 

US teams complete assessment of Iraqi forces: Pentagon

 
‎15 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎10:02:59 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 14, 2014
US military teams have completed an assessment of Iraqi security forces, the Pentagon said Monday, amid reports the American officers came away with bleak conclusions. The teams were deployed to Baghdad this month after Sunni militants swiftly advanced across the country in a string of disastrous battlefield defeats for Shiite-led government forces. "The assessments from the teams in Ira
 

Ministers fail to broker Iran talks breakthrough

 
‎14 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:45:17 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 13, 2014
Western foreign ministers appeared Sunday to have failed in their mission to inject momentum into talks with Iran in Vienna, seven days before the deadline to strike a momentous nuclear deal. The talks were set to continue, however, with US Secretary of State John Kerry remaining in the Austrian capital for further discussions on Monday. The sought-after accord is aimed at killing off on
 

N. Korea fires two more missiles into sea

 
‎14 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:45:17 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 13, 2014
North Korea fired two short-range missiles into the sea Sunday, Seoul's military said, in an apparent show of anger at an upcoming joint military exercise between South Korea and the United States. The North fired the two ballistic missiles into the East Sea (Sea of Japan) at 1:20 and 1:30 am local time, the South's defence ministry spokesman told AFP. "Their range appeared to be around
 

US F-35 fighter jet to miss date at Britain's Farnborough

 
‎14 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:45:17 PMGo to full article
London (AFP) July 13, 2014
The new US-built F-35 stealth fighter jet will not appear as planned at Britain's Farnborough air show on Monday but may still take part at the end of the week, organisers said. The entire fleet of F-35s, set to become the backbone of much of the air defences of several Western countries, was grounded in the United States last week because of an engine fire. "Unfortunately the F-35B Ligh
 

Iran warns could walk away from nuclear talks

 
‎14 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:45:17 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 12, 2014
Iran's chief negotiator in nuclear talks in Vienna warned Saturday that Tehran is ready to walk away if "excessive" Western demands cause a failure, a day before foreign ministers try to inject momentum. Eight days before a deadline for a deal, Abbas Araqchi said however that he hoped that the attendance from Sunday of foreign ministers including US Secretary of State John Kerry would help o
 

Apple denies Chinese report of location tracking security risk

 
‎14 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:45:17 PMGo to full article
New York July 13, 2014
US technology giant Apple is fighting Chinese claims that the iPhone threatens national security through its ability to track and time-stamp a user's location. The frequent locations function, which can be switched on or off by users, is available on iOS 7, the operating system used by the current generation of iPhones released in September 2013. "We appreciate CCTV's effort to help educ
 

Pressure on as Iraq lawmakers meet to pick new government

 
‎14 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:45:17 PMGo to full article
Baghdad (AFP) July 13, 2014
Iraq's fractious parliament is expected to meet Sunday under heavy pressure to set differences aside and make progress on forming a new government to help counter a raging jihadist-led offensive. The process could be eased somewhat by agreement among Sunni Arab lawmakers late Saturday on a candidate for speaker of parliament, a role traditionally awarded to the minority group. "Elections
 

Iraq forces executed 250 Sunni prisoners: watchdog

 
‎14 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:45:17 PMGo to full article
Baghdad (AFP) July 11, 2014
Iraq's security forces and allied Shiite militias executed at least 255 Sunni prisoners as they fled a lightning jihadist-led advance last month, Human Rights Watch said on Friday. "Iraqi security forces and militias affiliated with the government appear to have unlawfully executed at least 255 prisoners... since June 9," the watchdog said in a statement. "The mass extrajudicial killings
 

Iraq MPs fail again as militants gain ground

 
‎14 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:45:17 PMGo to full article
Baghdad (AFP) July 13, 2014
Iraq's fractious parliament met Sunday and again failed to make any progress toward forming a new government, even as militants gained ground north of Baghdad in a renewed drive. World powers and Iraq's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, have been piling pressure on MPs to put aside their differences, with the country facing a major jihadist-led onslaught that has overrun chu
 

In Gaza, war clouds Palestinian teen's dream of peace

 
‎14 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:45:17 PMGo to full article
Gaza City, Palestinian Territories (AFP) July 13, 2014
In 2012, Mohamed Abu Aisha took part in a US peace camp with Israelis, but now he wonders if some of them are flying the warplanes overhead in Gaza. Standing in the Tuffah neighbourhood in eastern Gaza City, the 17-year-old stares at the devastation left by an Israeli strike in which 18 people were killed on Saturday night. The target appears to have been a Hamas police chief, but the m
 

Japan able to aid US ships under attack: minister

 
‎14 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:45:17 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 11, 2014
Japan's new policy on military action would allow its forces to come to the aid of a US naval ship under attack, Tokyo's defense minister said Friday. In a visit to Washington, Itsunori Onodera cited the hypothetical scenario as he sought to explain the Japanese government's controversial decision to ease decades-long restrictions on the country's military. If US warships were sent to de
 

Chinese courts jail 32 in Xinjiang: Xinhua

 
‎14 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:45:17 PMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) July 11, 2014
Chinese courts in the far-western region of Xinjiang have sentenced 32 people to prison terms ranging from four years to life for terrorism-related charges, state media reported Friday. The sentences were handed down Thursday by courts in seven cities and prefectures in Xinjiang, the official Xinhua news agency said. The verdicts covered spreading "terror-related audio and video and orga
 

Amazon seeks US permission for drone tests

 
‎14 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:45:17 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 11, 2014
Online giant Amazon has sought permission for drone test flights in the United States, saying it is moving forward on plans for deliveries using the unmanned aircraft. In a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration made public this week, Amazon said that because of restrictions on drones in US airspace, it has been conducting test flights indoors and in other countries. "Of course, A
 

Israel, Hamas defy truce calls as deadly violence escalates

 
‎14 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:45:17 PMGo to full article
Gaza City, Palestinian Territories (AFP) July 13, 2014
The world has implored Israel and Hamas to end hostilities as the toll from Israeli air strikes rose to 162 and Gaza militants fired more rocket salvos, but both sides have rejected a truce. Saturday was the bloodiest day since the conflict erupted on Tuesday, claiming 56 Palestinian lives including a two-year-old child and a 73-year-old woman. Israel continued to build up troops along t
 

Resolve Supplies Zoom Lenses for NASA Testing

 
‎14 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:45:17 PMGo to full article
Chesham, UK (SPX) Jul 11, 2014
Resolve Optics has supplied a number of non-browning zoom lens to the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office (SSCO) at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., USA. A key aim of the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office (SSCO) has been to investigate human and robotic satellite servicing while developing the technologies necessary to bring in-orbit spacecraft inspection, re
 

ASC Signal Introduces Innovative Carbon-Fiber Antenna

 
‎14 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:45:17 PMGo to full article
Plano TX (SPX) Jul 11, 2014
ASC Signal has introduced a new, transportable, ARSTRAT-certifiable 2.5-meter carbon-fiber antenna that provides high performance across multiple bands in a reduced-weight configuration ideal for rapid deployment. The new system, which operates at L-, X-, C-, Ku-, Ka-, Q- and V-bands, is the latest addition to the company's expanded mobile product line and complies with US military specifi
 

Air sea battle: Concept, cover or a charge of the light brigade in waiting?

 
‎10 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:23:50 PMGo to full article
Washington DC (UPI) Jul 08, 2014
The Air-Sea Battle concept is the subject of a two-day conference held at UK Defence Academy, Shrivenham, England, the home of Britain's center for military education and teaching. The Air-Sea Battle was the product of both U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy thinking. It has since evolved into a major and controversial construct for projecting force through air and missile power using both la
 

DARPA wants system-of-system technology ideas for dismounted troops

 
‎10 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:23:50 PMGo to full article
Washington (UPI) Jul 9, 2013
The U.S military is seeking ideas for possible new technologies to give U.S. troops on the squad level a greater tactical advantage over adversaries. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, of DARPA, project for which white papers are being requested is called Squad-X, an effort to develop and build a digitized, integrated system of systems to organically extend squad awareness a
 

Australia PM denies closer Japan ties hurt China relations

 
‎10 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:23:50 PMGo to full article
Sydney (AFP) July 10, 2014
Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday said Australia's closer ties with Tokyo would not hurt relations with China after a successful and productive visit by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. During Abe's two-day trip, in which he became the first Japanese leader to address the Australian parliament, major free trade and security deals were sealed, including the sharing of defence technolo
 

China seeking foreign counterterror experts: report

 
‎10 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:23:50 PMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) July 10, 2014
China is recruiting foreign experts in counterterrorism to assist the training of anti-terror personnel, state-run media reported Thursday, following a spate of deadly attacks which authorities blame on Islamist-inspired separatists. The People's Public Security University of China will offer visiting professorships to top specialists in the field from countries including the United States,
 

China, Russia to cooperate in satellite navigation

 
‎10 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:23:50 PMGo to full article
Harbin, China (XNA) Jul 07, 2014
China and Russia have signed a memorandum of understanding agreeing to cooperate in developing navigation satellite systems. The document was signed on Monday by the China Satellite Navigation Office and Russian Federal Space Agency on the sidelines of the on-going China-Russia expo in Harbin, capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province. Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang said he hopes
 

Israel pounds Gaza as Hamas flexes rocket reach

 
‎10 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:23:50 PMGo to full article
Gaza City, Palestinian Territories July 10, 2014
Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip killed 14 people Thursday, medics said, on the third day of a widening military campaign, as the UN Security Council was set for an emergency meeting. The first strike hit a coffee shop in the city of Khan Yunis, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told AFP, adding that six men were killed and at least 15 other people wounded. The second, in
 

'No decision' on ministers attending Iran talks: EU

 
‎10 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:23:50 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 09, 2014
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, leading ongoing nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna, is considering asking foreign ministers to attend but no decision has been made, her spokesman said Wednesday. Ashton "is thinking about when to engage ministers as we move forward but no decisions have been made as yet. It would be an opportunity for them to take stock of where we are in the process
 

Iraq PM accuses Kurds of harbouring militants

 
‎10 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:23:50 PMGo to full article
Baghdad (AFP) July 09, 2014
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Wednesday accused Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region of harbouring jihadists, further ratcheting up tensions despite calls for leaders to unite against a Sunni militant offensive. And in scenes reminiscent of the brutal sectarian war of 2006-2007, when tens of thousands were killed, the authorities found the bodies of 53 men who had been bound and executed sout
 

S. Korea condemns North missile test as 'serious provocation'

 
‎10 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:23:50 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 10, 2014
South Korea on Thursday condemned a series of missile launches by nuclear-armed North Korea as a "serious provocation" that threatened stability on the peninsula. The South's defence ministry expressed particular concern over the launch Wednesday of two short-range ballistic missiles from a front-line base near the western section of the heavily guarded border. "We see the recent series
 

Inmarsat appoints SpaceX for future satellite launches

 
‎10 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:23:50 PMGo to full article
London, UK (SPX) Jul 07, 2014
Inmarsat has selected SpaceX to provide launch services for its S-band satellite and up to two further Inmarsat missions. Under the terms of its agreement with SpaceX, Inmarsat expects to use the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle, but will retain the possibility of using a Falcon 9 as an alternative, providing further launch flexibility. Rupert Pearce, Inmarsat's Chief Executive Officer, said: "
 

Russia Launches Rokot Carrier Rocket with Three Satellites

 
‎10 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:23:50 PMGo to full article
Moscow (RIA Novosti) Jul 08, 2014
Russia launched on Thursday a light-class Rokot carrier rocket with three telecoms satellites from its northern Plesetsk space center, the Defense Ministry said. "The launch of the Rokot carrier rocket with three Gonets-M communications satellites was carried out successfully at 04.43 p.m. Moscow time [12:43 GMT] from the Plesetsk space center," spokesman for Russia's Aerospace Defense Forces, C

 

 

Nuclear Weapons, Proliferation and Policy Doctrine

 

 

Russia's Angara rocket not to be used as ICBM

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:27:29 PMGo to full article
Moscow (Voice of Russia) Jul 16, 2014 - Russia's new Angara launch vehicle will not be used as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) First Deputy Head Alexander Ivanov said on Monday, July 14, reports ITAR-TASS. "This will not be done. This is a space vehicle only. Because of its characteristics, it cannot be used as an intercontinental ballistic missile," he said when asked whether Angara can be used for this purpose in the future.

The lightweight Angara-1.2PP rocket successfully blasted off from the northern Plesetsk Cosmodrome in the Arkhangelsk Region on July 9. Twenty-one minutes after the liftoff the test weight reached the designated area at the Kura range in Kamchatka, 5,700 km from the launch site.

A heavy version of the rocket is scheduled to go on its first flight in December from Plesetsk. In the future, the rocket will be launched from the Vostochny spaceport in the Far Eastern Amur Region.

Angara was initially scheduled to lift off from Plesetsk on June 27 but its launch was automatically cancelled and postponed for one day, but never took place. The rocket was not supposed to carry any payload. Its second stage with a test weight was to land at the Kura range in Kamchatka, 5,700 kilometres from the cosmodrome.

Angara is one of the priorities in the development of the Plesetsk spaceport. In November 2013, a full-scale mock-up of the rocket was for the first time put up on the launch pad. It was a fully operational rocket but intended for ground testing only, not for launching.

Work to create the ground infrastructure for the new rocket and prepare an Angara launch is part of the federal program for the development of Russia's cosmodromes in 2006-2015.

A super-heavy lift launch vehicle will be able to carry a payload of 80 tones to low-earth orbits. In the future, its capacity can be increased to 160 tones and more.

Angara will allow Russia to launch all kinds of spacecraft to any orbit. Now Russia can launch heavy satellites only aboard Proton rockets from Baikonur, which it leases from Kazakhstan for about 115 million US dollars a year.

According to Khrunichev, a big advantage of the new rocket carrier is that "it is a universal space rocket system" capable of taking three types of rockets into space: light with a payload of up to 3.5 tones, medium with a payload of up to 14.6 tones, and heavy with a payload of up to 24.5 tones.

Medium lift and heavy lift launch vehicles can take payloads to the geostationary orbit as well.

The vehicle uses a unique engineering solution: the carrier can be assembled of the same modules. Their maximum number is five in a heavy version, three in a medium version, and one in a light version. They can all be launched form the same pad, not like now at Baikonur where each carrier requires its own launching pad.

The Angara class of rockets comprises four types of vehicles, with payload capacities ranging between 3.7 tones (light class, intended for low orbits) and 28.5 tones.

Angara rockets will not use aggressive and toxic heptyl-based fuel, which will make them much more environmentally friendly.

Russia launched four space rockets from three spaceports within a week, a source in the rocket and space industry told Interfax-AVN.

"The busy launch schedule of the past few days demonstrates that things are far from being too bad in the rocket and space industry," he noted.

A Rokot LV put into orbit three satellites from the Plesetsk spaceport on July 3.

A Soyuz-2.1b LV carrying the Meteor-M2 weather satellite and several micro-satellites blasted off from Baikonur on July 8.

A test launch of the brand new Angara LV was performed from Plesetsk on July 9.

A Soyuz-ST rocket was launched from the Kourou space center in French Guiana, South America, early on Friday morning to position British O3b satellites in orbit.

Source: Voice of Russia

 

 

S. Korea warns North over missile tests

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:27:29 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 15, 2014 - South Korea on Tuesday warned North korea it was playing a dangerous game with a series of missile, rocket and artillery tests that appear to be inching ever closer to their joint border.

In the latest incident on Monday, the North fired 100 shells into the sea from multiple rocket launchers in a live-fire drill close to the eastern maritime boundary.

"Some civilian tourists at the east coast even saw the water splash after the shells fell in the sea, which is very threatening to our country," said ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok.

North Korea regularly fires off missiles and rockets, but the frequency of the recent tests -- six in less than three weeks -- is unusual.

They have included artillery shells, short-range rockets and Scud missiles with a range of 500 kilometres (310 miles) -- all fired into the Sea of Japan (East Sea) from various locations.

Most have been personally monitored on-site by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

Kim Min-Seok stressed that a stray missile or shell risked triggering a serious confrontation.

"Our stance is clear," he told a press briefing.

"We will retaliate without hesitation if the North sends any of its missiles or shells to the south of the border."

UN resolutions bar North Korea from conducting any launches using ballistic missile technology, but the response to the recent tests has so far been limited to verbal protests from Seoul, Tokyo and Washington.

Analysts see numerous possible motives behind the tests: pique over Chinese President Xi Jinping's recent visit to South Korea, anger over joint South Korean-US military drills, and a general effort at some attention-seeking muscle flexing.

While guiding Monday's live-fire exercise, Kim Jong-Un was quoted by the North's official KCNA news agency as saying hostile forces were becoming more blatant in their moves to "isolate and stifle" North Korea.

Later the same day, US President Barack Obama and Xi Jinping had a telephone call during which they discussed the need to ensure North Korea complies with demands to dismantle its nuclear program.

The North Korean tests have coincided with various peace overtures to Seoul, including a proposal to halt all provocative military activity.

Officials from both sides are due to hold rare talks on Thursday to discuss North Korea's participation in the upcoming Asian Games in the South Korean port city of Incheon.

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye has accused Pyongyang of adopting a "two-faced attitude" by proposing a lowering of tensions while continuing its missile tests.

 

 

US, Iran lay ground for nuclear talks extension

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:27:29 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 15, 2014 - US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart laid the groundwork Tuesday for an extension of a Sunday deadline to strike a historic nuclear deal after intense talks in Vienna.

A Western diplomat went as far as to say that it was now "highly probable" Iran and world powers would agree to such a move, and that the extension would be months not weeks.

"As it's highly improbable that we will finalise in Vienna before the weekend, it is highly probable that there will be a wish to continue to negotiate in the coming months," the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

After a decade of rising tensions, the mooted accord between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany is aimed at easing concerns that Iran might develop nuclear weapons and silencing talk of war.

Kerry said he would return to Washington to discuss with President Barack Obama "the prospects for a comprehensive agreement, as well as a path forward if we do not achieve one by the 20th of July, including the question of whether or not more time is warranted".

He told a news conference after two days of talks with Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif that there had been "tangible progress on key issues, and we had extensive conversations in which we moved on certain things", although "very real gaps" persisted between the two sides.

Zarif, in a separate news conference, said that although he still hopes a deal would be possible by Sunday, he believed enough progress has been made to justify a continuation.

"As we stand now, we have made enough headway to be able to tell our political bosses that this is a process worth continuing," Zarif said. "This is my recommendation. I am sure Secretary Kerry will make the same recommendation."

An interim accord struck in November between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany expires on July 20.

Extending the deadline has always been a possibility in order to keep the parties talking, but Washington in particular has stressed it will not agree to such a move without key concessions from Iran first.

- Intense domestic pressure -

Iran denies seeking the atomic bomb and wants the lifting of crippling UN and Western sanctions.

The six powers want Iran to dramatically reduce in scope its nuclear programme for a lengthy period of time and agree to more intrusive UN inspections.

This would greatly expand the time needed for the Islamic republic to develop a nuclear weapon, should it choose to do so, while giving the world ample warning of any such "breakout" push.

Iran on the other hand has stated it wants to expand its nuclear facilities, insisting they are for purely peaceful purposes and that it has the perfect right to nuclear activities under international treaties.

Both sides are also under intense pressure from hardliners at home -- midterm US elections are due in November -- and both are wary of giving too much away after several months of talks.

- 'Innovative proposal' -

The key sticking point is uranium enrichment.

This activity can produce fuel for the country's sole nuclear plant or, if further enriched, the material for an atomic bomb.

Zarif however outlined a possible compromise in an interview with the New York Times published on Tuesday.

This "innovative proposal" would see Iran essentially freeze its enrichment capacities at current levels for between three and seven years.

But Kerry stuck to his guns on Tuesday, saying that nothing short of a reduction in Iran's enrichment capacities was acceptable.

"We have made it crystal clear that the 19,000 (centrifuge enrichment machines) that are currently part of their programme is too many," Kerry said.

The Western diplomat said that Iran's position on enrichment has in fact shifted "very, very, very little" during the recent months of talks.

"An extension appears inevitable at this stage. The parties are neither prepared to sign the dotted line nor to walk away," Ali Vaez, International Crisis Group analyst, told AFP.

 

 

North Korea fires 100 artillery shells into sea

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:27:29 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 14, 2014 - North Korea fired 100 artillery shells into the sea Monday in a live-fire drill near the eastern maritime border with South Korea that followed a recent series of missile tests.

The drill began shortly before midday (0300 GMT) using land artillery units based at the eastern tip of the Demilitarised Zone that bisects the Korean peninsula, the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.

It lasted for 30 minutes and about 100 shells, some with a range of around 50 kilometres (30 miles), fell into waters north of the eastern sea boundary, a JCS spokesman said.

None of the shells crossed into South Korean waters.

South Korean border troops were already on heightened alert after a series of short-range ballistic missile tests by the North in recent weeks, including the firing of two Scud missiles into the Sea of Japan (East Sea) on Sunday.

UN resolutions bar North Korea from conducting any launches using ballistic missile technology.

"Today's exercise was seen as a show of force towards our side," a South Korean defence ministry spokesman told AFP.

North Korea often conducts tests and drills as a show of displeasure, and Sunday's missiles were fired after it denounced an upcoming South Korean-US naval exercise.

The annual drill, from July 16-21, involves the US aircraft carrier George Washington, which arrived in the southern port of Busan on Friday.

Previous tests had preceded Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to Seoul. They were seen by some analysts as a show of pique at his decision to visit the South rather than the North.

In between the recent launches, Pyongyang has also made several peace overtures to Seoul, including a proposal for both sides to halt all provocative military activity.

The South dismissed the offer as "nonsensical" in the light of the North's nuclear weapons programme and reiterated that the annual joint military drills with the US are non-negotiable.

"The North is showing a two-faced attitude," South Korean President Park Geun-Hye said in a meeting with her advisers on Monday.

Park noted that Pyongyang had kept up the missile tests even while setting up talks with the South on sending athletes to the upcoming Asian Games in the South Korean port city of Incheon.

The talks will be held Thursday at the border truce village of Panmunjom.

"We have to establish a solid defence posture that can resolutely respond to any provocations by the North," Park's office quoted her as saying.

There is no dispute over the eastern maritime boundary, unlike its western counterpart in the Yellow Sea, which Pyongyang refuses to recognise because it was unilaterally drawn by US-led United Nations forces after the 1950-53 Korean War.

Each side complains of frequent incursions by the other across the western border and there were naval clashes in 1999, 2002 and 2009.

In November 2010 North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong island, killing four South Koreans and briefly triggering concerns of a full-scale conflict.

 

 

Days before deadline, Kerry in 'very tough' Iran talks

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:27:29 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 14, 2014 - Iranian nuclear talks were hanging in the balance six days before a deadline to get a historic deal, after intensive talks on Monday described by US Secretary of State John Kerry as "very tough".

"We are in the middle of talks about nuclear proliferation and reining in Iran's programme, it is a really tough negotiation I will tell you," Kerry said during a second day of high-stakes discussions in Vienna.

He said later: "We are working, we are working very hard. Serious discussions. (It was a) good meeting."

Kerry was due to give a news conference on Tuesday morning, a US official said, and it was unclear whether he would hold any more discussions with Zarif.

Egyptian state media reported that Kerry would leave Vienna on Tuesday to visit the country in an effort to broker a truce in Gaza.

The mooted nuclear accord would kill off for good fears that Iran might develop nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian programme after a decade of rising tensions and threats of war.

Iran denies seeking the atomic bomb and wants the lifting of crippling UN and Western sanctions.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany have been negotiating almost non-stop for months, after sealing an interim accord in November under which Iran froze its uranium enrichment in return for about $7 billion in sanctions relief.

But the talks to nail down a full treaty have met major sticking points, particularly on how much of Iran's nuclear programme to dismantle.

Both sides are also under intense domestic pressure.

Zarif will have to come up with a deal that satisfies Iran's hardline Islamic leaders, while Kerry is under pressure from Congress ahead of November mid-term elections not to concede too much.

- No breakthrough Sunday -

Kerry, along with the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Britain and the deputy foreign minister of China jetted into the Austrian capital on Sunday seeking to inject some momentum.

But the three European ministers left with no apparent breakthrough.

"It is now up to Iran to decide to take the path of cooperation... I hope that the days left will be enough to create some reflection in Tehran," Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier said before leaving Vienna.

"The ball is in Iran's court."

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was "very important for Iran to be more realistic".

Hague said there had been no "decisive breakthrough" on Sunday and a "huge gap" remained on the key issue of uranium enrichment.

This activity can produce fuel for the country's sole nuclear plant or, if further enriched, the material for an atomic bomb.

The six powers want Iran to reduce dramatically the scope of its enrichment programme, while Tehran wants to expand it.

Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear armed state and which together with Washington has refused to rule out military action, is opposed to any enrichment by Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Sunday that any deal leaving Iran with the capability to pursue enrichment activity would be "catastrophic".

Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi was Sunday publicly sticking by Iran's position on enrichment which he called "clear and rational".

"As the supreme guide said, the enrichment programme has been planned with the real needs of the country in mind, meaning our need to ensure reactor fuel."

If no agreement is reached by next Sunday when the six-month interim accord runs out, all sides can agree to extend the talks for a further six months.

Washington however insists it will only consider such a move if Iran makes serious concessions first.

"We have a few days left and our efforts are to narrow the gaps and get an agreement by then," Michael Mann, spokesman for lead negotiator and EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton, said Monday.

"We're still aiming for July 20. We still have some time."

 

 

Ministers fail to broker Iran talks breakthrough

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:27:29 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 13, 2014 - Western foreign ministers appeared Sunday to have failed in their mission to inject momentum into talks with Iran in Vienna, seven days before the deadline to strike a momentous nuclear deal.

The talks were set to continue, however, with US Secretary of State John Kerry remaining in the Austrian capital for further discussions on Monday.

The sought-after accord is aimed at killing off once and for all worries that Iran might develop nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian programme, and silence talk of war.

Iran denies seeking the bomb and wants the lifting of all UN and Western sanctions, which have caused it major economic problems.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany have been negotiating almost constantly for months, but the talks have come up against major problems -- as expected.

Kerry and the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany arrived Sunday in Vienna seeking to press Iran to make key concessions.

The three European ministers left late Sunday however saying no breakthrough had been made, although Kerry remained for likely further discussions with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday.

Zarif told reporters that "some important headway" had been made but that it "didn't solve any problems".

Russia and China sent only lower-ranking officials, with Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Li Baodong urging both sides "to show flexibility".

Kerry said on arrival that "very significant gaps" remained, while Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi said that on all the important issues, no narrowing of positions was evident.

Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who like the others held one-on-one talks with Zarif, was the most downbeat, warning that "the ball is in Iran's court".

"It is now up to Iran to decide to take the path of cooperation ... I hope that the days left will be enough to create some reflection in Tehran," he said.

Britain's William Hague said that no "decisive breakthrough" was achieved and that there remained a "huge gap" on the key issue of uranium enrichment -- an activity that can produce fuel for the country's sole nuclear plant or, if further enriched, the matter for an atomic bomb.

The six powers want Iran to reduce dramatically the scope of its enrichment programme, while Tehran wants to expand it.

- Israeli pressure -

Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear weapons state and which together with Washington has refused to rule out military action, is opposed to any enrichment by Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Sunday that any nuclear deal leaving Iran with the capability to pursue this activity would be "catastrophic".

"It would be a disaster for the United States and for everyone else," he told Fox News, adding that "a bad deal is actually worse than no deal".

Araqchi said: "Concerning enrichment, our position is clear and rational. As the supreme guide said, the enrichment programme has been planned with the real needs of the country in mind, meaning our need to ensure reactor fuel."

On Saturday, Araqchi said Iran was ready to walk away from the talks if the world powers pushed on with "excessive" demands.

- Extension -

If no agreement is reached by next Sunday when a six-month interim accord with Iran runs out, both sides can decide to extend the pact for longer and keep talking.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that if a deal was not struck, "we either extend, a so-called rollover, or we will have to say that unfortunately there is no perspective for a deal".

But such an extension is possible only if both sides agree, and the United States in particular is opposed to such a move unless Tehran first offers major concessions.

Hague said Sunday that such a move "will only be discussed if no progress can be made. It is still too early."

 

 

N. Korea fires two more missiles into sea

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:27:29 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 13, 2014 - North Korea fired two short-range missiles into the sea Sunday, Seoul's military said, in an apparent show of anger at an upcoming joint military exercise between South Korea and the United States.

The North fired the two ballistic missiles into the East Sea (Sea of Japan) at 1:20 and 1:30 am local time, the South's defence ministry spokesman told AFP.

"Their range appeared to be around 500 kilometres (311 miles)," he said, adding Seoul's military had stepped up monitoring for additional launches.

The move -- the latest in a series of similar launches in recent weeks -- came a day after Pyongyang condemned an upcoming Seoul-Washington naval joint exercise.

The annual drill, from July 16-21, involves the US aircraft carrier George Washington, which arrived in the southern port of Busan on Friday.

The North bristled Saturday at the nuclear-powered carrier visiting the port, calling it a "reckless" act of provocation.

"The US should properly understand that the more persistently it resorts to reckless nuclear blackmail and threat, the further (the North) will bolster up its cutting-edge nuclear force for self-defence," said the North's top military body, the National Defence Commission.

The North has habitually slammed joint military exercises south of the border and often responded with missile test-launches.

UN resolutions bar it from conducting any ballistic missile tests. Sunday's launch -- the fifth in just over two weeks -- took place in a sensitive area near the heavily-fortified border with the South, the defence ministry spokesman said without elaborating.

Yonhap news agency said the missiles were launched only about 20 kilometres north of the Demilitarised Zone that has divided the peninsula since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice.

The North appears to have moved them from a military base about 50-60 kilometres away by using mobile launchers, Yonhap said, citing an unnamed Seoul army official.

- Kim wants to look 'bold' -

The launch area may fall within the range of South Korean artillery, said Kim Jung-Bong, a political science professor at Hanzhong University, adding the move was aimed at portraying the North's leader Kim Jong-Un as a "bold leader with guts".

"The North appears to be stepping up its threats by showing that it can fire missiles at any time and any place it wants," said Kim.

The North has often fired short-range missiles or rockets into the sea to express anger at perceived provocations.

Previous tests had preceded Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to Seoul, and were seen by some analysts as a show of pique at his decision to make Seoul rather than Pyongyang his first stop on the peninsula.

Japan protested to North Korea over Sunday's launch via its embassy in Beijing, Japan's Kyodo News and Jiji Press said.

But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters the launch would not affect ongoing talks to try to solve the issue of Japanese abductees in the North, according to Jiji.

In between the recent launches, Pyongyang has also made several peace overtures to Seoul, including a proposal for both sides to halt all provocative military activity.

The South dismissed the offer as "nonsensical" in the light of the North's nuclear weapons programme and reiterated that the annual joint military drills with the US are non-negotiable.

But it accepted another offer by Pyongyang to send a delegation of cheerleaders to support North Korean athletes during the September 19-October 4 Asian Games at Incheon in the South.

 

 

Iran warns could walk away from nuclear talks

 
‎16 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎07:27:29 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 12, 2014 - Iran's chief negotiator in nuclear talks in Vienna warned Saturday that Tehran is ready to walk away if "excessive" Western demands cause a failure, a day before foreign ministers try to inject momentum.

Eight days before a deadline for a deal, Abbas Araqchi said however that he hoped that the attendance from Sunday of foreign ministers including US Secretary of State John Kerry would help overcome "deep differences" that remain.

"If we see that the excessive demands (of Western powers) persisting and that a deal is impossible, this is not a drama, we will continue with our nuclear programme," Araqchi said.

"The presence of ministers will have a positive influence," he told Iran state television from the Austrian capital. "There are questions that ministers need to take decisions on."

Iran's talks with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany are aimed at a grand bargain reducing in scope Iran's nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief.

Such a deal is meant to quash for good concerns about the Islamic republic getting the bomb after more than a decade of failed diplomacy, threats of war and atomic expansion by Iran.

Iran denies wanting nuclear weapons. The deadline for an accord is July 20, when an interim accord struck by foreign ministers expires, although this can be put back if both sides agree.

Kerry was expected late Saturday or early Sunday in Vienna where he will be joined by his British, French and German counterparts William Hague, Laurent Fabius and Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Hague said on Saturday that the Western ministers would also discuss how to achieve a ceasefire in Gaza. Kerry and Steinmeier were also to talk about a US-German spat over spying.

Skipping the meeting however is Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and it remains unclear who will represent China.

- Critical choices -

Kerry "will gauge the extent of Iran's willingness to commit to credible and verifiable steps that would back up its public statements about the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme," the State Department said.

He will "assess Iran's willingness to make a set of critical choices at the negotiating table" and then "make recommendations" to US President Barack Obama on the next steps.

Some progress has been made in drafting the actual deal, with Araqchi saying that both sides saw eye to eye on "60-65 percent" of issues.

But he added that there were still "deep differences" on the "fundamental issues".

The main problem area is uranium enrichment, a process which can produce nuclear fuel -- Iran's stated aim -- but also in highly purified form the core of an atomic weapon.

On Tuesday Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, gave a speech indicating that Tehran intends to greatly increase its enrichment capacities to fuel a future fleet of nuclear power stations.

The six powers want a sharp reduction, however.

This, coupled with increased surveillance, would extend the so-called "breakout time" -- the time Iran would need to make enough highly-enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon, if it choose to do so.

"We have made some progress but on some key issues, Iran has not moved from their ... unworkable and inadequate positions", a senior US official said Saturday.

"There is no question that we have heard about Iran's aspirations for its nuclear programme in very specific terms and very specific numbers, and that remains far from a significant reduction in their current programme."

Iran sees 'no benefit' in nuclear weapon: FM
Washington (AFP) July 12, 2014 - Iran's top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif says Tehran has no interest in building an atomic bomb, despite Western powers' claims otherwise.

Zarif's comments, in a television interview due to be broadcast Sunday, when Iran engages in talks with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany aimed at a grand bargain reducing in scope the Islamic republic's nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief.

"I will commit to everything and anything that would provide credible assurances for the international community that Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons, because we are not," Zarif told NBC's "Meet the Press" from Vienna, where the talks are taking place.

"We don't see any benefit in Iran developing a nuclear weapon."

Zarif rejected "calculations" suggesting the Shiite country would seek to develop nuclear weapons to guard itself against its Shiite neighbors.

"We need to go out of our way in order to convince our neighbors that we want to live in peace and tranquility with them," he said.

"The politics of geography -- the fact that we're bigger, the fact that we're stronger, that we're more populous, the fact that we have a better technology, the fact that our human resources is by far more developed than most of our neighbors -- all of these provide us with inherent areas of strength that we don't need to augment with other capabilities."

Calling the principle of nuclear deterrence "simply mad," the foreign minister insisted that Pakistan was not considered stronger than Iran simply because it has nuclear weapons.

"The fact that everybody in the international community believes that mutual assured destruction -- that is the way the United States, Russia and others, seek peace and security through having the possibility of destroying each other 100 times over is simply mad," he added.

"I do not believe that you need to inculcate this mentality that nuclear weapons makes anybody safe. Have they made Pakistan safe? Have they made Israel safe? Have they made the United States safe? Have they made Russia safe? All these countries are susceptible," Zarif said.

"Now you have proof that nuclear weapons or no amount of military power makes you safe. So we need to live in a different paradigm. And that's what we are calling for."

 

'No decision' on ministers attending Iran talks: EU

 
‎11 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:39:33 AMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 09, 2014 - EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, leading ongoing nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna, is considering asking foreign ministers to attend but no decision has been made, her spokesman said Wednesday.

Ashton "is thinking about when to engage ministers as we move forward but no decisions have been made as yet. It would be an opportunity for them to take stock of where we are in the process," spokesman Michael Mann told AFP.

On Tuesday Iranian news agency IRNA reported that foreign ministers from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Ashton is the chief negotiator -- would arrive in Vienna later this week.

It quoted an unnamed diplomat as saying that they would travel to the Austrian capital "probably" on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but that this "does not mean we have reached an agreement".

The talks, which began last week, are aimed at reaching a potentially historic accord under which Iran would reduce in scope its nuclear programme in order to kill off once and for all concerns that Tehran will one day get the bomb.

The deadline to reach an accord is July 20 when an interim accord struck in Geneva expires, although this can, if both sides agree, be extended by up to six months.

Foreign ministers including US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia's Sergei Lavrov twice descended on Geneva in November to broker the interim deal, and their presence in Vienna at some stage is widely expected.

A senior US official said after the last round on June 20 that foreign ministers "may well" travel to Vienna.

She said this would happen when both sides have "reached the narrowing of the gaps to the place where very tough political decisions need to be made and need to be made at the level of a minister."

 

 

S. Korea condemns North missile test as 'serious provocation'

 
‎11 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:39:33 AMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 10, 2014 - South Korea on Thursday condemned a series of missile launches by nuclear-armed North Korea as a "serious provocation" that threatened stability on the peninsula.

The South's defence ministry expressed particular concern over the launch Wednesday of two short-range ballistic missiles from a front-line base near the western section of the heavily guarded border.

"We see the recent series of North Korean missile launches as a serious provocation toward South Korea and the international community as it endangers stability on the Korean peninsula and violates UN resolutions," ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok said.

UN resolutions bar the North from conducting any ballistic missile tests.

Wednesday's test was "unusual", the spokesman said, because the missiles were fired from a sensitive location close to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) which has bisected the peninsula since the 1950-53 Korean war ended in a fragile armistice.

"It appeared to be aimed at delivering a message... that South Korea could be the target of surprise attacks by North Korean ballistic missiles anytime and from any place," Kim said.

The test was personally monitored by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, who was quoted by the official KCNA news agency as urging all missile units to maintain heightened combat readiness.

Wednesday's launch was the fourth in less than two weeks.

Previous tests had preceded Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to South Korea, and were seen by some analysts as a show of pique at his decision to visit Seoul before Pyongyang.

China is North Korea's sole major ally, but while Xi has met four times with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye he has yet to sit down with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

As Xi arrived in Seoul on July 3, Pyongyang announced its intention to continue the tests, despite protests from Seoul and Tokyo.

One of the previous launches was hailed by the North's state media as that of a new "cutting-edge" guided missile marking a "breakthrough" in the country's military capabilities.

North Korea is not known to have a tactical guided missile capability, but analysis of a recent propaganda film suggested it may have acquired a variant of a Russian cruise missile, the KH-35.

In between the launches, the North has extended a number of apparent olive branches to the South, including a proposal for both sides to halt all provocative military activity.

Seoul dismissed the offers as "nonsensical" in the light of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme.

 

 

Iran's supreme leader reveals demands in nuclear talks

 
‎11 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:39:33 AMGo to full article
Tehran (AFP) July 08, 2014 - Iran's supreme leader revealed Tuesday his country's demands for a massive long-term increase in its nuclear enrichment capability, laying bare huge gaps between Tehran and world powers negotiating a deal.

The comments, published on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's website, represent a dramatic intervention in the talks currently taking place in Vienna between Iran and the P5+1 group of Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany, for a nuclear accord.

His remarks relate to the enrichment process of producing fuel from centrifuges for nuclear power stations, which the West and Israel says, in highly extended form, could be used to develop an atomic bomb.

Iran currently has about 19,000 centrifuges -- of which only 10,000 are working -- but says more powerful machines will be needed to develop enough nuclear energy in the future.

Khamenei said the required enrichment capability would be 19 times higher than the West currently wants to allow under a comprehensive agreement.

Uranium enrichment and centrifuge numbers are the most sensitive topic in the negotiations, which aim to conclude a deal by July 20.

But with less than two weeks until that deadline, the supreme leader's remarks exposed a gulf that still exists between Iran and the leading nations, who are seeking to curb Iran's nuclear activities.

Referring to the machine used in uranium enrichment, Khamenei, who has the final word on all matters of state, said: "Their aim is that we accept a capacity of 10,000 separative work units, which is equivalent to 10,000 centrifuges of the older type that we already have.

"Our officials say we need 190,000 (SWU). Perhaps not today, but in two to five years that is the country's absolute need."

- Differences with Russia -

An Iranian diplomat, quoted anonymously by the official IRNA news agency, said foreign ministers from the P5+1 countries would travel to Vienna this week, probably on Friday, to help clinch an accord.

But France's foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, on Tuesday indicated divergences have emerged between Russia and the Western powers involved in the negotiations to secure an agreement, without specifying what they were.

"Whereas until now the P5+1 had a very homogeneous attitude, in the past days representatives in the negotiations have put forward a certain number of different approaches between part of the 5+1 and our Russian partners," he said.

Fabius said that, while negotiations on the accord had begun, "none of the main issues" have so far been resolved.

Any nuclear deal would involve a framework and years of monitoring, but Khamenei's open declarations throw into doubt the room for compromise.

According to American media reports, the United States may accept Iran having 2,000-4,000 low-powered, first generation centrifuges.

France's Fabius said last month Iran could retain "several hundred centrifuges" but he disclosed that the Iranians were asking for "hundreds of thousands".

The accord being sought by the P5+1 aims to finally end talk of possible US or Israeli military action against Iran. The Islamic republic has always denied seeking an atomic bomb.

In exchange for an agreement, Iran wants punishing Western sanctions to be lifted.

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, a leader of Iran's negotiating team, welcomed the supreme leader's comments and tweeted that he and his colleagues "would not give up any of our nuclear rights."

With Sunni Arab insurgents overrunning large parts of Iraq, and Syria in chaos from civil war, a nuclear deal could help Tehran and the West normalise ties at a particularly explosive time.

- 'Unique opportunity' -

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has described the talks as a "unique opportunity to make history", saying success would allow both sides to address "common challenges" like Iraq.

The talks have been aiming to secure an agreement by July 20, when an interim deal struck in November expires.

The six powers want Iran to drastically reduce its nuclear activities to render any drive for a weapons capability all but impossible.

The deadline could potentially be extended by up to six months, and many analysts believe this is already being negotiated.

But US President Barack Obama, facing midterm elections in November, is wary of doing anything that could be construed by his Republican opponents as giving Iran more time to get closer to having the bomb.

This is the longstanding accusation of Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state.

 

 

Architect of N. Korea nuclear weapons programme dies

 
‎11 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:39:33 AMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 09, 2014 - North Korea announced Wednesday the death of retired General Jon Pyong-Ho, a chief architect of Pyongyang's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programmes and an individually named target of international sanctions.

Jon, who retired from public life in 2011, died of a heart attack on Tuesday, the official KCNA news agency reported. He was 88.

He will be given a state funeral, with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un leading the funeral committee, said KCNA, which noted that Jon had "devoted all his life to the defence industry".

A close adviser of former leader Kim Jong-Il, Jon was credited with directly managing North Korea's first nuclear test in October 2006.

According to the NK Leadership Watch website, Jon supervised the development of medium-range ballistic missiles in the 1990s, and offered the designs to Pakistan in exchange for detailed information on gas centrifuge technology and uranium enrichment.

In 2008 and 2009 Jon supervised the North's second major long-range missile test and its second nuclear test.

According to US intelligence reports, he was a key figure in the North's international weapons trade that involved shipping components for long-range missiles, nuclear reactors and conventional arms to countries including Iran, Syria and Myanmar.

Over the years, he was individually named in sanctions imposed on North Korea by the United Nations, United States and European Union.

In its tribute, KCNA noted Jon's "special contribution" to turning North Korea into a "satellite producer and launcher and a nuclear weapons state".

The announcement of his death coincided with the North test firing two short-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan (East Sea).

 

 

N. Korea makes fresh call for improved ties with South

 
‎11 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:39:33 AMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 07, 2014 - North Korea issued another call Monday for a lowering of military tensions with South Korea, even as leader Kim Jong-Un oversaw firing drills on an island near the sensitive maritime border.

A government statement carried by the official KCNA news agency said it was time to end "reckless hostility and confrontation" and called on Seoul to scrap its annual joint military drills with the United States.

Last week the North's top military body had called for both sides to halt all hostile military activities -- a suggestion Seoul dismissed as "nonsensical" in the light of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme.

The latest offer is also likely to receive short shrift, as South Korea has repeatedly made it clear that the annual joint drills are non-negotiable.

North Korea makes periodic peace proposals which are mostly seen as rhetorical devices for international consumption.

The latest statement came as Kim continued a tour of front-line islands with a visit to an islet in the East Sea (Sea of Japan) where, according to KCNA, he watched a firing drill.

On Saturday, Kim had monitored an apparently large-scale army, navy and air force exercise involving a mock assault on a South Korean island.

 

 

Nuclear team 'will defend Iran's rights': Khamenei

 
‎11 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:39:33 AMGo to full article
Tehran (AFP) July 07, 2014 - Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Monday the country's nuclear negotiating team at talks in Vienna will defend "the rights of the nation" in negotiations with world powers.

"We trust the negotiating team and are sure they will not allow anyone to harm the nation's nuclear rights," said Khamenei who has the final say on major issues, his official website said.

He was speaking after receiving the country's leaders to break the Ramadan fast.

Ultra-conservative groups in Iran regularly criticise the country's nuclear talks team, saying it has ceded too much to the so-called P5+1 group of the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany.

A decisive final round of negotiations on the Islamic republic's controversial nuclear programme began on Thursday in the Austrian capital ahead of a July 20 deadline.

The aim is to reach an agreement guaranteeing the peaceful nature of Iran's programme, after a decade of international tensions.

The accord being sought by both Iran and the P5+1 would finally ease fears of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons and silence talk of war.

In exchange, punishing economic sanctions against Tehran would be lifted.

"The future needs of the country must be taken into account in the talks," Khamenei said.

Iran seeks to continue enriching uranium at an industrial level to produce fuel for nuclear power plants.

It currently has one nuclear power station, but is currently negotiating with Russia to build at least another four.

The United States and Israel accuse Iran of seeking to acquire atomic weapons, using civilian nuclear power as a cover, but Tehran has always denied this.

Khamenei also said that the great powers will eventually give in on Iran's nuclear ambitions.

 

 

Russia sees 'political will' for Iran nuclear accord: official

 
‎11 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:39:33 AMGo to full article
Moscow (AFP) July 04, 2014 - Russia signaled Friday that a deal could be clinched in Iran nuclear negotiations, as there is "political will" and a sense of urgency among participants for an accord before a July 20 deadline.

"One feels political will of the participants, and a certain fear that we may not be quick enough -- that is a good sign in this situation. There is not much time left. But there are chances," Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told Kommersant newspaper.

The most recent round of the negotiations is "different from the previous in that there is some static energy being accumulated that will have to be freed and turn into kinetic energy," he added.

The so-called P5+1 talks are now in the decisive final stretch as Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council seek to reach an accord before a July 20 deadline to ease fears of Tehran obtaining nuclear weapons. In exchange, punishing sanctions on Iran would be lifted.

Ryabkov said that Moscow's current standoff with the West over the crisis in Ukraine will not hurt talks over Iran's nuclear programme.

"In my opinion, there is no grounds for worrying that the situation surrounding Ukraine will be the bomb set under the talks over Iran's nuclear programme, that it will prevent them from proceeding effectively," he said.

 

 

Xi's South Korea visit reflects a region in flux

 
‎11 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:39:33 AMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 04, 2014 - China's president on Friday wrapped up a state visit to South Korea that was heavier on symbolism than substance, but also exposed the slowly but steadily shifting bedrock of historical, Cold War alliances in East Asia.

Xi Jinping's trip had been seen as a pointed snub to North Korea -- his decision to visit Seoul before Pyongyang a sign of Beijing's growing frustration with its wayward, unpredictable nuclear-armed ally.

Mao Zedong once declared China and North Korea to be as close as "lips and teeth" -- a bond forged in the 1950-53 Korean War against the South and US-led UN forces.

But Beijing's patience with the North's relentless nuclear brinkmanship has worn thin and Xi's visit was a clear reflection of the common ground it now shares with the South -- economically and, to a growing extent, diplomatically.

If South Korea hoped this might all translate into a joint, strongly-worded warning to the North over its nuclear programme, it was disappointed.

The statement that emerged from Xi's summit with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye on Thursday didn't even reference "North Korea" directly, calling instead for the "denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula" -- a formulation long-favoured by Beijing.

Rather than North Korea, Xi ended up expressing common cause with South Korea over an older regional rival -- Japan.

In a speech at Seoul National University on Friday, he recalled the "barbarous wars of aggression" Japan had waged against China and Korea and the suffering inflicted by occupation and colonial rule.

Such rhetoric plays well in the South where relations with Japan are at their lowest ebb for years, mired in disputes related to Japan's 1910-45 rule over the Korean peninsula.

The rift is a source of increasing anxiety for the United States, whose strategic "pivot" to Asia is on a more fragile footing with its two main military allies in the region barely on speaking terms.

For China, however, it's an opportunity, according to Lee Shang-Hyun, a senior researcher on security and international relations at the Sejong Institute think-tank in Seoul.

- Exploiting rifts -

"A prolonged rift between Japan and South Korea will obviously help China extend its influence over the Korean peninsula, and its diplomatic goal of driving a wedge into the trilateral alliance involving Seoul, Tokyo and Washington," Lee said.

"There won't be any fundamental change in the diplomatic landscape in the short term, but the situation is more fluid than it was, with countries like Japan and South Korea seeking to maximise their own interests as China and the US compete for influence in the region," he said.

And Japan showed this week that it had some cards to shuffle in any new geopolitical deck.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a highly contentious shift in Japan's pacifist military policy, asserting its right to go into battle in defence of its allies -- a move viewed with deep suspicion in Beijing and Seoul.

And two days later, even as Xi arrived in Seoul, Japan announced the unilateral lifting of selected sanctions on North Korea as the result of progress in talks with Pyongyang over its Cold War kidnapping of Japanese nationals.

North Korea and Japan are unlikely partners -- anti-Japanese sentiment in the North is almost as high as it is in the South -- but Pyongyang, like Beijing, is always happy to shake the Tokyo-Seoul-Washington alliance.

In the end, a lot of messages were sent around the region and beyond this week, reflecting the more nuanced and complex geopolitical landscape being laid over the old certainties and alliances of the Cold War.

There was one nod to diplomatic tradition though, as China announced it was marking Xi's visit to South Korea with the gift of two panda bears.

But even gifts are subject to changing fortunes.

After China made a similar present of two pandas in 1994, South Korea was forced to return them four years later when the Asian financial crisis struck and it was unable to afford their costly upkeep.

 

 

Final push in 'historic' Iran nuclear talks

 
‎11 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:39:33 AMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) July 03, 2014 - Iran nuclear talks enter the decisive, dangerous endgame Thursday with a marathon final round of hardball negotiations potentially going all the way to the July 20 finish line.

The deal being sought by Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany would finally ease fears of Tehran getting nuclear weapons -- and silence talk of war for good.

With insurgents overrunning large parts of Iraq and Syria in chaos after years of civil war, this could help Tehran and the West normalise relations at an explosive time in the Middle East.

But failure could return both sides to the path of confrontation and even war, with neither Israel nor Washington ruling out military action.

"In this troubled world, the chance does not often arise to reach an agreement peacefully that will meet the essential and publicly expressed needs of all sides, make the world safer, ease regional tensions and enable greater prosperity," US Secretary of State John Kerry said this week.

"We have such an opportunity, and a historic breakthrough is possible. It's a matter of political will and proving intentions, not of capacity. It's a matter of choices. Let us all choose wisely," Kerry wrote in the Washington Post.

"In the next three weeks, we have a unique opportunity to make history," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a video message released ahead of the talks.

"To forge a comprehensive agreement over Iran's nuclear energy programme and to end an unnecessary crisis that has distracted us from addressing together our common challenges, such as the horrifying events of the past few weeks in Iraq."

After five rounds of talks in Vienna seeking to secure a deal by July 20 -- when an interim deal struck in November expires -- the differences appear considerable, however.

The last meeting from June 16-20 saw both sides begin drafting the accord, but haggling over language concerning the thorniest problems was put off until later.

The United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany want Iran to reduce drastically in scope its nuclear activities in order to render any Iranian drive to assemble a weapon all but impossible.

This would include in particular Iran slashing its capacities to enrich uranium, a process producing nuclear fuel but also at high purities the core of a nuclear weapon.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said last month Iran has to slash the number of centrifuge enrichment machines to several hundred from almost 20,000 at present.

But Iran rejects this, saying it even needs to expand the number of centrifuges to fuel a fleet of nuclear power plants -- facilities that it is however years if not decades away from having.

Demands that Iran's programme be "radically curbed" rest on a "gross misrepresentation of the steps, time and dangers of a dash for the bomb", Zarif said.

Writing in French daily Le Monde, Zarif said Iran "will not abandon or make a mockery of our technological advances or our scientists."

- Final whistle or extra time? -

In theory, the July 20 deadline could be extended by up to six months, and many analysts believe that such a move is already being discussed.

But US President Barack Obama, facing midterm elections in November and Republican accusations of weakness, is wary of doing anything that could be construed as simply giving Iran more time to get closer to having the bomb.

This is the long-standing accusation of Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state.

But Kelsey Davenport from the Arms Control Association believes that Washington should not shy away from pushing back the deadline if necessary and if Iran is "negotiating in good faith".

"The alternative to no deal is far worse for the international community -- a constrained, unlimited Iranian nuclear programme," she told AFP.

Iran says 'chance to make history' with nuclear deal
Tehran (AFP) July 02, 2014 - Iran's foreign minister said Wednesday his country and world powers have a "unique opportunity to make history" by agreeing on a nuclear deal, as talks enter a crucial final round.

Mohammad Javad Zarif was speaking as the five permanent members of the United Nations, plus Germany, prepare to sit down with Iran in Vienna Thursday in a bid to reach a historic deal by a July 20 deadline.

The world powers want Iran to scale down its nuclear activities in order to ease long-held fears that Tehran might develop atomic weapons.

Iran, subject to damaging UN and Western sanctions, insists its nuclear programme is purely peaceful and even wants to expand key parts of it.

Speaking a video uploaded on YouTube, Zarif said forging a deal would "end an unnecessary crisis that has distracted us from addressing together our common challenges, such as the horrifying events of past few weeks in Iraq."

He claimed an agreement could have been reached in 2005 when he had been nuclear negotiator, but that the administration of then US president George W. Bush "torpedoed the deal".

They then opted for pressure and sanctions. For eight years."

But he said sanctions "didn't bring the Iranian people to kneel in submission. And it will not now nor in the future."

"We are trying to reach a deal," he added. "Not a good deal or a bad deal, but a doable and lasting deal."

A sixth round of talks starts officially on Thursday. It could potentially last until July 20 when an interim deal from November expires, although this could be extended by up to six months.

Without elaborating, Zarif said "we are willing to take concrete measures to guarantee that our nuclear programme will always remain peaceful.

"We still have time to put an end to the myth that Iran is seeking to build a bomb."

Western powers and Israel have long suspected Iran of using its civil nuclear energy programme as a cover for developing weapons capability, which Tehran has consistently denied.

 

 

Clock ticking on Iran nuclear talks: Kerry

 
‎11 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎08:39:33 AMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) July 01, 2014 - Time is running short to reach a nuclear deal between world powers and Iran, and negotiations will not be extended merely as a foot-dragging ploy, top US diplomat John Kerry warned Tuesday.

On the eve of the most intensive round of talks yet, Kerry called on Iran to make the right choices and prove to the world its claims that its nuclear energy program is peaceful by closing what he called "substantial gaps" in the negotiations.

"We have worked closely with Iran to design a pathway for a program that meets all of the requirements for peaceful, civilian purposes," Kerry wrote in an op-ed in The Washington Post.

"There remains a discrepancy, however, between Iran's professed intent with respect to its nuclear program and the actual content of that program to date."

Western nations have long accused Tehran of seeking to develop an atomic bomb -- something the leaders of the Islamic republic have vehemently denied.

Talks between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group to strike a deal disabling any Iranian nuclear military program will resume on Wednesday in Vienna and are set to last until July 20 -- the deadline for reaching a full treaty.

Under an interim six-month deal struck in Geneva in November, cash-strapped Iran agreed to halt uranium enrichment and eliminate its stockpiles in return for limited sanctions relief.

The pact also contains a provision for a one-time six-month extension of the talks, if all sides agree. The P5+1 group includes the five permanent members of the UN -- Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States -- plus Germany.

"Our negotiators will be working constantly in Vienna between now and July 20," Kerry vowed.

"There may be pressure to put more time on the clock. But no extension is possible unless all sides agree, and the United States and our partners will not consent to an extension merely to drag out negotiations," he warned.

- Substantial gaps -

"Now Iran must choose," he said, adding that "time is running short."

"What will Iran choose? Despite many months of discussion, we don't know yet. We do know that substantial gaps still exist between what Iran's negotiators say they are willing to do and what they must do to achieve a comprehensive agreement."

The last round of talks in June were reportedly strained, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has lashed out at world powers for making "excessive demands" on his country.

But Kerry countered that they had "proposed a series of reasonable, verifiable and easily achievable measures that would ensure Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon," and in return the Islamic republic "would be granted phased relief from nuclear-related sanctions."

"The world is simply asking Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear activities are what it claims them to be," Kerry added.

He acknowledged that Iranian negotiators had been "serious" so far throughout the talks, and that Iran had met obligations by working to eliminate its stockpiles of highly-enriched uranium, not installing additional centrifuges and allowing international inspections.

He argued there were not often chances to "make the world safer, ease regional tensions and enable greater prosperity."

"We have such an opportunity, and a historic breakthrough is possible. It's a matter of political will and proving intentions, not of capacity. It's a matter of choices. Let us all choose wisely."

 

 

China, S. Korea summit pushes North over nuclear weapons

 
‎08 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:04:33 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 03, 2014 - China and South Korea issued a joint call for the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula at a summit in Seoul Thursday that was seen as a pointed snub of nuclear-armed North Korea by chief ally Beijing.

In a joint statement after their talks, the Chinese and South Korean presidents, Xi Jinping and Park Geun-Hye, reaffirmed their "firm opposition" to the development of nuclear weapons on the peninsula, but seemed divided on how best to persuade the North to give up its bombs.

While Park told reporters that the two sides had agreed to use "all means" possible to bring denuclearisation about, Xi stressed that "dialogue and negotiation" were the best way forward.

"There was certainly a difference in perspectives, but that has always been there," said Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.

"South Korea might have liked Xi to say something more direct towards the North, but that was wishful thinking," Yang said.

If the joint statement marked no departure from established Chinese and South Korean policy towards North Korea, the fact that it was released at a summit in Seoul carried significant symbolic weight.

It was Xi's first trip as head of state to the perennially volatile Korean peninsula, and his second summit with Park, who visited China last year.

- A calculated rebuff -

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is still waiting for an invitation to Beijing and Xi's decision to visit Seoul before Pyongyang was seen as a calculated rebuff that spoke to the strained relationship between Pyongyang and its historic and most important ally.

"No previous Chinese leader has put South Korea before and above the North like this," said Aidan Foster-Carter, a Korea expert at Britain's Leeds University.

In what some saw as a display of pique at Xi's visit, North Korea had conducted a series of rocket and missile launches over the past week and pledged further tests in the future.

Seoul had been hoping that Thursday's joint statement would include a strongly-worded warning to Pyongyang, but analysts had forecast that Beijing was unlikely to up the rhetorical ante by any significant degree.

It made no mention of North Korea's nuclear tests, although in her comments afterwards Park said both sides had reaffirmed their "resolute opposition" to any further testing.

The statement did stress the importance of finding a way to get the long-stalled six-party talks on North Korea up and running again.

Beijing has pushed for a resumption of the six-party process -- involving the two Koreas, China, the United States, Japan and Russia.

But Seoul and Washington insist that Pyongyang must first make a tangible commitment to abandoning its nuclear weapons programme.

As the North's diplomatic protector and chief economic benefactor, China has repeatedly been pressured by the international community to use its leverage to rein in Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

- China wary of N. Korea collapse -

But while Beijing has become increasingly frustrated with the North's missile and nuclear tests, it remains wary of penalising the isolated state too heavily.

It is especially anxious to avoid any regime collapse that would result in a unified Korea with a US troop presence on its border.

Washington has played up Xi's two-day visit as evidence of Pyongyang's deepening diplomatic isolation.

"The symbolism of a visit by a Chinese leader to Seoul against the backdrop of tensions between North Korea and its neighbours... is pretty striking," US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel told AFP.

But Pyongyang scored a diplomatic victory of its own Thursday, as Japan announced it was revoking some of its unilateral sanctions on North Korea after progress in talks on the Cold War kidnapping of Japanese nationals.

Japan and North Korea do not have formal diplomatic ties, and the announcement by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a significant step forward for a relationship that has been testy for decades.

The wider background to Xi's trip includes China's response to the US "pivot to Asia" and the battle between the two major powers for regional influence.

China is currently South Korea's largest export market and two-way trade stood at around $275 billion last year, but analysts say Beijing wants to move beyond economic ties and promote political and security links.

This leaves Seoul with a difficult balancing act, given its historic military alliance with the United States.

There are currently around 29,000 US troops stationed in South Korea, which is also protected by the US nuclear umbrella.

 

 

China's Xi visits South Korea in snub to North

 
‎08 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:04:33 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 03, 2014 - China's president flew to Seoul Thursday for a state visit focused on nuclear developments in North Korea, which has spent the past week playing hawk and dove with threats, missile tests and peace offers.

It will be Xi Jinping's first trip as head of state to the perennially volatile Korean peninsula, and his second summit with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye who visited China last year.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is still waiting for an invitation to Beijing -- a perceived snub that speaks to the strained relationship between Pyongyang and its historic and most important ally.

"No previous Chinese leader has put South Korea before and above the North like this," said Aidan Foster-Carter a Korea expert at Leeds University.

In what some saw as a display of pique at Xi's visit, North Korea conducted a series of rocket and missile launches into the Sea of Japan (East Sea) over the past week, triggering protests from Seoul and Tokyo.

The North has been in particularly mercurial rhetorical form of late, one day threatening a "devastating strike" against the South and the next proposing a suspension of all hostile military activities.

South Korea on Tuesday rejected the peace offer as "nonsensical" and suggested that Pyongyang show its sincerity by dumping its nuclear weapons.

Xi and Park will hold their summit after Thursday's official welcoming ceremony, and the two leaders are then expected to sign a joint communique.

- Strong line on North Korea? -

Seoul will be hoping for a strong statement on North Korea's nuclear weapons programme, but analysts said Beijing was unlikely to up the rhetorical ante by any significant degree.

"That would go against China's traditional diplomatic pattern," said Kim Joon-Hyung, professor of politics at Handong Global University.

"Xi will probably keep to the general line of urging the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, rather than criticising the North directly," Kim added.

As the North's diplomatic protector and chief economic benefactor, China has repeatedly been pressured by the international community to use its leverage to rein in Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

But while Beijing has become increasingly frustrated with the North's missile and nuclear tests, it remains wary of penalising the isolated state too heavily.

It is especially anxious to avoid any regime collapse that would result in a unified Korea with a US troop presence on its border.

Washington has played up Xi's visit as evidence of Pyongyang's deepening diplomatic isolation.

"The symbolism of a visit by a Chinese leader to Seoul against the backdrop of tensions between North Korea and its neighbours ... is pretty striking," US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel told AFP.

The wider background to Xi's trip includes China's response to the US "pivot to Asia" and the battle between the two major powers for regional influence.

China is currently South Korea's largest export market and two-way trade stood at around $275 billion last year, but analysts say Beijing wants to move beyond economic ties and promote political and security links.

This leaves Seoul with a difficult balancing act, given its historic military alliance with the United States.

There are currently around 29,000 US troops stationed in South Korea, which is also protected by the US nuclear umbrella.

So how far would South Korea be willing to go in developing its ties with China beyond the economic sphere?

"Partly it depends who holds power in Seoul," Foster-Carter wrote on the NK News website.

"Conservatives like Park will ensure the US alliance is not weakened, especially while North Korea continues to snarl.

"But South Korean presidents change every five years. If liberals return to power in 2018, the left's neutralist and Yankee-bashing tendencies might come to the fore," he said.

The military ambitions of the other main US ally in the region, Japan, is also likely to figure in Thursday's summit talks, with both China and South Korea concerned by the recent change to its pacifist constitution.

Xi's visit to Seoul 'important milestone,' says US
Washington (AFP) July 02, 2014 - A visit to South Korea this week by Chinese President Xi Jinping marks "an important milestone" in warming ties and is in stark contrast with Beijing's "chilly" relations with Pyongyang, a US diplomat said Wednesday.

Xi is due to visit Seoul on Thursday for talks with his South Korean counterpart Park Geun-Hye on a closely watched state visit which will include discussions on North Korea's nuclear program.

Beijing however, despite being the North's traditional ally, has not had a summit with Pyongyang since the December 2011 death of its then-leader Kim Jong-Il.

"Clearly the net effect of a visit by the Chinese president to the Republic of Korea, that showcases the dramatic warming of relations and the broadening of practical cooperation, stands in pretty stark contrast to the chilly relationship between Beijing and Pyongyang," Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel told AFP in an interview.

Beijing and Washington are seeking "to persuade North Korea that its only viable option is to take steps to come into compliance with its international obligations," Russel said.

Six-party talks with Pyongyang on reining in its nuclear program have been stalled since 2009, and the North has carried out a series of rocket launches denounced by the United States as provocative.

On Wednesday North Korea fired two short-range rockets off its east coast, marking the third such test by the North in the past week -- all three involving firing into the Sea of Japan (East Sea).

North Korea is set to be the focus of some "in-depth discussions" when top Chinese and US leaders meet in Beijing next week for annual strategic and economic talks.

Both China and the United States want to achieve de-nuclearization "through negotiations and we have been refining an approach that would ensure that North Korea comes to the table with convincing evidence that it's prepared to truly negotiate."

"No one wants to go back to the merry-go-round of talks for talks' sake," Russel said.

Washington has long been pushing Beijing to use its sway with Pyongyang to bring it back to the negotiating table, and has increased sanctions against the isolated communist-run state.

"The symbolism of a visit by a Chinese leader to Seoul against the backdrop of tensions between North Korea and its neighbors... is pretty striking," Russel said.

"The Chinese have increasingly moved in the direction that denuclearization is more than just a slogan, it is an objective that needs to be implemented, and implemented on a credible and rapid timeline."

 

 

Seoul warns Japan against going it alone on N. Korea

 
‎08 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:04:33 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 03, 2014 - South Korea warned Japan on Thursday against undermining efforts to force North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons, after Tokyo announced the lifting of selected sanctions on Pyongyang.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said a number of unilateral sanctions would be revoked after progress in talks with the North over its Cold War kidnapping of Japanese nationals.

In a statement, the South Korean foreign ministry said it recognised the "humanitarian" nature of Japan's concern over the kidnapping issue.

But it also stressed that any discussions between Japan and North Korea on pending issues, including the lifting of sanctions, had to be done in a "transparent" fashion.

"And any measures taken by the Japanese government should not hurt international coordination among South Korea, the United States and Japan over North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes," it added.

The United States and its two main military allies in Asia have generally kept up a united front on the North Korean nuclear issue.

But a deepening rift between Seoul and Tokyo -- related to disputes dating back to World War II and Japan's colonial rule over the Korean peninsula -- has made the alliance look increasingly fragile.

South Korean officials say Pyongyang is using the kidnapping issue to exploit that fragility and push Tokyo towards a more independent North Korea strategy.

N. Korea vows further tactical guided-missile tests
Seoul (AFP) July 03, 2014 - North Korea vowed Thursday to push ahead with further strategic guided-missile tests, defying international calls to curb its weapons programme as the Chinese president arrived in Seoul for a visit seen as a snub to Pyongyang.

"(North Korea) will continue to hold drills of launching high-precision tactical guided missiles," said a spokesman for the Korean People's Army (KPA) Strategic Force, calling the tests a "legitimate exercise" of sovereignty.

North Korea has conducted a series of missile tests in the past week -- seen by some a display of pique with Chinese President Xi Jinping's two-day state visit to Seoul.

China is North Korea's sole major ally, but while Xi has met four times with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye -- including two summits -- he has yet to sit down with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

The United States criticised the recent missile launches as "problematic" and "destabilising", while Seoul and Tokyo also lodged protests.

The first in the series of tests last Thursday was hailed by the North's state media as that of a new "cutting-edge" guided missile which marked a "breakthrough" in the North's military capabilities.

The South said the second test on Sunday was of two short-range Scud missiles with a range of about 500 kilometres.

On Wednesday the North fired two rockets with a range of around 180 kilometres (110 miles).

The South said there were a number of possible motives for the multiple tests, ranging from a display for domestic consumption, to a show of strength for the international community or a warning to Seoul.

 

 

N. Korea vows further tactical guided-missile tests

 
‎08 ‎July ‎2014, ‏‎09:04:33 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) July 03, 2014 - North Korea vowed Thursday to push ahead with further strategic guided-missile tests, defying international calls to curb its weapons programme as the Chinese president arrived in Seoul for a visit seen as a snub to Pyongyang.

"(North Korea) will continue to hold drills of launching high-precision tactical guided missiles," said a spokesman for the Korean People's Army (KPA) Strategic Force, calling the tests a "legitimate exercise" of sovereignty.

North Korea has conducted a series of missile tests in the past week -- seen by some a display of pique with Chinese President Xi Jinping's two-day state visit to Seoul.

China is North Korea's sole major ally, but while Xi has met four times with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye -- including two summits -- he has yet to sit down with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

The United States criticised the recent missile launches as "problematic" and "destabilising", while Seoul and Tokyo also lodged protests.

The first in the series of tests last Thursday was hailed by the North's state media as that of a new "cutting-edge" guided missile which marked a "breakthrough" in the North's military capabilities.

The South said the second test on Sunday was of two short-range Scud missiles with a range of about 500 kilometres.

On Wednesday the North fired two rockets with a range of around 180 kilometres (110 miles).

The South said there were a number of possible motives for the multiple tests, ranging from a display for domestic consumption, to a show of strength for the international community or a warning to Seoul.

 

New technique calls nuclear blind-man's-bluff

 
‎26 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎09:57:02 PMGo to full article
Paris (AFP) June 25, 2014 - Scientists in the United States claim to have devised a novel technique to test the viability of nuclear warheads, a tool that could be useful for disarmament inspectors.

The method uses a neutron scanner to confirm whether a nuclear warhead is what its owners say it is, without divulging any classified secrets about the device -- a major obstacle in weapons verification, they said on Wednesday.

The technique, currently in the early stages of testing, should be able to test whether rogue states or groups claiming to have a nuclear bomb are telling the truth.

It could also be a useful tool in the programme to dismantle US and Russian nuclear warheads under the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), they said.

"The goal is to prove with as high confidence as required that an object is a true nuclear warhead while learning nothing about the materials and design of the warhead itself," said Robert Goldston, a professor of astrophysics at Princeton University, New Jersey.

Weapons inspectors already have an array of diagnostic instruments on hand, but using them can be a problem in itself.

Gamma-ray spectroscopy, for instance, can reveal whether there is sufficient plutonium 239 to make a bomb, but measuring this would reveal warhead-design information that could help weapons proliferation.

Other procedures are likely to require opening up the warhead to verify it -- a process that is long, complex and laden with suspicions that this is an attempt to spy on or tamper with secret material.

To get around this, Goldston's team conceived of an approach called "zero knowledge," inspired in part by software designed to check computer passwords safely.

It entails aiming a high energy beam of neutrons through the warhead, rather like an X-ray.

The tally of neutrons detected on the other side of the warhead thus provides a signature of the contents.

This signature has to match a signature provided by the host to be confirmed as a bomb.

Because the host preloads his own signature into the detectors, the inspector requires no access to secret data or material, hence "zero knowledge" of what lies in the box.

The idea, reported in the science journal Nature, is still in its infancy and problems have to be ironed out, the scientists admit.

But it has secured funding of $3.5 million (2.57 million euros) from the US National Nuclear Security Administration to take it further at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

The researchers are using a harmless dummy made of polystyrene and tungsten, about the same size and weight as a warhead, to test the neutron scan.

 

 

Army closes in on killer S. Korean conscript

 
‎26 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎09:57:02 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) June 23, 2014 - South Korean troops closed in Monday on a cornered fugitive conscript whose parents urged him to surrender after he killed five fellow soldiers in a shooting spree on the border with North Korea.

Thousands of soldiers backed by special forces units and army helicopters were surrounding the 22-year-old sergeant after a night-long standoff in a small forested area south of the heavily militarised frontier.

"We are closing in on him and he was close enough to be able to pick up a cell phone we threw," defence ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok told a briefing.

Kim said the sergeant, identified by his family name Lim, had spoken to his father who had urged his son to give himself up.

An army officer who requested anonymity told Yonhap news agency that Lim had been in tears when he asked troops to hand the phone over to his father. "He talked to his parents for several minutes, and they pleaded with him to surrender," the officer was quoted as saying.

Lim, who had not eaten for two days, was also thrown some bread and water.

Armed with a K-2 assault rifle and a stash of ammunition, Lim went on the run Saturday night after killing five fellow soldiers at a frontline border outpost.

He traded fire with his pursuers late Sunday before digging in for the night in a section of forest outside a village some 10 kilometres (six miles) away.

Kim said there were further sporadic exchanges of fire during the night, and Lim was still considered extremely dangerous.

"We don't plan to immediately move to capture him because we don't want to trigger any extreme behaviour," he said.

"We are encouraging him to surrender," he added.

Seven others were wounded in Lim's shooting spree on Saturday, during which he detonated a grenade and fired multiple rounds.

Lim was due to be discharged in the next few months after completing his compulsory military service.

The motive behind the shooting was unclear, but army sources said he had difficulty adapting to the military, and psychological evaluators had advised senior officers to pay him special attention.

The incident triggered a massive military manhunt involving more than 4,000 soldiers, including special forces backed by army helicopters.

After a night on the run, Lim was finally cornered near Myungpa-ri village in eastern Gangwon province.

In the initial exchanges of fire one platoon leader was wounded in the arm, and Kim said another soldier was wounded Monday by friendly fire.

Around 500 residents, most of them elderly, were evacuated from their homes to a school building as a precaution.

- Bullying in the barracks -

Lim's deadly shooting spree occurred at a guard post next to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) -- a buffer strip that runs the full length of the 250-kilometre (155-mile) inter-Korean frontier.

Because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty, the two Koreas technically remain at war.

Many of the South Korean soldiers on border duty are young male recruits doing their mandatory two-year military service.

These young men make up a large part of the South's 691,000-strong troop presence, compared with 1.17 million in the North.

Most of the victims in Saturday's shooting were conscripts, aged from 19 to 23.

The defence ministry issued a "sincere apology" over the incident.

"We pray for the souls of the victims and express our deepest regret for the victims, the injured and their families," it said.

Bullying and cruelty in the barracks have long tarnished the armed forces, and been blamed for suicides and similar shooting incidents.

In July 2011, a 19-year-old marine conscript killed four colleagues in a shooting spree on Ganghwa island near the border.

In June 2005, eight soldiers were killed and two seriously wounded when a 22-year-old conscript threw a grenade and sprayed bullets over sleeping colleagues at a frontline guard post north of Seoul.

 

 

'Tough' Iran nuclear talks leave a mountain to climb

 
‎26 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎09:57:02 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) June 20, 2014 - Iran and six world powers left themselves with a lot to do by a July 20 deadline after a difficult fifth round of nuclear talks ended on Friday in Vienna.

The aim of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany is to secure a mammoth deal by next month to reduce in scope Iran's nuclear programme and ease fears the Islamic republic will get atomic weapons.

Iran denies seeking to make a bomb and wants punishing UN and Western sanctions lifted. Neither Israel nor the United States have ruled out military action to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

The parties had "begun the drafting process" and would start the next round of talks on July 2, said a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, chief negotiator for the six powers.

"We have worked extremely hard all week to develop elements we can bring together when we meet for the next round," said the spokesman, Michael Mann, after five days of discussions.

Officials on both sides said the drafting process had begun, but that haggling over language concerning the thorniest problems was being put off until later.

"We have not reached agreement on the main issues. In some cases, we can see light for agreement but in some others, there is none yet," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iran's media in the Austrian capital.

He said the draft document contained "more brackets than words", implying that many sections were far from finalised.

The senior US negotiator, Wendy Sherman, said that the talks had been "very tough but constructive" but that the draft document was still "heavily bracketed".

She added it was "still unclear whether Iran is really ready to take all the steps necessary to assure the world that its nuclear programme is and will remain exclusively peaceful."

"It has been another really tough round," said a diplomat from one of the "P5+1" powers late on Thursday, although he said this "doesn't surprise me or particularly dismay me".

Another diplomat said earlier this week that Iran was refusing to budge on most issues, calling this "worrying" and saying that there remained "major" differences on the key issue of uranium enrichment.

This process can make nuclear fuel for civilian purposes but also, when highly purified, for a nuclear weapon. It has been the main sticking point in negotiations with Iran for the past decade.

Western countries want Iran to slash the number of centrifuge enrichment machines in order to make it harder for Iran to process enough material for a bomb in a short period of time, if it chose to do so.

Other thorny issues include the duration of the mooted accord, the pace of any sanctions relief and a reactor being built at Arak that might give Iran weapons-grade plutonium.

- Extension -

The negotiations can be extended by up to six months beyond July 20, when an interim deal struck in November expires, but for now both sides were still aiming to get a deal by that date.

US President Barack Obama is particularly keen to ensure the deadline is met. He faces US midterm elections in November and hopes to silence accusations that the talks are merely giving Iran time to inch closer to the bomb.

This has been the long-standing accusation of Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state.

"We are absolutely focused on July 20 ... We are not interested in talking about a rollover," the P5+1 diplomat said, adding it would be a "long time" until such an extension is even discussed.

Mark Fitzpatrick, a former US State Department official now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said it was "not surprising" that difficult topics were being put off until later.

"If there is going to be a breakthrough on the key issues, it won't come until the last moment," Fitzpatrick told AFP.

 

 

Standoff with S. Korean soldier who killed five comrades

 
‎26 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎09:57:02 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) June 22, 2014 - South Korean troops traded fire in a standoff Sunday with a cornered conscript soldier who went on the run after shooting dead five members of his unit on the border with North Korea.

The 23-year-old army sergeant, surnamed Lim, had opened fire on fellow soldiers at a guard post on the eastern section of the heavily guarded frontier Saturday night.

The shooting spree left five dead and seven wounded -- and triggered a massive manhunt after Lee fled the scene armed with a K-2 assault rifle and a stash of ammunition.

A defence ministry spokesman said Lim, who apparently had a record of instability, had been tracked and cornered just before 2:30 pm (0530 GMT) Sunday near an elementary school around 10 kilometres (six miles) from the border.

"He shot at the pursuing troops and they returned fire," the spokesman said, adding that one officer had been wounded in the arm.

Local media reported that Lim's parents had been brought to the scene and had pleaded with their son to surrender.

As night fell, Lim was believed to be holed up in a small section of forest on a hill behind the school.

Some 500 residents of a nearby village, most of them elderly, were evacuated from their homes to another school building as a precaution.

"I've never known anything like this in my life," one 60-year-old villager told the Yonhap news agency.

"I stayed up all of last night. My children live far away and they're very worried about me," she said.

According to the military, Lim was due to be discharged in the next few months after completing his compulsory military service.

The conscript detonated a grenade immediately after finishing his six-hour guard duty at about 2:00 pm (0500 GMT) Saturday, then opened fire, Yonhap reported.

All those killed or wounded in the incident were members of the 22nd infantry division, in the eastern province of Gangwon.

Thousands of soldiers took part in the search for the fugitive, including special forces units, as army helicopters scanned the area from above.

- Shooter had trouble adapting -

Lim had difficulty adapting to the military, and past psychological evaluators had advised senior officers to pay him special attention, a defence ministry official who wished to remain anonymous told AFP.

This is not the first time the 22nd infantry has been involved in such an incident.

In 1984 a private belonging to the same division opened fire and threw a grenade at fellow soldiers in their barracks, killing 15.

The soldier, Cho Jun-Hee, then crossed the border to defect to the North, a move that Pyongyang's state media later confirmed.

The site of Saturday's shooting is just south of the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) -- a buffer strip that runs the full length of the 250-kilometre (155-mile) frontier.

The four-kilometre-wide DMZ -- known as the world's last Cold War frontier -- features guard posts manned by the rival armies, barbed wire and roads bisecting minefields.

Because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty, the two Koreas technically remain at war.

Many of the South Korean soldiers on border duty are young male recruits doing their mandatory two-year military service.

These young men make up a large part of the South's 691,000-strong troop presence, compared with 1.17 million in the North.

Most of the victims in Saturday's shooting were conscripts, aged from 19 to 23.

The defence ministry issued a "sincere apology" over the incident.

"We pray for the souls of the victims and express our deepest regret for the victims, the injured and their families," it said.

Bullying and cruelty in the barracks have long tarnished the armed forces, and been blamed for suicides and similar shooting incidents.

In July 2011 a 19-year-old marine conscript killed four colleagues in a shooting spree on Ganghwa island near the border.

In June 2005 eight soldiers were killed and two seriously wounded when a 22-year-old conscript threw a grenade and sprayed bullets over sleeping colleagues at a frontline guard post north of Seoul.

In both those cases the men were court-martialled and sentenced to death, although the penalty was not carried out.

The armed forces have in recent years taken steps to stamp out bullying, which they called part of a "distorted military culture".

 

 

Title agreed, but not much else, in Iran nuclear talks

 
‎26 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎09:57:02 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) June 19, 2014 - Racing against the clock, nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers appeared tough going Thursday with both sides warning of major differences as they tried to draft an accord.

The hoped-for agreement would see Iran scale back its nuclear programme, in order to ease fears Iran wants atomic weapons, and avert a conflict in the Middle East.

Iran, which has seen its relations with the West thaw somewhat since the 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani, wants painful UN and Western sanctions lifted. It denies wanting the bomb.

On a fourth day of talks in Vienna, Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany have started haggling over the wording of a deal, officials said.

But beyond agreeing a title for the accord, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that "fundamental differences" were dividing the two sides.

On Wednesday negotiations "slowly" began to draft the final agreement, "but there are still many differences" over the text, ISNA news agency quoted Zarif as saying from Vienna.

He added that the talks had been "very difficult".

A Western diplomat said that Iran was refusing to budge on most issues and that drafting language in the text on the "complex issues" had not begun.

"It is worrying that there is no evolution on the part of the Iranians on most subjects," the diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Differences between the two sides on uranium enrichment, the central issue not only in this fifth round of talks but for the past decade, remain "major," the envoy said.

Enrichment is front and centre of Western concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions, as the process can produce both fuel for nuclear power plants and, when highly purified, the core of an atomic bomb.

The West wants Iran to slash the number of centrifuges, the machines that enrich uranium, from the current 20,000, but Tehran wants to install many more in order, it says, to fuel a future fleet of nuclear plants.

Other thorny issues include the duration of the mooted accord, the pace of any sanctions relief and a reactor being built at Arak that might give Iran plutonium, the alternative to highly-enriched uranium for a bomb.

"Bearing in mind the limited time that is left and the differences remaining, the progress is slow" in writing the draft, a senior Iranian diplomat at the talks told ISNA.

- No catastrophe -

Iran's top negotiator Abbas Araqchi told IRNA on Wednesday that choosing to push back the July 20 deadline -- when an interim deal struck in November expires -- "won't be a catastrophe".

But US President Barack Obama is not seen as keen, seeking ahead of November midterm US elections to silence accusations that the talks are merely giving Iran time to inch ever closer to the bomb.

Complicating the process is the shared interest of Washington and Shiite Iran in seeing a lightning onslaught by Sunni rebels in Iraq stopped in its tracks.

On Monday US and Iranian officials briefly discussed the crisis on the sidelines in Vienna, although Washington said this would not be repeated.

On Wednesday a senior aide to Rouhani, his chief of staff Mohammad Nahavandian, appeared to say that any US-Iranian cooperation in Iraq depended on progress in the nuclear talks.

"If that comes to a final resolution, then there might be opportunities for other issues to be discussed," Nahavandian said in Norway.

In Israel, assumed to have nuclear weapons itself and which has not ruled out bombing Iran, a minister on Thursday expressed fears that the crisis may prompt Washington to make concessions in Vienna.

But US State Department Jen Psaki spokeswoman said Wednesday that any discussion of Iraq would be "entirely separate" from the nuclear negotiations.

"Any effort to connect the two is a nonstarter for the United States," Psaki told reporters.

Tehran, world powers 'begin drafting nuclear deal'
Tehran (AFP) June 18, 2014 - Iran and world powers started drafting Wednesday a comprehensive nuclear agreement but still face many sticking points, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said.

"Today we have slowly begun to draft the final agreement... but there are still many differences" over the text, ISNA news agency quoted Zarif as saying from Vienna.

"This does not mean we have reached an agreement," said Zarif, according to IRNA news agency.

"Fundamental disagreements" continue to divide Iran and the P5+1 powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany -- he said.

But Zarif said the two sides have agreed on a title for the text, which will be known as the "General Joint Plan of Action."

A new round of negotiations between Iranian diplomats and those of the six powers, which opened Monday in Vienna, had been "very difficult" so far.

The talks, which run through Friday, are aimed at clinching a comprehensive nuclear deal by a July 20 deadline set up by an interim agreement.

Iran's top negotiator Abbas Araqchi earlier told IRNA news agency that Iran hoped to settle all differences with the six powers by the target date.

The main sticking points are the timetable for a full lifting of crippling US and EU sanctions, and the scale to which Iran would be allowed to continue uranium enrichment, he said.

Enrichment is the sensitive process at the centre of Western concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions, as it can produce both fuel for nuclear power stations and, in highly extended form, the core of an atomic bomb.

The P5+1 want Iran -- which insists its nuclear drive is purely for civilian use -- to drastically reduce its uranium production capacity, and keep only a few hundred centrifuges active.

They want to ensure that Iran's nuclear activities are purely peaceful. In return, Iran wants the removal of international sanctions that have choked its economy.

US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said Wednesday Iran's economy remained in a "state of distress" despite limited sanctions relief.

"Iran sanctions are the toughest the world community has imposed on any country, and its economy is suffering a serious blow as a result -- an impact that is not being reversed," Lew said at a meeting in Jerusalem of the Joint Economic Development Group (JEDG).

- 'Still a long way to go' -

In the remarks to IRNA, Araqchi said "it won't be a catastrophe" if the July 20 target date is not met.

"We hope to start work on Wednesday on drafting the text of a final agreement, not the big issues but the general framework and the introduction," Araqchi said.

"There is a still a long way to go before we reach an agreement acceptable to all sides."

An interim deal struck last November led the six powers to release $7 billion from frozen funds in return for a slowdown in Iran's controversial uranium enrichment.

Iran began implementing the November deal in January.

Tehran said Wednesday that successful nuclear talks could lead to co-operation with the US over their shared interest in Iraq -- where Sunni militants have seized large swathes of territory in a lightning offensive.

President Hassan Rouhani's chief of staff Mohammad Nahavandian told reporters in Oslo that the nuclear talks were a "test for confidence building".

"If that comes to a final resolution, then there might be opportunities for other issues to be discussed."

 

 

Iran says could work with US in Iraq if nuclear talks succeed

 
‎26 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎09:57:02 PMGo to full article
Oslo (AFP) June 18, 2014 - A top Iranian official said on Wednesday that Tehran could consider working with the United States over the crisis in Iraq if talks on its nuclear programme are successful.

Asked about possible cooperation in Iraq, President Hassan Rouhani's chief of staff Mohammad Nahavandian told reporters in Oslo that the nuclear talks were a "test for confidence building".

"If that comes to a final resolution, then there might be opportunities for other issues to be discussed."

The rise of the jihadist Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has made sweeping gains in northern Iraq in recent days, has raised speculation over cooperation between Washington and Tehran to help stop the insurgency.

And on Monday, US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns held a brief meeting with Iranian officials in Vienna on the sidelines of the nuclear talks.

Nahavandian said he was opposed to any foreign intervention in Iraq unless it was requested by the government, but also criticised US inaction.

"The outside world should just respond to what the government of Iraq wants (and) should not intervene in the management of the situation.

"With regards to the United States, we have not seen any serious action from them against this wave of terrorism inside Iraq."

Rouhani said Wednesday that Iran would do whatever it takes to protect revered Shiite Muslim holy sites in Iraq against the Sunni ISIL militants.

Meanwhile, Nahavandian said he believed a July 20 deadline for Iran and world powers to reach a deal on Tehran's nuclear drive could be met.

"There are many people around the world who look optimistically to the ongoing negotiations and I am not an exception to that rule," he said.

Tehran, world powers begin drafting nuclear deal: Iran FM
Tehran (AFP) June 18, 2014 - Iran and world powers started drafting Wednesday a comprehensive nuclear agreement but still face many sticking points, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said.

"Today we have slowly begun to draft the final agreement... but there are still many differences" over the text, ISNA news agency quoted Zarif as saying from Vienna.

"This does not mean we have reached an agreement," said Zarif, according to IRNA news agency.

"Fundamental disagreements" continue to divide Iran and the P5+1 powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany -- he said.

But Zarif said the two sides have agreed on a title for the text, which will be known as the "General Joint Plan of Action."

A new round of negotiations between Iranian diplomats and those of the six powers that opened Monday in Vienna had been "very difficult" so far.

The talks, which run through Friday, are aimed at clinching a comprehensive nuclear deal by a July 20 deadline set up by an interim agreement.

Iran's top negotiator Abbas Araqchi earlier told IRNA news agency that Iran hoped to settle all differences with the six powers by the target date.

The main sticking points are the timetable for a full lifting of crippling US and EU sanctions, and the scale to which Iran would be allowed to continue uranium enrichment, he said.

Enrichment is the sensitive process at the centre of Western concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions, as it can produce both fuel for nuclear power stations and, in highly extended form, the core of an atomic bomb.

The P5+1 want Iran -- which insists its nuclear drive is purely for civilian use -- to drastically reduce its uranium production capacity, and keep only a few hundred centrifuges active.

They want to ensure that Iran's nuclear activities are purely peaceful. In return, Iran wants the removal of international sanctions that have choked its economy.

In the remarks to IRNA, Araqchi said "it won't be a catastrophe" if the July 20 target date is not met.

"We hope to start work on Wednesday on drafting the text of a final agreement, not the big issues but the general framework and the introduction," Araqchi said.

"There is a still a long way to go before we reach an agreement acceptable to all sides."

An interim deal struck last November led the six powers to release $7 billion from frozen funds in return for a slowdown in Iran's controversial uranium enrichment.

Iran began implementing the November deal in January.

 

 

UN monitor urges China to bring North Korea to heel

 
‎26 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎09:57:02 PMGo to full article
Geneva (AFP) June 18, 2014 - A UN monitor Wednesday urged China to bring ally North Korea to heel over its record of systemic human rights abuse, likening Beijing's clout to that of Washington with Israel.

"How are we going to persuade China that they are in a position to do this? They don't accept that they have any kind of influence on the North Koreans," Marzuki Darusman told reporters.

"This is the kind of denial that the United States has, that it has no hold on Israel. It's an analogy, but nevertheless, it's substantive," said Darusman, a former chief prosecutor of Indonesia.

He said it was also up to the entire international community to step up efforts to call Pyongyang to account.

"North Korea is isolated. But that saddles us all with the problem," he said.

Darusman has monitored North Korea since 2010 for the UN Human Rights Council, despite a refusal to cooperate by the closed Stalinist nation.

He is also part of a UN-mandated inquiry team that earlier this year issued a damning 400-page report detailing endemic abuses by North Korea.

It spotlighted rape, torture and enslavement, saying they could amount to crimes against humanity and comparing them to the actions of Nazi Germany.

The inquiry team has called for North Korea to be hauled before the International Criminal Court -- potentially to prosecute dictator Kim Jong-un and other regime figures.

"What is happening in North Korea cannot just be attributed to one single person at the top, although that single person at the very top is culpable," said Darusman.

But referral to the ICC requires approval by the UN Security Council, where China wields a veto.

- North Korea's "facade" -

Simply pointing the finger is no longer enough, Darusman said.

"It doesn't do justice to the enormity and range of issues that prevail there in the country," he said.

Barred from North Korea by Pyongyang, the UN monitors have interviewed defectors in South Korea and other countries, and used satellite imagery to build an idea of North Korea's network of concentration camps.

North Korea has dubbed the witnesses "human scum" and, in regular attacks at the UN Human Rights Council, charged that probes are part of a "vicious, hostile policy" piloted by Washington.

Darusman blasted that position.

"It's a convenient facade that the North Koreans are adopting, by continuing with their denials but at the same time seeming to engage by being present at the UN Human Rights Council sessions and responding to the findings by continuing with the theme that all the findings are fabricated," he said.

The United Nations plans to deploy a full-time North Korea human rights team that would be based in the South Korean capital Seoul.

Pyongyang has threatened that anyone involved will be "ruthlessly punished".

Darusman said there was no room for such rhetoric.

"We just need to go back to the basics. The country is part of the UN and therefore it's bound by the practices and norms of the United Nations," he said.

 

 

World's nuclear arsenal reduction slows down: Stockholm institute

 
‎18 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎04:59:39 PMGo to full article
Stockholm (AFP) June 15, 2014 - The number of nuclear weapons in the world continue to decline, but at a slower pace than in previous years, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said Monday.

"Over the past five years there has been a steady decline in the overall number of nuclear warheads in the world," the think tank said in its yearly report on world nuclear forces.

"The decrease is due mainly to Russia and the US, which together still account for more than 93 percent of all nuclear weapons."

The number of nuclear warheads in the world has dropped by 930 from 2013 to 16,300 this year, whereas in 2011 the figure fell by 2,070 to 20,530 compared with a year earlier.

The think tank warned that the decline does not imply a real committment by the nuclear powers to give up their arsenals.

The United States and Russia still held some 7,300 and 8,000 warheads respectively at the beginning of this year, SIPRI said.

"Once again this year, the nuclear weapon-possessing states took little action to indicate a genuine willingness to work toward complete dismantlement of their nuclear arsenals," SIPRI researchers Shannon Kile and Phillip Patton Schell said in a statement.

"The long-term modernisation programmes under way in these states suggest their views that nuclear weapons will remain deeply embedded elements of their strategic calculus."

While the two main nuclear powers keep reducing their arsenals, other nuclear states including Britain and France remained stable in this year's report with 225 and 300 warheads, respectively.

"China, India and Pakistan are the only nuclear weapon states that are expanding their nuclear arsenals, while Israel appears to be waiting to see how the situation in Iran develops," SIPRI said.

According to the report, China held 250 warheads, India between 90 and 110, Pakistan between 100 and 120 and Israel 80, at the beginning of 2014.

North Korea appeared on the list with six to eight warheards.

"There is an emerging consensus in the expert community that North Korea has produced a small number of nuclear weapons, as distinct from rudimentary nuclear explosive devices," the think tank said.

However, SIPRI researcher Schell told AFP that these figures were based on the amount of plutonium the country could have produced and not on its ability to effectively use it as a weapon.

"There is possibly enough material for six to eight weapons," he said.

"But there's been no clear indication yet of their ability to produce a nuclear warhead and to produce an associated missile system that could carry this warhead."

 

 

Lockheed Martin Receives Sustainment Contract For USAF Minuteman III Reentry Subsystem

 
‎18 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎04:59:39 PMGo to full article
King Of Prussia PA (SPX) Jun 16, 2014 - Lockheed Martin received a contract from the U.S. Air Force with an initial value of $109 million for sustainment of the reentry subsystem for the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Lockheed Martin's work will include repair, modification and testing of hardware and software components in the reentry system-reentry vehicle (RS-RV) subsystem, as well as related support equipment. The contract is part of the Air Force's Future ICBM Sustainment and Acquisition Construct, which is designed to ensure a safe, secure and reliable Minuteman III weapon system through 2030.

"This award represents an exciting new chapter in Lockheed Martin's 50-year partnership with the Air Force ICBM enterprise," said Doug Graham, vice president of ICBM and advanced programs, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company.

"This new contract will enable us to directly apply our specialized expertise to more effectively support this critical national mission area."

As an example of this expertise, Lockheed Martin developed a process for refurbishing the 25-year-old arming and fuzing assemblies for the MK21 reentry vehicle at a fraction of the cost of producing new units. The intricate procedure replaces or reconditions electronic and mechanical components, extending the units' service life to support the Minuteman III through 2030.

The company delivered the 100th refurbished unit to the Air Force in May. In parallel, Lockheed Martin is working with the Air Force to support its refurbishment activities at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

The base period of performance for the RS-RV contract is one year, and with options for an additional four years, the total potential contract value is $452 million. Lockheed Martin will perform work principally at Hill Air Force Base, where the ICBM System Program Office is located, and in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.

Lockheed Martin has been the principal designer, manufacturer and sustainer of Minuteman III reentry systems since the 1960s.

 

 

US, Iran hold brief talks on Iraq crisis in Vienna

 
‎18 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎04:59:39 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) June 17, 2014 - The United States and Iran briefly discussed the crisis in Iraq on the sidelines of a critical fifth round of nuclear talks in Vienna, US officials said Monday

The two nations, which have been bitter foes for more than 30 years, are both deeply concerned by a major insurgency by Sunni militants who have overrun swathes of Iraq over the past week.

"The issue did come up briefly with Iran on the margins of the P5+1 in Vienna today, separate from our trilateral meeting" which had included the EU, a senior State Department official said in a statement, asking not to be named.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf confirmed to CNN television that there were "brief discussions."

It is yet to be determined "if we want to keep talking to Iran about Iraq," she added, acknowledging though that Tehran and Washington had "a shared interest" in ensuring militants don't get "a foothold any more in Iraq."

But she stressed: "No outside country can fix Iraq's problems. We need Iraq's political leaders from across the spectrum to step up."

Another US official told AFP no further bilateral talks on Iraq were likely to be held in Vienna, but did not rule out further discussions elsewhere between the traditional foes.

Washington has however ruled out consulting with Tehran on any potential military action.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said "there is absolutely no intention, no plan to coordinate military activities between the United States and Iran."

In the Austria capital were US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, who held secret nuclear talks with Iran in 2013, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Zarif was a key interlocutor between Shiite Iran and the US government after the September 11, 2001, attacks, when both sides were keen to oust the hardline Sunni Muslim Taliban in Afghanistan.

"The US and Iran discussed Afghanistan ... so from time to time there have been times where it makes sense to be part of a conversation," the US official said.

- Nuclear focus -

The main focus in Vienna remains however efforts towards a nuclear deal with only five weeks before a July 20 deadline to sign on the dotted line.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany want Tehran to scale back its nuclear activities, while Iran wants all UN and Western sanctions to be lifted.

This long hoped-for accord would aim to once and for all silence fears that Tehran might develop nuclear weapons, and avert a slide into international conflict.

Both sides caution that there is a long way to go as negotiators confront the same sticking points that have dogged diplomatic efforts for the past decade.

The senior US official said however that contrary to the general assessment by experts, both sides actually began to draft a deal at their last meeting in May and "it was expected more will take place during this round."

She added that in US-Iranian bilateral talks last week, both sides "not only understood each other better ... but I think we both can see places where we might be able to close the gaps."

- Thorny issues -

The many thorny issues to be resolved in what would be a fiendishly complex deal include the duration of the mooted accord and the pace of sanctions relief.

But the gorilla in the room remains uranium enrichment, a process that can produce nuclear fuel but also, when highly purified, the core of an atomic bomb.

Iran wants to massively increase the number of centrifuges -- the machines that enrich -- saying it needs them to produce the fuel for a future set of civilian nuclear plants.

The West says these plants are years, if not decades, away from being built, and fears Iran's real aim is to use its centrifuges to enrich uranium to weapons-grade -- which Tehran denies.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said last week the West wants Iran to slash the number of centrifuges to "several hundred" from the current 20,000, of which 10,000 are operating.

"We are not even in the same ballpark," Fabius said.

Under an interim deal struck in November, Iran agreed to freeze certain nuclear activities for six months in return for minor sanctions relief.

This comes to an end on July 20 but it can be renewed -- if both sides agree.

 

 

US, Iran may use nuclear talks to discuss Iraq

 
‎18 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎04:59:39 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) June 16, 2014 - Washington said Monday it might use a critical fifth round of nuclear talks between Iran and world powers to discuss with Tehran possible cooperation on tackling the crisis raging in Iraq.

The United States and Iran, which have been bitter foes for more than 30 years, are both deeply concerned by a major insurgency by Sunni militants who have overrun swathes of Iraq over the past week.

A senior US official said that as a result "there may be some conversations" with Iranian negotiators on the sidelines of nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers in Vienna that began on Monday.

Washington stressed however that it would push Shiite-majority Iran "to address problems in a non-sectarian way," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

While signalling its readiness to talk to Iran on the issue, Washington also ruled out consulting with Tehran on any potential military action.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said "there is absolutely no intention, no plan to coordinate military activities between the United States and Iran."

In the Austria capital were US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, who held secret nuclear talks with Iran in 2013, and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Zarif was a key interlocutor between Shiite Iran and the US government after the September 11, 2001, attacks, when both sides were keen to oust the hardline Sunni Muslim Taliban in Afghanistan.

"The US and Iran discussed Afghanistan ... so from time to time there have been times where it makes sense to be part of a conversation," the US official said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry told Yahoo News on Monday that he would be open to cooperating with Iran over Iraq, saying he "wouldn't rule out anything that would be constructive".

Iran's chief negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, said beforehand however that negotiators in Vienna would "only discuss Iran's nuclear issue".

- Nuclear focus -

The main focus in Vienna remains however efforts towards a nuclear deal with only five weeks before a July 20 deadline to sign on the dotted line.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany want Tehran to scale back its nuclear activities, while Iran wants all UN and Western sanctions to be lifted.

This long hoped-for accord would aim to once and for all silence fears that Tehran might develop nuclear weapons, and avert a slide into international conflict.

Both sides caution that there is a long way to go as negotiators confront the same sticking points that have dogged diplomatic efforts for the past decade.

The senior US official said however that contrary to the general assessment by experts, both sides actually began to draft a deal at their last meeting in May.

"A little bit of that was done the last time, and it was expected more will take place during this round," the official said.

She added that in US-Iranian bilateral talks last week, both sides "not only understood each other better ... but I think we both can see places where we might be able to close the gaps."

- Thorny issues -

The many thorny issues to be resolved in what would be a fiendishly complex deal include the duration of the mooted accord and the pace of sanctions relief.

But the gorilla in the room remains uranium enrichment, a process that can produce nuclear fuel but also, when highly purified, the core of an atomic bomb.

Iran wants to massively increase the number of centrifuges -- the machines that enrich -- saying it needs them to produce the fuel for a future set of civilian nuclear plants.

The West says these are years if not decades away from being built, fearing that Iran's real aim is to use its centrifuges to enrich uranium to weapons-grade -- which Tehran denies.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said last week that the West wants Iran to slash the number of centrifuges to "several hundred" from the current 20,000, of which 10,000 are operating.

"We are not even in the same ballpark," Fabius said.

- Extra time -

Under an interim deal struck in November, Iran agreed to freeze certain nuclear activities for six months in return for minor sanctions relief.

This comes to an end on July 20 but it can be renewed -- if both sides agree. Experts say such an extension is probably already under discussion.

The senior US official however denied this.

US President Barack Obama would much prefer to get a deal by July 20 in order to fend off accusations that Iran is merely buying time ahead of midterm US elections in November.

"It will be in the interest of everyone if a deal is signed in the next five weeks," Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday.

 

 

New Iran nuclear talks as time runs short

 
‎18 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎04:59:39 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) June 16, 2014 - Iran and world powers' high-stakes nuclear talks enter a critical fifth round in Vienna on Monday, with both sides still far apart on crucial issues five weeks before a deadline for a deal.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany want Tehran to scale back its nuclear activities, while Iran wants all UN and Western sanctions to be lifted.

This long hoped-for accord would be aimed at once and for all silencing fears that Tehran might develop nuclear weapons, and averting a slide into international conflict.

It also remains to be seen whether possible cooperation between Iran and the United States on the Iraq crisis will help the old foes find common ground in Vienna.

President Hassan Rouhani said Saturday that Iran would consider helping Washington if the US took action to stem a lightning offensive by Sunni militants in Iraq, but that there were still "differences" in the nuclear talks -- some of them "substantial".

Both sides caution that there is a long way to go as negotiators confront the same sticking points that have dogged diplomatic efforts for the past decade.

"There is still lots of work to do. There are glimpses of outlines of solutions on different issues but it is all very fragile," said a Western diplomat involved in the negotiations.

"On the more important issues, there haven't even been glimpses of solutions."

- Uranium enrichment -

The many thorny issues to be resolved in what would be a fiendishly complex deal include the duration of the mooted accord and the pace and timing of any sanctions relief.

Others include Iran's partially-built Arak nuclear reactor, which could give it weapons-grade plutonium, and allegations of past atomic weapons research.

But the gorilla in the room remains uranium enrichment, a process that can produce nuclear fuel but also, when highly purified, the core of an atomic bomb.

Iran wants to massively increase the number of centrifuges, saying it needs them to produce the fuel for a future fleet of civilian nuclear plants.

The West says that such facilities are years if not decades away from being built, fearing that Iran's real aim is to use the enriched uranium for a bomb -- something Tehran denies.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said last week that the West wants Iran to slash the number of centrifuges -- the machines used to enrich the metal -- to "several hundred" from the current 20,000.

"We are not even in the same ballpark," said Fabius. "Wanting hundreds of thousands of centrifuges is pointless unless you want the bomb."

- Extra time -

Under an interim deal struck in November, Iran agreed to freeze certain nuclear activities for a period of six months in return for minor sanctions relief.

This comes to an end on July 20 but it can be renewed if needed -- and if both sides agree.

Experts say such an extentions is likely already under discussion.

"The powers and Iran have been drafting documents in preparation for an eventual extension for a long time," Mark Hibbs, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told AFP.

US President Barack Obama would much prefer to get a deal by July 20 in order to fend off accusations that Iran is merely buying time ahead of midterm US elections in November.

This has been the long-standing accusation made by Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state, which refuses to rule out bombing Iran's nuclear facilities.

But Rouhani argues Tehran is "serious in the negotiations" -- and that an accord is possible this time.

"It will be in the interest of everyone if a deal is signed in the next five weeks," he said.

 

 

Iran, world powers try to salvage nuclear talks

 
‎18 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎04:59:39 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) June 14, 2014 - The United States and five other world powers will try from Monday in Vienna to salvage their troubled nuclear talks with Iran five weeks before a deadline expires.

The fiendishly complex accord they want to strike is aimed at finally resolving a standoff that for years has been threatening to escalate out of control.

In essence the deal would see Iran scale down its nuclear programme in order to ease fears it might make an atomic bomb. In return painful UN and Western sanctions would be lifted.

"All that is required is a sober appreciation of the realities faced and a serious calculation of alternatives," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in the Washington Post Friday.

But the last round of talks, the fourth, in Vienna in May between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany appeared to hit major problems.

Instead of beginning the drafting of the deal as hoped, Iran's chief negotiator said "no tangible progress" was made and Western officials spoke of "huge" gaps and a lack of "realism".

"There is still lots of work to do. There are glimpses of outlines of solutions on different issues but it is all very fragile," a Western diplomat said Friday.

"On the more important issues, there haven't even been glimpses of solutions," the envoy said, in particular uranium enrichment and the duration of the hoped-for accord.

In an effort to bridge the gaps ahead of Monday, Iranian negotiators in recent days held bilateral meetings with US and French counterparts in Geneva and with the Russians in Rome.

There was no indication of whether any progress was made in these gatherings, although Moscow's pointman Sergei Ryabkov said "important work" was done by the Iranians with the US and French.

- Different ballpark -

The "main issue" is uranium enrichment, a process which can produce nuclear fuel but also the core of an atomic bomb, the Western diplomat said Friday.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Tuesday that the West wants Iran to slash the number of centrifuges -- the machines that enrich -- to "several hundred" from the current 20,000.

Iran on the other hand wants to massively increase the number of centrifuges, saying it needs them to produce the fuel for a future fleet of civilian nuclear plants.

But the West says that such facilities are years if not decades away from being built, fearing that Iran's real aim is to enrich uranium for a bomb -- something Iran denies.

"We are not even in the same ballpark," said Fabius. "Wanting hundreds of thousands of centrifuges is pointless unless you want the bomb."

"It is my view that any deal with Iran must demand significant dismantling of Iran's nuclear infrastructure," Robert Menendez, chair of the US Senate Foreign Relations committee, said Thursday.

- Extra time -

Under an interim deal struck in November, Iran agreed to freeze certain nuclear activities for a period of six months in return for minor sanctions relief.

This period comes to an end on July 20 and Zarif said Friday he was "reasonably confident" a deal could be achieved by then. But the six-month deal is renewable if needed.

In view of the difficulties and the short amount of time left, experts believe that both sides may already be discussing such a possibility.

"I imagine those conversations have already started," Ray Takeyh, a former senior advisor on Iran at the US State Department, told AFP.

An extension, particularly of another half-year, is not necessarily easy to agree, however.

US President Barack Obama would also much prefer to get a deal by July 20 in order to fend off accusations ahead of midterm elections in November that Iran is merely buying time.

But Kelsey Davenport from the Arms Control Association believes that Washington should not shy from extending if necessary, since the alternative -- no deal -- is far worse.

Such a "failure ... would result in an unconstrained Iranian nuclear programme and possible military action," she told AFP.

 

 

N.Korea's Kim blasts weather service for 'incorrect' forecasts

 
‎18 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎04:59:39 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) June 12, 2014 - North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has censured his country's weather service for "incorrect" forecasts in a rare public dressing down of a government body in the reclusive nation, which suffers regular natural disasters.

Kim criticised the science used in observations and called for the use of modern equipment in the unusual rebuke, which came during an inspection of the Hydro-meteorological Service, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Tuesday.

"There are many incorrect forecasts as the meteorological observation has not been put on a modern and scientific basis," Kim said, urging the agency to "fundamentally" improve its work and equipment.

Accurate forecasts are needed to protect the "lives and properties" of people from disasters caused by "abnormal climatic phenomenon", he said.

Calling the weather service "very important work directly affecting the overall economic affairs", Kim also underscored the need to "modernise meteorological observation equipment at a high level", KCNA said.

It was not clear when Kim visited the agency, but public criticism of government officials during field trips by North Korean leaders is extremely rare.

Undated pictures released by KCNA showed Kim giving "field guidance" inside the weather service in the capital, some of his audience standing attentively with arms by the side.

North Korea has suffered regular chronic food shortages under the ruling Kim dynasty, with the situation exacerbated by floods, droughts and mismanagement.

In May, state media reported that North Korea was hit by its worst spring drought in more than three decades, threatening thousands of acres of staple crops.

During a famine in the mid to late-1990s, hundreds of thousands died.

 

 

Extension looms for Iran nuclear talks

 
‎18 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎04:59:39 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) June 12, 2014 - A July 20 deadline for Iran and world powers to strike a nuclear deal looks increasingly likely to be extended given the seemingly huge gap that remains between the two sides, experts say.

Though the aim is still to reach agreement by the stated deadline, officials familiar with the talks admit a delay is looking more and more possible.

"I imagine those conversations have already started," Ray Takeyh, a former senior advisor on Iran at the US State Department, told AFP.

"It seems likely given all the news about impasses and stalemates," added Takeyh, now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Mark Fitzpatrick, also formerly of the US State Department and now with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, agreed.

"I doubt that an extension is being formally discussed, because that would be to admit failure to meet the July 20 deadline," he said. "But some discussion of it must be underway informally."

Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany want to strike a lasting nuclear deal by the time a six-month interim agreement agreed in November expires on July 20.

Under this mooted deal, the powers want Iran to reduce substantially in scope its nuclear programme in order to make it all but impossible for the Islamic republic to make an atomic bomb.

In return Iran, which denies it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, wants painful Western and UN Security Council sanctions lifted.

Such an historic but fiendishly complex deal could silence once and for all threats of conflict in the Middle East, and set Iran and the West on the path to normalised relations.

After three rounds of talks in Vienna that appeared to go well, the process clearly hit the skids last month, with both sides talking of major differences.

The main sticking point, experts say, is Iran's refusal to bow to Western demands to slash its capacities to enrich uranium, a process which can produce nuclear fuel but also the fissile core of a atomic weapon.

Tehran argues that it needs these capacities to provide fuel for a future fleet of nuclear plants. Western powers counter that Tehran is years, even decades, away from having these plants, and therefore has no need to enrich uranium on such a scale.

In an effort to inject some momentum before a new round of talks next week, Iran held a series of bilateral discussions, including with US negotiators in Geneva.

It was unclear whether any breakthrough was made during these talks, although Russia's pointman Sergei Ryabkov said after meeting Iranian negotiators in Rome he was "relatively optimistic".

"As far as we can tell, the Iranian delegation has done important work with our American and French colleagues," Ryabkov told Russian news agencies.

- Mutual consent -

The possibility of an extension has always been an option. November's interim deal states that the six-month period was "renewable by mutual consent".

Mark Hibbs, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, believes that some Western officials are ready to extend -- but at a price.

"They are only willing if between now and July 20 the Iranians show that they are serious, that they will make substantial concessions and come down from hardline positions," Hibbs told AFP.

"The powers and Iran have been drafting documents in preparation for an eventual extension for a long time."

But at the same time, Hibbs said that US President Barack Obama would prefer to get a deal now -- before midterm US elections in November expected to produce a Congress "much more critical" of Iran.

Simply rolling over the six-month November interim deal is no simple matter, meanwhile, Hibbs said.

That deal included a suspension of some Iranian nuclear work and some sanctions relief. But it also involved one-off measures, such as unfreezing billions of dollars and Iran neutralising nuclear material.

In addition, extending the deadline may risk the ire of Israel and of hardliners in Washington who already see the talks as a way for Iran to buy more time and get closer to having the bomb.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is also under pressure at home to get a deal as soon as possible, although according to Siavush Randjbar-Daemi, an Iranian lecturer at Manchester University, he could sell an extension at home.

"Rouhani still commands the support of the supreme leader for the moment," he said.

Kelsey Davenport, analyst at the Arms Control Association, believes that at present it is "premature" to discuss an extension.

But she warns that neither side should flinch from doing so -- if it becomes necessary.

"Extending the talks in order to reach an agreement is a far better scenario than failure, which would result in an unconstrained Iranian nuclear programme and possible military action," she told AFP.

 

 

ICBM re-entry sub-system to receive sustainment services from Lockheed

 
‎18 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎04:59:39 PMGo to full article
King Of Prussia, Pa. (UPI) Jun 12, 2013 - Lockheed Martin will conduct sustainment services for the reentry sub-system of Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The U.S. Air Force contract carries an initial value of $109 million. Work will include repair, modification and testing of hardware and software components in the reentry system-reentry vehicle as well as related support equipment.

"This award represents an exciting new chapter in Lockheed Martin's 50-year partnership with the Air Force ICBM enterprise," said Doug Graham, vice president of ICBM and advanced programs, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. "This new contract will enable us to directly apply our specialized expertise to more effectively support this critical national mission area."

The contract has a one-year base period of performance and options for an additional four year. If all options are exercised, the total contract value would be $452 million.

Lockheed Martin said that work under the award would primarily be performed at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

 

 

Iran's diplomatic push aims to reduce nuclear mistrust

 
‎18 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎04:59:39 PMGo to full article
Tehran (AFP) June 11, 2014 - Direct meetings this week between Iran and world powers, including the US, aim to deliver what diplomats are calling a "trust mechanism" meant to ensure both sides honour a nuclear deal.

The announcement of separate talks with the United States, Russia, France and Germany -- all members of the P5+1 that is negotiating with Iran -- underscores that serious differences remain.

Current and former diplomats say the problem is a failure to overlap positions and interests, which must be reconciled by a July 20 deadline.

Iran has in the past few weeks repeatedly declared its "inalienable" right to pursue a nuclear programme for peaceful purposes, while insisting that sanctions be lifted.

By contrast, the United States and other members of the P5+1 have said almost nothing publicly, indicating only that there are significant gaps between the two negotiating teams.

While the Western powers and Iran both say they want an agreement, neither is yet willing to cede sufficient ground.

"The Iranians want a robust civil nuclear programme that would give them a rapid nuclear breakout capability and a future nuclear weapons option," a former US negotiator told AFP.

"But America wants to keep Iran as far from the nuclear weapons threshold as possible," he said, admitting to a deficit of understanding made worse by a climate of suspicion.

The solution is an agreement that neither side can later back out of, but despite the talk of a good atmosphere and constructive negotiations, a bitter divide remains at the heart of the negotiations.

- Talks enter intensive phase -

"The aim is to ensure that Iran does not get a bomb," said a Western diplomatic source based in Tehran, conceding that the talks have entered an "intensive" phase.

"They know and we know that there is a little time left. We have a lack of trust between the two sides and we have to find a mechanism to build trust. This is hard to achieve."

Talks with US officials ended in Geneva on Tuesday night, with lran's top negotiator reiterating that "divergencies" remain. Meetings with France, in Geneva, and Russia, in Rome, are scheduled to take place on Wednesday.

On Wednesday in Tehran, foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham noted the talks, saying Iran has always asked "for realism and restoration of our nuclear rights," remarking that the Islamic republic is "against any weapons of mass destruction, or proliferation."

The bilateral meetings with four of the P5+1 powers -- no meetings with Britain or China are yet planned -- aim to bridge the gap before the next round of main talks in Vienna, between June 16-20.

Gholam-Ali Khoshroo, a former deputy foreign minister and member of Iran's nuclear negotiating team between 2003-2005, agreed on the need for trust-building measures and said direct talks could iron out differences with specific P5+1 nations.

"The nearer we get to a comprehensive agreement the more we need to examine all the issues," he said, identifying the repeal of various sanctions and limits on Iran's enrichment capability as pertinent.

"During a meeting between seven countries (the P5+1 plus Iran) it is not possible to discuss precise details of all the questions."

- Concern at US midterm elections -

Another Iranian former negotiator, on condition of anonymity, was more specific, identifying US President Barack Obama's position ahead of midterm elections in November as a big concern for Tehran.

"The main problem is Obama has failed to demonstrate the necessary power and political reserves needed to solve the problem," said the ex-diplomat, noting rising pessimism about the US position.

"They know that if the problem is not resolved in July or in August or September, it is very possible with a change in Congress, that it could be harder to accept the commitments given to Tehran," he added.

The fear of a deal being signed and then going sour was likely raised in the Geneva meetings, a Western diplomat in Tehran said.

"If they have expressed worries that is a good thing," he said, noting that Iran has abided by the commitments it gave in the interim Geneva agreement which expires on July 20.

"It also shows that the (Iranian) taboo of speaking openly to the US has gone."

 

 

Iran will 'do its best' to secure nuclear deal: Rouhani

 
‎15 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎09:15:20 PMGo to full article
Geneva (AFP) June 10, 2014 - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday his country would "do its best" to secure a nuclear deal as crunch talks between Tehran and Washington on the long-running dispute dragged out.

Senior negotiators from both camps met behind closed doors for a second day of talks at Geneva's upscale Hotel President Wilson, which was sealed off to the media.

Iran's chief negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, was quoted by the ISNA news agency saying after Tuesday's session that the talks were "fruitful" but that "divergences remain and the consultations are going to continue".

He described the discussions as "intense and difficult, but they are taking place in a positive atmosphere".

The talks is part of a fresh diplomatic drive in the face of a looming July 20 deadline for a final deal between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers.

"Iran will do its best for a final deal with the P5+1," said Rouhani, a former nuclear negotiator, speaking in Turkey.

The self-declared moderate was elected president last year, succeeding hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and has launched a drive to lift the West's sanctions on his country.

"Iran is ready to sit at the negotiating table for a solution" to both the nuclear dispute and "unfair sanctions," he said.

- 'Tough choices' -

Washington warned of "tough choices" as fellow P5+1 members try to build momentum in the crunch negotiations.

The US-Iran meeting began Monday with a five-hour session. It was the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that American and Iranian negotiators have held such direct, official nuclear talks.

The two sides have met informally, notably in a secret session last year in Oman which helped coax Tehran back to the negotiating table.

They have also sat down together within the P5+1 process.

The P5+1 comprises the five permanent UN Security Council members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany.

They secured an interim deal with Iran in November after marathon talks in Geneva.

The deadline for a final accord was July 20, but several players including Iran have already said a six-month extension may be needed.

Washington and the other P5+1 states are seeking solid commitments that will ensure Iran's stated desire for a peaceful atomic energy programme is not a covert attempt to build a nuclear bomb.

For Iran, the goal is to make a leap towards ending the international sanctions, notably those imposed by the United States, that have battered its economy.

On Wednesday, Iranian negotiators are set to meet in Geneva with their French counterparts, before heading to Rome for talks with Russian officials, then hold a session in Tehran with Germany on Sunday.

"Bilateral discussions offer a much more effective platform for conducting real bargaining than the cumbersome committee-type discussions in the P5+1 framework," said Ali Vaez, senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group.

"The two major sticking points are Iran's future enrichment capacity and sanctions relief," he said.

The goal of the bilateral talks is to prepare a June 16-20 meeting between Iran and the P5+1 in Vienna, where they aim to set down details of the final deal.

The last round in Vienna in May yielded little.

- 'Fate of the world' at hand -

The stakes are high, amid warnings by US hawks against being hoodwinked by Rouhani's new approach.

That message was echoed by Yuval Steinitz, the minister of strategic affairs in Israel, Iran's archfoe and the sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state in the Middle East.

"Any international agreement that leaves Iran on the threshold of nuclear capability is worse than no agreement at all," he said Monday at the annual Herzliya Conference on Israeli security policy.

"What is now at hand is not just the fate of Israel in the Middle East but the fate of the world."

Brigadier General Itai Brun, who heads the Israeli military's research division, said Iran now appeared to be talking "in earnest" about a final deal thanks to international pressure, adding that he expected an accord this year.

Iran's negotiators, meanwhile, must answer to domestic hardliners who say the country's red lines are unbreakable.

Former nuclear negotiator turned speaker of parliament, the tough-talking Ali Larijani, said Tuesday it was crucial to protect "the rights of Iranians" as well as the "scientific achievements of the peaceful activities" of the Islamic republic's researchers.

After Monday's first day of talks, Washington said more effort was needed.

"We think we've made progress during some rounds, but as we said coming out of the last one, we hadn't seen enough made. We hadn't seen enough realism, quite frankly, on the table," said deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.

 

 

Tehran says Geneva nuclear talks with US 'constructive'

 
‎15 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎09:15:20 PMGo to full article
Geneva (AFP) June 09, 2014 - Senior Iranian and US officials held what Tehran's top negotiator dubbed "constructive" talks on Monday, as Washington warned tough choices were needed for a lasting accord on Tehran's controversial nuclear programme by a July 20 deadline.

The closed-door meeting in Geneva, due to last two days, marks a new effort to find common ground between Tehran and Washington, amid concerns that tensions between the two could damage efforts to strike deal between the Islamic republic and world powers.

As the first day of talks drew to a close, Washington acknowledged that time was running out.

"We think we've made progress during some rounds, but as we said coming out of the last one, we hadn't seen enough made. We hadn't seen enough realism, quite frankly, on the table," said deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.

"We know we don't have a lot of time left. That's why we've said diplomacy will intensify," Harf said.

"People need to make tough choices, but we are very focused on that July 20th time."

Iran's deputy foreign minister and nuclear pointman Abbas Araqchi said Monday's dialogue "took place in a positive climate and was constructive," in comments carried by Iran's ISNA news agency.

The Geneva meeting marks the first time since the 1980s that Tehran and Washington have held official, direct talks on the nuclear issue outside of the P5+1 process.

For Iran, the goal is to make a leap towards ending the international sanctions that have battered its economy.

Washington and its fellow powers are seeking solid commitments that will ensure Iran's stated desire for a peaceful atomic power programme is not a covert attempt to build a nuclear bomb.

Time is running out for Iran's negotiations with the so-called P5+1 group, which includes the five permanent UN Security Council members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany.

A deadline of July 20 has been set to turn a temporary deal struck in November in Geneva into a permanent agreement.

"If this does not happen, we'll have to resort to extending the Geneva agreement for another six months so the negotiations can continue," Iran's IRNA news agency quoted Araqchi as saying earlier Monday.

Both sides had already raised the prospect of an extension.

- 'Ball in Washington's court' -

With the last round of P5+1 talks in Vienna in May yielding little, the stakes are high.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the negotiation had "entered the deep-water zone".

"All parties need to take a flexible and practical attitude in order to seek common ground and shelve differences," she added.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Paris would hold direct talks with Iranian officials this week.

"After these discussions, there will also be discussions between the Iranians and the Russians. There may be others," he added

Iran was also expected to hold meet Russian negotiators in Rome on Wednesday and Thursday, before a P5+1 session in Vienna from June 16-20.

However, Araqchi has said the ball is in Washington's court.

"Most of the sanctions were imposed by the US, and other countries from the P5+1 group were not involved," IRNA quoted him as saying Sunday.

The US side in Geneva was led by Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Jake Sullivan, a top White House adviser -- part of a small team who spent months in secret talks in Oman that finally coaxed Iran to the negotiating table last year.

The overall P5+1 talks are chaired by the European Union, whose political director Helga Schmid took part in a session of the Iran-US meeting Monday.

After decades of hostility since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iran and the US took tentative steps towards rapprochement after the election of self-declared moderate and former nuclear negotiator Hassan Rouhani as president last June.

Rouhani called his US counterpart Barack Obama shortly after taking office, before US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

- 'Stubbornly recalcitrant'

The interim deal struck last November led the US and its partners to release $7 billion (5.1 billion euros) from frozen funds in return for a slowdown in Iran's uranium enrichment.

Cyrus Nasseri, a member of Iran's negotiating team under Rouhani between 2003 and 2005, told AFP Washington now had to drop its "stubbornly recalcitrant" outlook.

"It's all a matter of whether the US will be prepared to take the next step to accept a reasonable solution which will be win-win for both," he said.

"The US has to bite the bullet after 10 years of wrongful accusations. It has to accept Iran will at the end of day, no matter how the settlement is made, have peaceful nuclear fuel production."

The session will resume Tuesday at 9:00 am (0700 GMT), Araqchi said.

 

 

Iran says direct US talks essential for nuclear deal

 
‎15 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎09:15:20 PMGo to full article
Tehran (AFP) June 08, 2014 - Direct talks with the United States this week on Tehran's nuclear programme hold the key to bridging gaps at a "serious phase" of negotiations and sealing a deal, a top Iranian official said Sunday.

The two countries will hold their first full-scale official direct meetings in decades on Monday and Tuesday in Geneva, with the route toward an eventual lifting of sanctions expected to be the main issue.

Abbas Araqchi, a vice foreign minister who will lead the Iranian delegation, said the tete-a-tete with the United States was essential, as the negotiations are delicately poised.

The P5+1 group of permanent members of the Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany have long sought to reach a settlement over Iran's nuclear programme.

But with the last round of talks in Vienna in May yielding next to no progress, there has been concern that the P5+1 process was stalling.

The announcement on Saturday of the US-Iran meetings in Geneva came as a surprise, but appeared to confirm the need for secondary steps to close big gaps between Tehran and Washington's positions.

"We have always had bilateral discussions with the United States in the margin of the P5+1 group, but since the talks have entered a serious phase, we want to have separate consultations," Araqchi said, quoted by official IRNA news agency.

"Most of the sanctions were imposed by the US, and other countries from the P5+1 group were not involved," he added, in a telling remark about how the US stance remains Iran's main concern.

- US team known -

The US team in Geneva will be led by Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Jake Sullivan, a top White House adviser.

The two Americans were part of a small team who through months of secret talks in Oman managed to bring Iran back to the P5+1 negotiating table last year.

Araqchi welcomed Burns's presence, saying he hoped it would be "as positive during these negotiations" as previously.

A senior US administration official said Saturday that the Geneva talks would "give us a timely opportunity to exchange views in the context of the next P5+1 round in Vienna," between June 16-20.

The talks are aimed at securing a comprehensive agreement on the Islamic republic's nuclear activities, which the West suspects is aimed at developing weapons, but which Iran insists is for peaceful purposes.

After decades of hostility, Iran and the US made the first tentative steps towards rapprochement after the election of self-declared moderate Hassan Rouhani as president last June.

Rouhani called his US counterpart Barack Obama shortly after he took office, which was followed by a meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

- 'Stubbornly recalcitrant' -

An interim deal struck last November led the US and its partners to release $7 billion from frozen funds in return for a slowdown in Iran's controversial uranium enrichment.

But a long-term accord, ahead of a July 20 deadline, remains a long way off, experts say.

Cyrus Nasseri, a member of Iran's nuclear negotiating team when it was led by Rouhani between 2003 and 2005, told AFP the US role as "the main interlocutor" explained the need for direct talks, and said Washington had to drop its "stubbornly recalcitrant" outlook.

"It's all a matter of whether the US will be prepared to take the next step to accept a reasonable solution which will be win-win for both," with Iran allowed to maintain a uranium enrichment programme, he said.

"The US has to bite the bullet after 10 years of wrongful accusations. It has to accept Iran will at the end of day, no matter how the settlement is made, have peaceful nuclear fuel production."

Mehdi Mohammadi, a member of the nuclear negotiating team that preceded Zarif's, said Araqchi's negotiators were in a good position.

But he predicted that any deal will only be reached "in the 90th minute, when the talks would appear to be close to collapsing", using a football analogy.

 

 

Trident II D5 Missile Reaches 150 Successful Test Flights

 
‎15 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎09:15:20 PMGo to full article
Sunnyvale CA (SPX) Jun 05, 2014 - The US Navy's Trident II D5 Fleet Ballistic Missile, built by Lockheed Martin, has achieved 150 successful test flights, setting a new reliability record for large ballistic missiles. The Navy launched two unarmed missiles June 2 in the Atlantic Ocean from a submerged Ohio-class submarine, marking the 149th and 150th successful test flights of the missile since design completion in 1989.

The test flights were part of a demonstration and shakedown operation, which the Navy uses to certify a submarine for deployment following an overhaul. The missiles were converted into test configurations with kits containing range safety devices and flight telemetry instrumentation.

The operation included the first flight of two modernized avionics subsystems that control key missile functions during flight. The subsystems were updated under the D5 Life Extension program, which incorporates current technologies into the missile's electronics to cost-effectively prolong the service life of the reliable D5 missile design on current and next-generation submarine platforms.

"The success of this Life Extension flight is a tribute to the dedication and innovation of the entire government and industry team," said Doug White, Fleet Ballistic Missile programs vice president, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. "In partnership with Navy Strategic Systems Programs, we set the bar high to provide a credible, reliable and affordable sea-based strategic deterrent for the nation."

First deployed in 1990, the D5 missile is currently aboard U.S. Navy Ohio-class and U.K. Royal Navy Vanguard-class submarines. The three-stage, solid-propellant, inertial-guided missile can travel a nominal range of 4,000 nautical miles and carries independently targeted reentry bodies.

Lockheed Martin has been the Navy's strategic missile prime contractor since 1955. The company also performs program management and engineering services for the Royal Navy under the Polaris Sales Agreement.

 

 

EU 'deeply concerned' by threat of North Korea nuclear test

 
‎15 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎09:15:20 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) June 04, 2014 - The EU said Wednesday it was "deeply concerned" about the threat of a new nuclear test by North Korea, which has stepped up activity at one of its main test sites.

Pyongyang said earlier this year that it did not rule out a fourth nuclear test, to counter what it described as US provocations in Asia.

Satellite imagery also confirmed continued activity at North Korea's main nuclear test site of Punggye-ri that was consistent with preparations for an atomic detonation.

Construction work meanwhile continues at the light water reactor at Yongbyon, which was initially shut down in July 2007 but which Pyongyang said last year it would restart to bolster its atomic arsenal.

"The EU is deeply concerned about reports that the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) may be preparing the fourth nuclear test," EU states said in a joint statement to a meeting of the UN watchdog IAEA's board of governors in Vienna.

"All these activities clearly show that the DPRK is further developing its nuclear capabilities," the EU said in its statement, which was backed by Turkey, Norway, Ukraine and other European countries.

"This can only further increase our concerns," it added, urging Pyongyang to allow IAEA inspectors into the country again after North Korea kicked them out in 2009.

"The EU demands that DPRK abandons all its existing nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, including its uranium enrichment programme, in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner, and refrains from any further provocative actions and statements," it said.

North Korea has carried out three nuclear tests since 2006. The last, and most powerful, was in February 2013.

 

 

No indications oil-for-goods deal on table with Iran and Russia, U.S. says

 
‎15 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎09:15:20 PMGo to full article
Washington (UPI) Jun 4, 2013 - There are no indications Iran has reached a deal to swap oil for goods with the Russian government, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said.

Iran in April said it was in serious negotiations with the Russian government to swap oil for goods. In a letter sent Monday, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said sanctions on Iran's energy sector should be able to interrupt the deal.

"It is very troubling that a potential agreement with Russia could allow Iran to increase its oil exports by nearly 500,000 additional barrels per day," his letter to Secretary of State John Kerry read.

Marie Harf, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, told reporters during her regular press briefing Tuesday, however, that no such arrangement was in place.

"We have no indications that reports of an oil-for-goods deal have moved forward with Russia," she said.

Iran can export around 1 million bpd under the terms of a November arrangement that brought some relief from economic sanctions in exchange for a commitment to curb nuclear research activity.

The State Department expressed similar concerns when Iran and Russia in April discussed upgrading Iran's power plants and electrical transmission lines. Both sides already work together in the nuclear sector, with Russia supplying fuel for Iran's Bushehr nuclear facility.

Russia is under pressure from a U.S. government frustrated with the Kremlin's reaction to Ukraine's move toward the European Union, while Iran is facing its own pressure from sanctions imposed for its controversial nuclear program.

 

 

Iran efforts 'welcome step forward': UN nuclear watchdog chief

 
‎03 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎11:10:18 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) June 02, 2014 - UN atomic watchdog chief Yukiya Amano welcomed Iran's compliance with measures to lift suspicions about its nuclear programme on Monday, but cautioned that some doubt remained.

He also appealed for patience ahead of a July 20 deadline for a deal between Western powers and Iran, as the IAEA analyses data that Iran may have sought a nuclear bomb.

In a report last month, Amano revealed that Iran had so far stuck by its agreements with the IAEA and implemented all recently agreed measures, even addressing matters related to bomb-making for the first time in six years.

The so-called "possible military dimensions" (PMDs) of Iran's nuclear programme -- including the use of detonators -- have long been of concern to the international community, although Iran insists the aims of its programme are purely peaceful.

"Iran has engaged with the agency substantively, including in the clarification of issues related to the use of exploding bridge wire detonators," Amano told IAEA member states Monday.

This "has helped us to gain a better understanding of its nuclear programme," he added.

Tehran's further agreement in May to implement five new practical measures "is a further welcome step forward," he also said.

The IAEA chief warned however that IAEA analysis of information handed over by Iran -- including weapons-related information -- would take time, even as international talks with six world powers gather pace.

"I myself would like to see the speeding up of this process but these things, clarifying of issues related to PMD, require time. Rushing to assess or rushing to have everything at one time is not the right approach," Amano told journalists.

"The issues related to PMD are like a jigsaw puzzle so it is not an effective way to rush to a conclusion."

"We need to take time and analyse carefully, and we need to have a good understanding of the whole picture."

Iran and western powers -- the so-called P5+1, including the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany -- are striving to draft a potentially historic nuclear deal by July 20.

Several rounds of talks have already been held in Vienna but the latest in mid-May ended with no apparent progress on a deal.

A next round -- held separately from Iran's meetings with the IAEA -- is planned for June 16-20 in Vienna.

While welcoming Iran's cooperation with the IAEA, Amano also pointed to some lingering concern over its nuclear drive, including activities at the Parchin military base -- observed via satellite -- where Iran is suspected of conducting research for a nuclear payload.

"Since February this year, we again start to observe activities... these activities continue," Amano said Monday.

Iran has repeatedly refused the IAEA access to the facility but "we keep on insisting to have access to that particular site in Parchin, to the people and to their documents," he said.

As a result, the IAEA is "not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities."

 

 

Two Koreas in tussle over alleged defectors

 
‎03 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎11:10:18 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) June 02, 2014 - South Korea rejected North Korea's request Monday to send home all three of its citizens who were found adrift last week in a small boat across their sea border, officials said.

The boat with three North Korean men on board was spotted by a South Korean coastguard vessel on Saturday off the South's east coast and the men questioned by security officials, Seoul's unification ministry said.

In a message sent Monday through a cross-border military hotline, the North called for the immediate return of the three men and their boat, the ministry said in a statement.

In response, South Korea offered to send back one man through the border village of Panmunjom this week, saying the two other North Koreans had refused to go home in an apparent bid to defect.

"The two who refused to go back told investigators that they would defect, and our government would respect their wish," a ministry official told AFP.

South Korea has a policy of sending back North Korean fishing boats that stray across the maritime border or those rescued from sea accidents, unless they seek to defect.

Hundreds of North Koreans flee hunger and repression in their isolated communist homeland each year.

Most defectors flee to China and then a third country such as Thailand before coming to the South, but defections across the sea or land border between the two Koreas are rare.

 

 

German FM says Iran nuclear talks 'encouraging'

 
‎03 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎11:10:18 PMGo to full article
Abu Dhabi (AFP) May 31, 2014 - German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Saturday that ongoing negotiations between world powers and Iran over its disputed nuclear programme have been "encouraging".

His remarks in Abu Dhabi come ahead of a new round of talks in mid-June between Iran and the P5+1 powers of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany.

"Regardless of the general situation which makes cooperation between the US and Russia difficult in some areas at the moment, the negotiations on the Iranian issue have certainly gone further," he said.

"In recent weeks and months they were so encouraging that we maintained a chance of reaching an agreement," he added, after talks with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan.

Iran's Gulf Arab neighbours have been wary of Tehran's nuclear ambitions but have officially welcomed the ongoing talks aimed at striking a long-term compromise.

The next round of talks on resolving Western concerns will take place in Vienna on June 16-20.

Three days of such meetings two weeks ago made no "tangible progress," with a July 20 deadline for a conclusive agreement looming on the horizon and major issues still outstanding.

"Whether these negotiations can be completed within the agreed time frame cannot be said at the present time," said Steinmeier. "Anyway, there is no sign that anyone wants to go beyond that time frame."

Differences reportedly include the scope of Iran's enrichment of uranium, which if further purified could be used to trigger a nuclear explosion, and its unfinished Arak research reactor, whose by-product waste could provide an alternative route to an atomic bomb.

The differences during the last round in Vienna prevented a start being made on an early draft agreement.

Negotiators aim to nail down an exceedingly complex and lasting deal limiting Iran's atomic activities in exchange for a lifting of sanctions.

Failure could have calamitous consequences, potentially sparking conflict -- neither Israel nor the United States rules out military action -- and creating a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

 

 

S. Korea names new defence chief, national security adviser

 
‎03 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎11:10:18 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) June 01, 2014 - South Korean President Park Geun-Hye named the country's defence minister as its new national security adviser Sunday following the resignation of the aide in the aftermath of April's ferry disaster.

Kim Kwan-Jin, who has been the South's defence chief since 2010, will take up the security brief with Han Min-Koo filling Kim's vacated post, Park's spokesman said.

Han was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2010 to 2011 and had previously served as the chief representative for general-level military talks between the two Koreas.

"We believe Han -- well respected within the ranks and who has great insights in both field situations and policies -- is the right person to strengthen our national defence," Min Kyung-Wook said.

Kim's predecessor, Kim Jang-Soo, quit after a public outcry over his comments that his office was not responsible for handling the Sewol ferry accident that killed around 300 people.

The Sewol sank off the country's southwest on April 16, leaving 288 passengers -- mostly teenagers on a school trip -- dead and 16 still unaccounted for.

Park's government has faced strong criticism over botched rescue efforts and lax safety by ferry operators.

The prime minister also resigned during the fallout.

The naming of the defence chief also comes at a time of elevated tensions between the two Koreas.

The North last week warned that recent "provocative" activities by US troops at a truce village on the tense inter-Korea border could lead to a "catastrophic" military clash.

Last month, Seoul said a North Korean warship fired shells near one of its naval ships and denounced Pyongyang's denial as a "blatant lie."

 

 

N. Korea kidnap probe an attempt to divide foes: analysts

 
‎03 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎11:10:18 PMGo to full article
Tokyo (AFP) May 30, 2014 - North Korea's surprise pledge to probe Cold War kidnappings of Japanese nationals is an attempt to divide its foes that could benefit its nuclear and missile programmes if Tokyo eases sanctions in return, analysts say.

Thursday's announcement, which came after three days of talks in Stockholm, marked sudden progress on an issue that has obstructed ties between the two countries for years.

In exchange for re-opening its investigation into the whereabouts of people snatched off Japan's beaches in the 1970s and 1980s, Pyongyang has been promised a slackening of Tokyo's strictures.

Among the most significant is the possible easing of a ban on cash remittances from the thousands of ethnic Koreans living in Japan, who are loyal to the regime.

That could provide the North with much-needed hard currency for its weapons programmes, and could undermine international efforts to bring the regime to heel, said academic and activist Lee Young Hwa, a professor at Kansai University.

"Kim Jong-Un's regime has won a major compromise," he told AFP. "It has secured a way for money to flow to North Korea.

"Kim has issued an order to Chongryong (its defacto embassy in Japan) to press Korean business people to invest, which will mean cash flowing to North Korea.

"They badly want this money to maintain the regime and to fund the nuclear programme."

- Emotive issue -

Pyongyang has been under increasingly onerous international sanctions after carrying out nuclear and missile tests, with intelligence suggesting it is readying for a fourth atomic blast.

Any sanctions Japan eases will be unilateral ones imposed in addition to international ones.

Six-party talks aimed at getting the regime to abandon its programmes, involving both Koreas, Japan, the US, China and Russia, have stalled, with Washington and Seoul both declaring that Pyongyang had to show willing before they would sit down again.

North Korea's erratic behaviour has also irked Beijing -- its patron and long-time protector -- say commentators, leaving Pyongyang looking ever more isolated.

"Washington has put (North Korea) on the sidelines, so this is a gambit to try to shake up a stagnant situation that might open further opportunities," said Jeff Kingston of Temple University in Tokyo.

North Korea outraged Japan when it admitted more than a decade ago that it had kidnapped 13 of its nationals to tutor spies in Japanese language and customs.

Five abductees were allowed to return to Japan but Pyongyang insisted, without producing solid evidence, that the eight others had died.

The subject is highly charged in Japan, where there are suspicions that dozens or perhaps even hundreds of others were taken.

Emotive stories about the kidnapped individuals -- many of whom are now household names -- are never far from the pages of newspapers.

- 'Risky gamble' -

For Abe, who has declared the abduction issue "a top priority", getting the North Koreans to come clean would mark a significant victory that could buoy his store of political capital.

However, warned Toshio Miyatsuka, an expert on North Korea at Yamanashi Gakuin University, it is a risky gamble.

"The abduction issue is a hard one to resolve in a way that everyone will find satisfactory, and North Korea is an unpredictable partner," he told AFP.

"Accords are different from results. They are just standing on the starting line. A rough road lies ahead."

Aside from potential difficulties in holding Pyongyang to its promises for a "comprehensive and thorough" investigation, the end result may not be as rewarding as hoped, says Robert Dujarric at Temple University in Tokyo.

"If (Abe) gets something it will be good. But what can he get? At most a few abductees, but many are probably dead," Dujarric said.

Domestic blowback notwithstanding, engaging with North Korea at a time when the rest of the international community is looking to deepen its isolation risks irking Seoul and Washington.

While both will almost certainly cut Abe some slack, aware of how significant the issue is in Japan, they will be irritated nonetheless, said Kansai University's Lee.

"The Obama administration and South Korea will play it calm on the surface and say they understand Japan," he said, "But with the nuclear issue and missile problem, there is no way they can understand Japan's move."

However, said Dujarric, it is far from a disaster. "In the end these Japan-DPRK talks are unlikely to lead to much, so in the longer term it won't have much of an impact."

burs-hg/jom

 

 

S. Korea wary over Japan sanctions deal with N. Korea

 
‎03 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎11:10:18 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) May 30, 2014 - South Korea gave a guarded response Friday to a Japanese deal to ease sanctions against North Korea, stressing the need to maintain a united front against Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Thursday that Tokyo would relax some sanctions if North Korea delivers on a pledge to reinvestigate the cases of Japanese nationals kidnapped to train spies.

The breakthrough followed days of talks between the two sides in Sweden, and marked the most significant engagement between Pyongyang and the outside world in many months.

In a statement, South Korea's foreign ministry said Seoul appreciated the emotional pull for Tokyo of the long-standing and highly-charged kidnapping issue.

"The government, from a humanitarian standpoint, understands Japan's stance concerning the issue of Japanese abductees," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

But it also stressed that no cracks should be seen to appear in the united stance between Japan, South Korea and the United States on the need for North Korea to end its nuclear weapons programme.

"We will continue watching the Japan-North Korea consultations in this context," it said.

The sanctions Tokyo is considering easing are not of major significance, involving travel restrictions and North Korea-registered vessels entering Japanese ports for humanitarian purposes.

But the deal comes at a time when others in the international community are pushing for North Korea's economic and diplomatic isolation to be deepened rather than relaxed.

And it will do little to improve ties between Tokyo and Seoul which are already at their lowest ebb for years over a series of historic bilateral disputes.

US President Barack Obama sought to smooth things over by hosting a trilateral summit with Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-Hye in March, but relations remain distinctly frosty.

 

 

Iran cyberspies created fake news website: researchers

 
‎03 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎11:10:18 PMGo to full article
Washington (AFP) May 30, 2014 - Spies based in Iran created a bogus news organization used for espionage since 2011 against US and Israeli military targets, security researchers said.

A report released this week by iSight Partners says that more than 2,000 people are or have been targeted in the operation dubbed Newscaster, which uses a "front media outlet" called NewsOnAir.org.

The operation appears to be "carried out by Iranian actors, though there is a dearth of information implicating its ultimate sponsor," the report said. It is believed to still be ongoing.

Under the program, spies plagiarized the work of real media outlets "to legitimize their personas as journalists," the report added.

Some of the news organizations whose work was misappropriated included the Associated Press, Reuters and the BBC.

- 'Brash and complex' -

The documents from iSight called the operation "brash and complex," and the analysts found at least two legitimate identities falsified from news organizations including Fox News and Reuters.

The effort is part of a campaign that also used social media and "spear-phishing" to connect with officials and contractors in order to gain access to secret networks and steal data.

In addition to the fake news operation, the network uses its made-up personas to establish connections on Facebook and other social networks, with the aim of stealing email logins and other credentials.

"What this group lacks in technical sophistication, they make up for in brashness, creativity and patience," the iSight report said.

The length of the operation "is indicative of at least marginal success" it added.

In addition to the US and Israel, the report said that the operation may have targeted "high- and low-ranking personnel in multiple countries," including Britain, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

Specific targets included members of the US military, congressional personnel, Washington area journalists and diplomats, US and Israeli defense contractors and members of the "US/Israeli lobby."

Of particular interest to the network were people involved in nuclear non-proliferation and sanctions that could affect Tehran.

"We are aware that hackers in Iran and elsewhere often use social media to gain information or make connections with targets of interest, including US government and private entities," US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"To defend against these threats, the United States is committed to helping the public and private sector protect itself in cyberspace by sharing actionable information."

- 'Alternative approach' -

The operation suggests a stealth effort to steal data, unlike some of the more overt cyberattacks, said iSight's John Hultquist.

"In many ways, these operators have escaped the malware arms race in lieu of an alternative approach," Hultquist said in a blog post.

"Newscaster focuses on human factors and third-party platforms, weak spots for many of the most sophisticated enterprise defenses."

The report said the news site was registered in Iran and that the IP addresses used by the site also appear to be Iranian.

Other evidence, including the use of a Persian password, bolster suspicions the operation came from Iran.

"The network of personas is especially complex, including dozens of accounts with fictitious personal and professional material, many of whom claim to work for the news provider NewsOnAir.org," the report said.

The researchers said the impact is hard to assess, but warned that "successful compromises could be leveraged for diplomatic, military and other strategic advantages, and possibly even used as reconnaissance for attack."

 

 

Iran's Zarif reports progress in EU nuclear talks

 
‎03 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎11:10:18 PMGo to full article
Algiers (AFP) May 28, 2014 - Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Wednesday progress has been made in his talks with EU diplomatic chief Catherine Ashton over his country's disputed nuclear programme.

"We have made progress; we exchanged views during lengthy discussions that we have had in the last two days in Istanbul with Catherine Ashton," who represents world powers, said Zarif.

"Iran is determined to find a solution that respects the rights of the Iranian people and also clear up any misunderstandings about the sites of the Iranian nuclear programme," Zarif told reporters in Algiers.

"It's a matter of time, but also political will must be expressed to reach an agreement. I can assure you the other party has the political will to reach an agreement," he added.

Iran has consistently denied it is seeking nuclear weapons but wants an independent atomic energy programme.

Israel and lawmakers in the US Congress have repeatedly warned against lowering the pressure on the Islamic republic.

The next round of talks on resolving Western concerns will take place in Vienna on June 16-20.

Three days of meetings two weeks ago made no "tangible progress," as a July 20 deadline for a conclusive agreement looms on the horizon and major issues remain outstanding.

These reportedly include the scope of Iran's enrichment of uranium, which if further purified could be used to trigger a nuclear explosion, and its unfinished Arak research reactor, whose by-product waste could provide an alternative route to an atomic bomb.

 

 

Iran to West: resist outside pressure in nuclear talks

 
‎03 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎11:10:18 PMGo to full article
Tehran (AFP) May 27, 2014 - Iran urged western powers Tuesday to resist any pressure from third parties not directly involved in negotiations over its nuclear activities, in a clear reference to Israeli-led influence.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, quoted by the official IRNA news agency after meetings with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, also called for "seriousness and realism," in the next round of nuclear talks in Vienna next month.

After a second day of discussions with Ashton in Istanbul, Zarif said the P5+1 powers of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany should avoid "illusions which might be exerted on them by some pressure groups and people outside the negotiations."

Iran has consistently denied it is seeking nuclear weapons but wants an independent atomic energy programme. Israel and lawmakers in the US Congress have repeatedly warned against lowering the pressure on Iran.

Zarif said reaching an agreement was "completely possible" and that the Islamic republic would take part in the talks with "seriousness, accuracy and without any rush."

But he condemned as "brutal obstacles" the sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear activities, pledging their removal was "the basis of our work" in seeking a comprehensive deal that would "preserve the rights and dignity of the nation."

The next round of talks on resolving Western concerns will take place in Vienna on June 16-20, the European Union announced on Tuesday.

Three days of such meetings two weeks ago made no "tangible progress," with a July 20 deadline for a conclusive agreement looming on the horizon and major issues still outstanding.

These reportedly include the scope of Iran's enrichment of uranium, which if further purified could be used to trigger a nuclear explosion, and its unfinished Arak research reactor, whose by-product waste could provide an alternative route to an atomic bomb.

The differences during the last round in Vienna prevented a start being made on an early draft agreement.

Negotiators aim to nail down an exceedingly complex and lasting deal limiting Iran's atomic activities in exchange for a lifting of sanctions.

Failure could have calamitous consequences, potentially sparking conflict -- neither Israel nor the United States rules out military action -- and creating a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Negotiators could theoretically extend the July 20 deadline to win more time, but Presidents Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani could struggle to keep sceptical and impatient US and Iranian hardliners at bay.

Iran and the P5+1, meanwhile, will hold expert-level talks on the sidelines of the IAEA's board of governors conference in Vienna starting next Monday, the Fars news agency reported.

A spokesman for the IAEA said the "meeting would probably last for four to five days".

 

 

N. Korea says danger of 'catastrophic' clash at truce village

 
‎03 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎11:10:18 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) May 27, 2014 - North Korea on Tuesday warned that recent "provocative" activities by US troops at a truce village on the heavily fortified inter-Korean border could lead to a "catastrophic" military clash.

The warning came from the head of the North Korean forces stationed in the frontier village of Panmunjom -- where the ceasefire agreement to end fighting in the 1950-53 Korean War was signed.

Panmunjom has hosted multiple inter-Korean talks over the decades and is heavily guarded, with mostly South Korean and US troops on the southern side under the auspices of the UN Command (UNC).

The North Korean military official, who was not named, said recent activities by US troops threatened to destabilise the sensitive area.

In remarks carried by the North's official KCNA news agency, he particularly cited the construction of a steel watchtower, saying it was being used for "acts of spying" involving sophisticated surveillance equipment.

Given the military sensitivity of Panmunjom, where North and South Korean border guards stand almost eyeball-to-eyeball, the official said such activity was particularly dangerous.

"The slightest accidental mistake or undesirable behaviour could lead to a catastrophic military clash," he said.

North Korea regularly denounces the US troop presence in the South, but it is unusual for it to focus on activities in Panmunjom -- one of the few avenues of cross-border communication.

A UNC spokesman dismissed the North's concerns, saying the watchtower had been constructed for "ordinary monitoring purposes".

The North Korean official cited other "sinister" activity by US troops, including messages relayed across the border by loudspeaker and letters with "dishonest contents" that were left in huts straddling the border.

Such actions had multiplied since US President Barack Obama visited South Korea in April, he said.

During that visit, Obama called the impoverished but nuclear-armed North a weak "pariah state" that was intent on taking "a path that leads only to more isolation".

Military tensions between the two Koreas have been elevated for several months.

Last week, Seoul said a North Korean warship fired shells near one of its naval corvettes and denounced Pyongyang's denial as a "blatant lie".

Panmunjom has generally been sheltered from the volatile swings in inter-Korean relations, although it has witnessed a number of deadly incidents.

There were fears of a full-scale conflict in 1976, after a group of axe-wielding North Korean troops killed two American soldiers who were trimming a tree on the border.

 

 

Construction starts on China to North Korea bridge: Xinhua

 
‎01 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎02:28:42 PMGo to full article
Beijing (AFP) May 27, 2014 - Construction has started on a new bridge between China and North Korea, state media reported on Tuesday, as tensions simmer over the North's nuclear program.

The 804-metre long bridge spanning the Tumen river separating the two countries will cost 137 million yuan ($21.93 million), and is expected to open by 2016, China's official Xinhua news agency cited local authorities as saying.

China is North Korea's most important ally and its biggest trading partner, though analysts say it has grown increasingly impatient with its neighbour's ongoing nuclear test program.

The bridge will replace an older structure, built in 1938, which will be turned into a tourist attraction, Xinhua said. There are several other rail and road bridges linking the two countries.

Goods flowing across the border include minerals imported by China, while Beijing exports technology and luxury goods including pianos to Pyongyang.

China fears instability close to its border and is keen to avoid the collapse of North Korea's authoritarian regime. Earlier this month, Beijing defended Pyongyang against criticism voiced during a UN human rights review.

 

 

EU's Ashton, Iran FM hold talks in Istanbul

 
‎01 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎02:28:42 PMGo to full article
Istanbul (AFP) May 26, 2014 - EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met behind closed doors Monday in Istanbul to discuss the path toward a final nuclear deal, an Iranian source said.

The previously announced two-day meeting comes after fruitless talks between Iran and world powers in Vienna earlier this month when no "tangible progress" was made ahead of a July 20 deadline for a comprehensive agreement.

"The meeting has begun at Istanbul's Ciragan Palace," an Iranian diplomat told AFP on condition of anonomity.

The diplomat insisted that the future of the talks depended on the willingness of both parties. "At the moment it is not yet certain," he said.

No representatives from the P5+1 group -- the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany -- which is negotiating with Iran was at the meeting, he added.

The tete-a-tete would be followed by a dinner at the Iranian consulate, he said.

ISNA news agency, citing a source close to the Islamic republic's nuclear team, reported that Zarif was being accompanied on the trip by senior members of his nuclear negotiations team.

Speaking to the official IRNA news agency prior to his departure, the foreign minister reiterated that snags along the way to a conclusive deal "may be part of negotiation tactics," but differences should be hammered out at the table.

"We must continue the talks with patience to get results," Zarif said, suggesting "new options" or a need for measures "that would satisfy the other side" must be considered. He did not elaborate.

No further details of the discussions with Ashton in Istanbul were disclosed but the last round of talks in Vienna proved that major issues remain.

These reportedly include the scope of Iran's enrichment of uranium, which if further purified could be used to make a nuclear weapon, and its unfinished Arak research reactor, whose by-product waste could provide an alternative route to an atomic bomb.

Iranian and Western negotiators spoke of major gaps between the two sides at the Vienna talks. The differences prevented a start being made on an early draft agreement.

Iran's refusal in Vienna to include its development of ballistic missiles within a nuclear agreement also reportedly caused a rift.

But all sides have since expressed a willingness to continue the talks.

The P5+1 is seeking to curb Iran's disputed nuclear activities. International monitors suspect Tehran could be masking military objectives.

Iran -- which denies ever seeking nuclear weaponry and insists its atomic work is for purely civilian purposes -- wants an end to harsh sanctions choking its economy.

It also wants access to billions of dollars of its assets which were frozen abroad.

Zarif will head to Algeria when his talks with Ashton conclude on Tuesday.

dg-ba /boc

 

 

Two Koreas accuse each other of lying about shelling

 
‎01 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎02:28:42 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) May 23, 2014 - Seoul Friday accused North Korea of a "blatant lie" in claiming it had not fired shells near a South Korean warship and said Pyongyang had threatened to bombard its military vessels.

The North's military earlier Friday had rejected as "sheer fabrication" Seoul's assertion that it fired two shells in the vicinity of a South Korean navy vessel on patrol near the disputed Yellow Sea border the previous day.

Seoul insisted the shells fell about 150 metres (yards) off the South Korean corvette, which was not damaged but responded by firing five rounds into waters near a North Korean military vessel.

"The verified fact is that the puppet navy vessel, which intruded deeply into our waters under the pretence of controlling Chinese fishing boats, fired recklessly and lied that we had fired first. This is a sheer fabrication," the North's Western Front Command said in a statement.

The command said it was "well prepared to crush ruthlessly" any provocative acts by South Korea, vowing to turn the sea border area into "tombs" for the South's military.

The South's defence ministry dismissed the North's claim as a "blatant lie".

"North Korea's such far-fetched claims are nothing but a blatant lie ... and are subject to ridicule by the international community," ministry spokesman Kim Min-Seok said.

Seoul also denounced Pyongyang for sending messages continously through an international radio channel, threatening attacks on South Korean military vessels.

South Korean President Park Geun-Hye expressed "very strong regret" and accused Pyongyang of committing a provocation at a time when South Koreans are in grief over last month's ferry sinking, the president's office said.

The build-up to the incident started Tuesday when a South Korean naval ship fired warning shots to turn back three North Korean patrol boats that crossed the maritime border.

The North then threatened Wednesday to attack South Korean warships without warning at the slightest hint of any provocative act, claiming its boats were controlling illegal Chinese fishing north of the unmarked sea border.

'bloody clashes'

The North does not recognise the sea boundary, unilaterally drawn by the US-led United Nations at the end of the Korean War.

It was the scene of brief but bloody naval clashes in 1999, 2002 and 2009.

In March the North fired hundreds of shells near the sea boundary. About 100 shells dropped into South Korean territory, and the South responded with volleys of shells into North Korean waters.

Cross-border tensions have been high for months and both sides have upped the ante in their verbal exchanges over crashed surveillance drones recently recovered in South Korea.

Seoul said a joint investigation with US analysts had provided "smoking gun" evidence that the drones came from the North. Pyongyang flatly denied any involvement.

China, the North's only major ally, urged the two Koreas to exercise restraint and maintain "peace and stability".

In a surprise announcement Friday, the North vowed to send athletes to this year's Asian Games to be hosted by South Korea's western city of Incheon, the first time it has participated in a major sporting event there for more than a decade.

Incheon welcomed the announcement saying it would help the two Koreas boost reconciliation.

Pyongyang boycotted the 1988 Olympics in Seoul but sent athletes and cheerleaders to the 2002 Asian Games in South Korea's southern port city of Busan.

"The North's announcement will play a positive role in easing cross-border tension," Yang Moo-Jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, told AFP.

"It also reflects the North's willingness to cooperate with the South on non-military matters, although Pyongyang is expected to maintain its hardline stance about security affairs," he added.

 

 

SAIC continues support for Defense Threat Reduction Agency

 
‎01 ‎June ‎2014, ‏‎02:28:42 PMGo to full article
Mclean, Va. (UPI) May 23, 2013 - Sustainment and maintenance services for worldwide operations to reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction will continue to be provided by SAIC.

Science Applications International Corporation, which has been providing such services to the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency, said the new contract it has received is a single-award, cost-plus-fixed fee task order with a value of about $13 million. Its performance period is one year with an additional one-year option.

"SAIC's long-standing support to DTRA and DOD programs has allowed us to expand our efforts worldwide to support their CTR (Cooperative Threat Reduction) mission," said Mark Escobar, SAIC senior vice president and general manager of the DOD Agencies and Commands Customer Group. "This is a critical international mission that we are proud to be a part of alongside DTRA's team."

SAIC said it will provide sustainment support to CTR funded programs, including material acquisition, receipt, storage, movement, distribution, maintenance, evacuation, and disposition.

Types of materials to be purchased must support CTR mission objectives and can range from equipment, re-agents, supplies and consumables to transportation vehicles. The company also will perform maintenance support. That support will include facilities and infrastructure maintenance, operation and disposition, and infrastructure repairs.

 

 

Iran addresses nuclear bomb allegations for first time: IAEA

 
‎30 ‎May ‎2014, ‏‎05:28:19 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) May 23, 2014 - Iran has for the first time in six years addressed concerns about the so-called "possible military dimensions" of its nuclear programme, a new IAEA report showed Friday.

Tehran handed over information related to detonators that can be used for several purposes but also for a nuclear weapon under a key November interim nuclear deal, the quarterly report, seen by AFP, showed.

In technical meetings with the UN atomic watchdog in late April and earlier this week in Iran, Tehran provided "information and explanations, including showing documents, to substantiate its stated need and application of EBW (Explosive Bridge Wire detonators)," the report by IAEA director-general Yukiya Amano for member states said.

"Iran showed information to the agency that simultaneous firing of EBW was tested for a civilian application," it went on.

"This is the first time that Iran has engaged in a technical exchange with the agency on this or any other of the outstanding issues related to possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme since 2008."

The EBW issue was part of seven "practical measures" that Iran agreed with world powers under a November interim deal and due to be fulfilled by May 15.

All have been implemented, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in its report, indicating that Iran was sticking to its commitments.

Tehran agreed in November with the so-called P5+1 powers -- the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany -- to roll back its nuclear programme to make it virtually impossible to make an atomic bomb in exchange for some relief from biting international sanctions.

The "possible military dimensions" of its nuclear programme have been of concern to the international community for years.

In November 2011, the IAEA reported it had intelligence that Iran had until 2003 and possibly since then conducted research into developing nuclear weapons.

Iran on the other hand insists its nuclear programme is merely for peaceful, civilian purposes.

- Uranium stockpile being converted -

Under the November deal, Iran also agreed to convert and dilute its entire stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, making it more difficult to quickly produce the weapons-grade material needed for a bomb.

Of this stockpile, 38.4 kilogrammes of 20-percent enriched uranium was still awaiting conversion -- down from 160.6 kg in February -- the report said.

Iran has until July 20 to complete this work.

The enrichment programme otherwise remains frozen, with no uranium enriched to levels above five-percent and no new centrifuges installed at its enrichment facilities, the IAEA found.

Enriched uranium can be used to make nuclear fuel but also to make the core of an atomic bomb.

A senior official close to the Iran dossier said Friday that it was "still too early" to say if the latest information provided by Iran -- including on the detonators -- was credible, but welcomed the atmosphere during discussions between the UN agency and its member state.

"We have a lot of new information, which is a good thing... the engagement and cooperation has been improving all the time. In that respect that's a positive developement and a positive step forward."

For Kelsey Davenport of the Arms Control Association, the IAEA report showed "that Tehran is fulfilling its obligations and willing to be more transparent about its nuclear activities."

The report comes a week after a fourth round of talks between Iran and the P5+1 in Vienna, which ended with no apparent progress towards a comprehensive deal over Tehran's nuclear programme.

Failure to reach a deal by July 20 could spark a conflict -- neither Israel nor the US have ruled out taking military action -- and set the stage for a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani insisted on Thursday however that a timely deal by the end of July was "very likely."

 

 

Iran nuclear deal 'very likely' by July deadline: Rouhani

 
‎30 ‎May ‎2014, ‏‎05:28:19 PMGo to full article
Shanghai (AFP) May 22, 2014 - Talks between Iran and six world powers on a comprehensive deal over its nuclear programme are "very likely" to reach a successful conclusion by a July 20 deadline, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Thursday.

"The signs that we have been receiving in the last few days are telling us we are very likely to come to an agreement by the end of July," Rouhani told reporters in Shanghai, speaking through a translator. "We can achieve this."

Iran insists its nuclear technology activities are aimed at civilian use, while Western powers suspect its drive masks military objectives.

Rouhani's comments came after an apparently largely fruitless fourth round of negotiations in Vienna last week.

But the UN atomic watchdog said Wednesday that Iran has agreed to address some of the many long-held allegations that it conducted research into making nuclear weapons before 2003 and possibly since.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said that Iran, which denies ever having sought nuclear weapons, has undertaken to implement "practical measures" by a separate deadline of August 25.

"It takes time" to resolve outstanding issues, Rouhani said a day after attending an Asian security forum in China's commercial hub of Shanghai.

"We cannot expect it to be resolved in a few meetings."

He did not specify problems in the talks with the five United Nations (UN) Security Council permanent members plus Germany -- known as the P5+1 group.

But he said outstanding issues had been a "matter of contention for years", suggesting they involved Iran's nuclear programme.

According to media reports, among those gaps are the scope of Iran's enrichment of uranium, which if further purified could be used to trigger a nuclear explosion, and its unfinished Arak research reactor, whose by-product waste could provide an alternative route to an atomic bomb.

Rouhani criticised unnamed countries for acting slowly and creating obstacles in the nuclear talks.

"There are certain countries behind the scenes that want to create problems. If they are not given a chance to sabotage talks, then we have enough time to achieve the ultimate success," he said.

But he also said the July 20 deadline could be extended if agreement could not be reached in time.

"Let's say we don't come to an agreement by that deadline, we can extend that interim agreement by another six months," he said.

Rouhani met Chinese President Xi Jinping for bilateral talks on Thursday. China is party to the nuclear talks as a permanent UN Security Council member.

 

 

New N. Korea complex for possible ICBM launch: US think-tank

 
‎30 ‎May ‎2014, ‏‎05:28:19 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) May 21, 2014 - North Korea is building a new complex at its main rocket launch site, possibly for training and launches of road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles, a US think-tank said.

Satellite imagery from May 10 suggests the North is conducting a number of important construction projects at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station on its western coast, the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said Tuesday.

"One working hypothesis is that the North is building a new complex to conduct future training and launches for mobile missiles such as the KN-08 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)", it said on its website, 38 North.

"Moreover, that hypothesis is consistent with ongoing KN-08 engine tests being conducted (at) Sohae's rocket engine test stand, where a probable KN-08 first stage is currently seen on the stand, possibly left there after early April 2014 tests or for use in the future".

Three KN-08 rocket engine test series have been identified for the first and possibly second stages dating back to mid-2013, the institute said early this month, adding the next technically logical step would be a flight test of the entire system.

North Korea successfully put a satellite into orbit in December 2012 on a rocket -- the Unha 3 -- that Pyongyang said was designed for purely scientific missions.

The international community said the launch was a disguised ballistic missile test and the UN Security Council tightened existing sanctions as a result.

The May 10 imagery also indicates that Pyongyang's effort to upgrade the existing Sohae launch pad to handle space launch vehicles larger than the Unha-3 is continuing but work has slowed, possibly due to the greater priority placed on these new construction projects.

"As a result, North Korea will be unable to conduct SLV (space launch vehicle) tests from this site until at least mid to late summer 2014 when work should be completed", it said.

The successful 2012 satellite launch caused serious concern, but experts stressed that it lacked the re-entry technology needed to bring an ICBM down onto a target.

Full-scale models of the road-mobile KN-08 missile were given pride of place in North Korean military parades in 2012 and in July last year.

But several experts ridiculed the models, with at least one respected aerospace engineer labelling them technically preposterous and a "big hoax".

The North is developing a working ICBM as a national priority and a successful test of such a missile would take the nuclear threat posed by Pyongyang to an entirely new level.

The institute said last week that despite fears to the contrary, satellite imagery suggests North Korea is not preparing an imminent nuclear test.

Imagery dated May 9 does show high levels of activity at the Punggye-ri test site, but most of it seems to be of a mundane, routine nature that would not be consistent with an impending test, it said last week.

 

 

N. Korea fires shells near S. Korea warship

 
‎23 ‎May ‎2014, ‏‎02:46:57 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) May 22, 2014 - North Korea on Thursday fired shells into waters near a South Korean warship on patrol south of the disputed Yellow Sea border, prompting an evacuation of residents on a nearby island, officials said.

Two shells fell near the South Korean ship, which was sailing near the frontline island of Yeonpyeong, the South's defence ministry said.

Residents on the island were advised to move to civilian shelters and nearby fishing boats were told to return to port.

North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong in November 2010, killing four South Koreans, briefly triggering concerns of a full-scale conflict.

"North Korea fired shells which fell near our ship, but it did not cause any damage to our ship," a ministry spokesman told AFP.

The North's move prompted a response from the South Korean vessel which fired several rounds into waters near a North Korean vessel, he said.

The exchange of fire sparked a tense confrontation between warships from the two sides, but there was no additional provocation from North Korea, the spokesman said.

"The situation is now stable but we are closely watching the movement of North Korean troops," another ministry official said.

There were no reports of casualties or damage on the island from authorities, the Yonhap news agency said.

The incident came ahead of a Friday visit to Seoul by the European Union's foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, and the EU confirmed that talks would include "security cooperation, non-proliferation and recent developments in our respective neighbourhoods including the DPRK (North Korea)."

Ashton will meet President Park Geun-hye and Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se in the South Korean capital.

The North's military had threatened Wednesday to attack South Korean warships "without any warning" if there was even a "trifle" violation of the maritime border, after a South Korean naval ship fired warning shots to stop an incursion by three North Korean patrol boats across the sea.

The South's navy urged the North to stop "absurd threats" and warned: "We will mercilessly punish any provocative actions by North Korea."

The North does not recognise the Yellow Sea border, the scene of brief but bloody naval clashes in 1999, 2002 and 2009.

In March the North fired hundreds of shells in a live exercise near the sea boundary. About 100 shells dropped into South Korean territorial waters, and the South responded with volleys of shells into North Korean waters.

Cross-border tension has been high for months, amid signs that the North may be preparing to conduct a fourth nuclear test.

This month the two Koreas have upped the ante in their verbal exchanges over crashed surveillance drones recovered on the South Korean side of the border.

Seoul said a joint investigation with US analysts had provided "smoking gun" evidence that the drones came from the North. Pyongyang flatly denied any involvement.

 

 

IAEA, Iran make progress on nuclear bomb probe

 
‎23 ‎May ‎2014, ‏‎02:46:57 PMGo to full article
Vienna (AFP) May 21, 2014 - Iran has agreed to address some of the many long-held allegations that it conducted research into making nuclear weapons before 2003 and possibly since, the UN atomic watchdog said Wednesday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said that Iran, which denies ever having sought nuclear weapons, has undertaken to implement five new "practical measures" by August 25.

These included two steps related to what the IAEA calls the "possible military dimensions" (PMD) of Iran's nuclear programme -- in other words efforts to design a nuclear bomb.

The announcement comes after an apparently largely fruitless fourth round of talks between Iran and six world powers in Vienna last week towards a comprehensive deal over Tehran's nuclear programme by a July 20 deadline.

One of the key elements in this sought-after deal would be Iran addressing the PMD allegations, which the IAEA set out in a major report in November 2011 and which it has been pressing Iran to answer ever since.

That report said that the evidence it has been given, which the IAEA judges to be "overall, credible", indicated that Iran "carried out activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device."

Iran says that the trove of evidence presented by the IAEA on these activities, which the Vienna agency believes took place before 2003 and possibly since, is based on faulty intelligence provided by the CIA and Israel's Mossad.

The first new PMD step is "exchanging information" with the IAEA on allegations related to the initiation of high explosives, "including the conduct of large-scale high explosives experimentation in Iran", the IAEA said Wednesday.

The second is Iran providing "mutually agreed relevant information and explanations related to studies made and/or papers published in Iran in relation to neutron transport and associated modelling and calculations and their alleged application to compressed materials".

The 2011 IAEA report said that it was "unclear" how the application of such modelling studies could be used for "anything other than a nuclear explosive" and that it was "essential" that Iran provide an explanation.

- Uranium enrichment -

Two other steps announced on Wednesday concern Iran's current nuclear programme, in particular with regard to uranium enrichment, which can provide fuel for nuclear reactors but also the fissile core of a nuclear weapon.

In their mooted nuclear deal with Iran, the six powers want Tehran to reduce drastically its uranium enrichment activities, something which the Islamic republic is loath to do.

Iran has pledged to arranging an IAEA visit to a centre conducting research into new types of centrifuges which could enrich uranium at a much faster rate, and access to a facility making centrifuge parts, the IAEA said.

The final step involves giving the IAEA greater oversight on Iran's new Arak reactor, which Western countries fear could provide Tehran with weapons-grade plutonium once it is operational.

It remained unclear however whether seven other steps agreed in February between Iran and the IAEA had been completed by a May 15 deadline, with the IAEA saying only that "good progress" had been made.

These seven steps included one related to the possible military dimensions probe -- Iran's stated need for a type of detonator that can be used in a nuclear weapon but which also has other uses.

"Given that the Iranians apparently missed the May 15 deadline for addressing the detonator issue, they had to do something to try to regain moral high ground," said Mark Fitzpatrick, analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

"But we needn't be too cynical; more transparency is to be welcomed," Fitzpatrick told AFP.

 

 

S. Korea fires warning shots after N. Korean incursion

 
‎23 ‎May ‎2014, ‏‎02:46:57 PMGo to full article
Seoul (AFP) May 20, 2014 - A South Korean naval ship fired warning shots Tuesday after three North Korean patrol boats crossed over the disputed maritime border in the Yellow Sea, military officials said.

The North Korean boats, which normally serve to keep fishing boats on the right side of the boundary, crossed into South Korean waters at 0700 GMT, the South's joint chiefs of staff said.

The incursion prompted a South Korean naval ship to fire 10 warning rounds, after which the North Korean vessels retreated to the North side of the border, it said.

Yonhap news agency said the North Korean boats might have been chasing some Chinese boats fishing illegally in the area.

It is not uncommon for North Korean patrol boats and fishing boats to cross the unmarked sea border into the South.

Two North Korean patrol boats violated the sea border last month, just before US President Barack Obama arrived in Seoul for a two-day visit.

The North does not officially recognise the Yellow Sea boundary, the scene of brief but bloody naval clashes in 1999, 2002 and 2009.

The Korean conflict ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty and technically the two Koreas are still at war.

In March, North Korea fired hundreds of shells in a live exercise near the sea boundary. About 100 shells dropped into South Korean territorial waters, and South Korea responded with volleys of shells into North Korean waters.