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N.Korea says in last stage of enriching uranium

N Korea (Kim Jong Il)

N.Korea says in last stage of enriching uranium

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SEOUL  – North Korea said on Friday it was closer to a second way of making nuclear weapons, a move analysts saw as a new tactic to put pressure on the international community after a month of conciliatory gestures.

The chief U.S. envoy for the North, Stephen Bosworth, said the enrichment claim was “of concern”, while Russia described the announcement as “very alarming”.

Bosworth was in Beijing on a trip to Asia to discuss ways to bring Pyongyang back to long-stalled negotiations on giving up its nuclear ambitions.

“Experimental uranium enrichment has successfully been conducted to enter into completion phase,” the North’s KCNA news agency quoted its United Nations delegation as saying in a letter to the head of the U.N. Security Council (UNSC).

The United States has long suspected the North of having a secret programme to enrich uranium for weapons. Experts have said it has not developed anything near a full-scale uranium programme while it has enough plutonium for six to eight bombs.

“I think for all of us, it reconfirms the necessity to maintain a coordinated position on the need for complete, verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula,” Bosworth said, after meetings with Chinese officials.

The North said its latest steps were in response to tighter sanctions.

“These reports cannot but provoke concern,” Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted an unidentified Foreign Ministry official as saying

“A very alarming precedent is being created by such an open and demonstrative disdain for resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.”

At the United Nations, the mission of the United States, which currently holds the Security Council presidency, said it had received the North Korean letter and circulated it to the other 14 members of the council.

U.N. sanctions have hurt the impoverished North’s arms trade, one of its few significant exports, and analysts said it may be angered its latest attempts at conciliation with the outside world have been largely rebuffed.

The United States has refused to ease up on the sanctions, and sent its point man for their enforcement to Asia last month to build support.

“Now they (North Korea) are taking the road that they know will drive a response out of all countries — the military way — and leaving them to decide what to do,” said Cho Myung-chul, an expert on the North at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy.

North Korea added that reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel rods was at its final phase and extracted plutonium was being weaponised.

“We are prepared for both dialogue and sanctions. If some permanent members of the UNSC wish to put sanctions first before dialogue, we would respond with bolstering our nuclear deterrence first before we meet them in a dialogue.”

In another move that serves as a reminder of the tension on the divided peninsula, a North Korean patrol vessel crossed briefly into the South’s waters on Friday but returned without incident, the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

“They are taking a mixed strategy, which I would call the sweet and sour approach. This keeps their adversaries guessing and it makes it more difficult to formulate policy,” said Peter Beck, research fellow at Stanford University and a specialist on Korean affairs.

Market players, used to North Korea blowing hot and cold, said the latest rumblings had little impact on early trading.

Pyongyang laid the blame squarely on the U.N. Security Council for imposing sanctions over its rocket launch in April and ignoring one by South Korea late last month.

“Had the UNSC, from the very beginning, not made an issue of the DPRK’s (North Korea’s) peaceful satellite launch in the same way as it kept silent over the satellite launch conducted by South Korea on August 25, 2009, it would not have compelled the DPRK to take strong counteraction such as its 2nd nuclear test.

Pyongyang said its launch was to put a communications satellite into space. Others said it was to test a ballistic missile with the potential to hit U.S. territory.

The North has already tested two plutonium-based nuclear devices, the one in May triggering tightened international sanctions.

It reiterated on Friday its opposition to six-country talks over its nuclear weapons programme, talks it walked away from last December. The talks among the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the United States offered Pyongyang massive aid and an end to isolation if it gives up efforts to build an atomic arsenal.

North Korea in the past month released two U.S. journalists, a South Korean worker and fishermen it had held in separate incidents. It ended border restrictions it placed on the South and sought to resume frozen business projects with its neighbour.

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Netanyahu says Israel-U.S. ties still steadfast

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Netanyahu says Israel-U.S. ties still steadfast

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu played down sharp differences with the United States over Jewish settlements on Sunday before the arrival of two senior U.S. officials.

“It is only natural, that within a fabric of friendly relations between allies, there isn’t full agreement on all points,” Netanyahu said.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s Middle East envoy, former senator George Mitchell, will try in talks with Israeli leaders to end the most serious rift between Israel and its main ally in a decade. Mitchell was due to meet Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak later in the day, see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday and hold discussions with Netanyahu on Tuesday.

U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates also plans talks in Israel. He was due to meet Netanyahu and Barak on Monday to discuss missile defence, Iran’s nuclear ambitions and bilateral security issues, a senior U.S. defence official said.

“This relationship is important and steadfast,” Netanyahu, who has refused to meet Obama’s demand to freeze settlements in the occupied West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem, told his cabinet about U.S.-Israeli ties.

“We are trying to reach understandings on various issues so that we can, together, advance our common goals: peace, security and prosperity for all of the Middle East.”

Mitchell and Barak have attempted in a series of meetings over the past several weeks in New York and London to forge a compromise on settlement expansion, an issue at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

PEACE TALKS

Palestinian leaders have said peace talks with Israel, frozen for the past six months, cannot resume unless all settlement activity ceases. Barak has raised the possibility of halting construction in settlements while allowing building projects already under way to continue, as part of a deal under which Arab countries would take initial steps to normalise relations with Israel.

Netanyahu has pledged not to build new settlements or expropriate additional territory in the West Bank, where Palestinians hope to build a state. But he has said construction in settlements to accommodate the “natural growth” of their populations must continue. Palestinians say they fear settlements, deemed illegal by the World Court, could deny them a viable and contiguous state.

In another sign of tensions between Netanyahu’s right-leaning government and the Obama administration, the Israeli leader has also rejected U.S. pressure to halt the planned construction of 20 new homes for Jews in East Jerusalem.

Israel captured East Jerusalem, where 200,000 Israelis and 270,000 Palestinians now live, in a 1967 war and annexed it in a move that has not won international recognition. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future Palestine.

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Biden: Israel has right to deal with nuclear Iran

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U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden in Baghdad July 3, 2009.

Biden: Israel has right to deal with nuclear Iran

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Israel has a sovereign right to decide what is in its best interest in dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions whether the United States agrees or not, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said in an interview on Sunday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has signaled that he agrees with U.S. President Barack Obama’s end-of-the-year deadline for progress in efforts to engage Iran diplomatically to resolve dispute over its nuclear program.

In an interview on ABC’s “This Week” program, Biden said Israel can determine for itself how best to deal with the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

“We cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination, if they make a determination, that they’re existentially threatened,” Biden said.

Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, said neither the United States or Israel could allow Iran to gain a nuclear weapon.

“The U.S., like Israel … has determined unequivocally that Iran must not have nuclear military capability,” Ayalon told Israel’s Army Radio.

“A military operation in Iran is something difficult and complex and perhaps would have severe consequences and there could be serious damage, but this is much less dangerous and complicated than to allow a nuclear Iran,” he said.

THREAT

Netanyahu, who took office in March, has said Israel cannot allow Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons and has not ruled out a possible military strike against Iran.

Israel has said a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to its existence, noting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s calls for Israel to be wiped off the map. Iran denies it is enriching uranium for military purposes, saying its nuclear development is aimed at generating electricity.

Israel bombed a site in Syria in 2007 that U.S. intelligence officials said was a nearly completed nuclear reactor being built with North Korean help. In 1981, Israel bombed an Iraqi nuclear reactor.

“If the Netanyahu government decides to take a course of action different than the one being pursued now, that is their sovereign right to do that. That is not our choice,” Biden said. “But there is no pressure from any nation that’s going to alter our behavior as to how to proceed.”

Similarly, Israel said it had never asked for Washington’s permission for operations or strategic policy.

“Of course, as allies we coordinate things and we make joint assessments but there should be no confusion, we do what is right and good for us according to our own estimates,” Ayalon said.

The U.N. Security Council has imposed three sets of sanctions on Tehran for defying its demand to suspend uranium enrichment, which could also be used to produce nuclear weapons.

The United States has joined Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain in inviting Iran to talks to resolve the nuclear dispute.

Israel’s Mossad intelligence chief Meir Dagan said last month a world embargo had altered the course of Tehran’s nuclear program since 2003, but that Iran could have an atomic weapon by 2014 unless these steps were intensified.

(Additional reporting by Ori Lewis in Jerusalem)

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