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North Korea’s Kim threatens to expand nuclear program, citing ‘hostile’ U.S. policy

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un threatened to expand his nuclear arsenal and develop more sophisticated atomic weapons systems, saying the fate of relations with the United States depends on whether it abandons its hostile policy, state media reported Saturday.

Kim’s comments made Friday during a key meeting of the ruling party were seen as an effort to apply pressure on the incoming government of U.S. president-elect Joe Biden, who has called Kim a “thug” and has criticized his nuclear summitry with President Donald Trump.

The Korean Central News Agency said Saturday that Kim says the “key to establishing new relations between [North Korea] and the United States is whether the United States withdraws its hostile policy” from North Korea.

Kim says he won’t use his nukes unless “hostile forces” intend to use their nuclear weapons against North Korea first. But he says North Korea must further strengthen its military and nuclear capability as the danger of a U.S. invasion of North Korea increases.

Kim ordered officials to develop missiles with multiple warheads, underwater-launched nuclear missiles, spy satellites and nuclear-powered submarines.


A North Korean navy truck carries the a submarine-launched ballistic missile during a military parade in Pyongyang in April 2017. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

He said North Korea must also advance the precision attack capability on targets in the 15,000 kilometre-striking range, an apparent reference to the U.S. mainland, and develop the technology to manufacture smaller, lighter nuclear warheads to be mounted on long-range missiles more easily.

“Nothing would be more foolish and dangerous than not strengthening our might tirelessly and having an easygoing attitude at a time when we clearly see the enemy’s state-of-the-art weapons are being increased more than ever,” Kim said. “The reality is that we can achieve peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula when we constantly build up our national defence and suppress U.S. military threats.”

It’s unclear if North Korea is capable of developing such modern weapons systems. It is one of the world’s most cloistered countries, and estimates on the exact status of its nuclear and missile programs vary widely.

Kim’s comments came during the North’s ruling party congress that was convened for the first time in five years.


In this photo provided by the North Korean government, a ruling party congress is held in Pyongyang on Tuesday. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

It’s the Workers Party’s top decision-making body, and it is being held as Kim faces what appears to be the toughest moment of his nine-year rule due to the so-called triple blow to his already-fragile economy — pandemic-related border closings that have sharply reduced the North’s external trade, a spate of natural disasters last summer and U.S.-led sanctions.

During his opening-day speech at the congress, Kim called these difficulties the “worst-ever” and “unprecedented.” He also admitted his previous economic plans had failed and vowed to adopt a new five-year development plan.

Fractured diplomacy with Trump

Kim’s high-stakes nuclear diplomacy with President Donald Trump has remained stalled for nearly two years because of disputes over U.S.-led sanctions on the North.

When Kim abruptly entered talks with the U.S., he expressed his intent to negotiate not advancing nuclear arsenals in return for economic and political benefits. But as long as the diplomatic impasse prolongs, he’s openly pledged to expand the nuclear program that he calls a “powerful treasured sword” that can cope with U.S. hostility.

Some foreign experts say Kim from the beginning hadn’t any intention of fully relinquishing his bomb program and only attempted to use diplomacy with Trump as a way to weaken the sanctions and buy time to perfect his nuclear program.

WATCH | Biden says Trump’s approach to Kim like having a ‘good relationship with Hitler’:

The Democratic candidate criticized the president’s foreign policy approach to Kim Jong-un. 0:32

Months before his diplomacy with Trump began, Kim claimed to have acquired the ability to attack the American mainland with nuclear missiles following a torrid run of weapons tests in 2016-17.

But that run invited new rounds of crippling U.S.-led sanctions that impose a ban on key exports such as coal, seafood and textiles and a significant curtailing of oil imports. Kim’s state media have said those sanctions are “strangling and stifling our country” and are proof of U.S. hostility.

South Korea’s spy agency said Kim is worried about Biden who is unlikely to hold any direct meetings with him unless North Korea takes serious steps toward denuclearization.

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Iranian scientist tied to nuclear program has been killed, state TV says

An Iranian scientist who Israel alleged led the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program until its disbanding in the early 2000s was killed in a targeted attack that saw gunmen use explosives and machine gun fire Friday, state television said.

Iran’s foreign minister alleged the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh bore “serious indications” of an Israeli role, but did not elaborate. Israel declined to immediately comment, though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once called out Fakhrizadeh in a news conference saying: “Remember that name.”

Israel has long been suspected of carrying out a series of targeted killings of Iranian nuclear scientists nearly a decade ago.

The killing risked further raising tensions across the Mideast, as just a year ago Iran and the U.S. stood on the brink of war. It comes just as U.S. president-elect Joe Biden stands poised to be inaugurated in January and likely complicates his efforts to return America to the Iran nuclear deal aimed at ensuring the country does not have enough highly enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon.

That deal, which saw Iran limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions, has entirely unraveled after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord in 2018.


Prominent Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh is seen an undated photo. (WANA/reuters)

A U.S. official confirmed earlier this month to Reuters that Trump had asked military aides for a plan for a possible strike on Iran. Trump decided against it at the time because of the risk that it could provoke a wider Middle East conflict.

On Friday, Trump retweeted a posting from Israeli journalist Yossi Melman, an expert on the Israeli Mossad intelligence service, about the killing. Melman’s tweet called the killing a “major psychological and professional blow for Iran.”

State TV said Fakhrizadeh was attacked by “armed terrorist elements.” He died at a local hospital after doctors and paramedics tried and failed to revive him.

The semi-official Fars News Agency, believed to be close to the country’s Revolutionary Guard, said the attack happened in Absard, a small city just east of the capital, Tehran. It said witnesses heard the sound of an explosion and then machine-gun fire. The attack targeted a car that Fakhrizadeh was in, the agency said.

Those wounded, including Fakhrizadeh’s bodyguards, were later taken to a local hospital, the agency said.

State television on its website later published a photograph of security forces blocking off the road. Photos and video shared online showed a Nissan sedan with bullet holes through the windshield and blood pooled on the road.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. However, Iranian media all noted the interest that Netanyahu had previously shown in Fakhrizadeh.

Hossein Salami, chief commander of the paramilitary Guard, appeared to acknowledge the attack on Fakhrizadeh.

“Assassinating nuclear scientists is the most violent confrontation to prevent us from reaching modern science,” Salami tweeted.


This photo released by the semi-official Fars News Agency shows another look at the scene where Fakhrizadeh was killed in Absard Friday. (Fars New Agency/The Associated Press)

Hossein Dehghan, an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader and a presidential candidate in Iran’s 2021 election, issued a warning on Twitter.

“In the last days of their gambling ally’s political life, the Zionists seek to intensify and increase pressure on Iran to wage a full-blown war,” Dehghan wrote, appearing to refer to Trump. “We will descend like lightning on the killers of this oppressed martyr and we will make them regret their actions!”

There was silence from foreign capitals; Israel declined to comment, as did the White House, the Pentagon, the U.S. State Department and CIA. Biden’s transition team also declined to comment.

Not the first targeted killing this year

Fakhrizadeh led Iran’s so-called “Amad,” or “Hope” program. Israel and the West have alleged it was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon in Iran. Tehran long has maintained its nuclear program is peaceful.

The International Atomic Energy Agency says that the “Amad” program ended in the early 2000s. IAEA inspectors now monitor Iranian nuclear sites as part of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The head of the UN atomic watchdog agency earlier this month confirmed reports that Iran has begun operating centrifuges installed underground at its Natanz facility. Iran has also been continuing to enrich uranium since Trump’s decision to pull America out of the multilateral deal, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.


This photo released Nov. 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran/The Associated Press)

The killing comes just days before the 10-year anniversary of the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari, which Tehran also blamed on Israel. Those targeted killings came alongside the so-called Stuxnet virus, believed to be an Israeli and American creation, that destroyed Iranian centrifuges

It is also not the first targeted killing connected to Iran this year. Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, accused of helping to mastermind the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, was killed in Iran in August by Israeli operatives acting at the behest of the United States, the New York Times reported earlier this month, citing intelligence officials.

It was unclear what, if any, role the United States had in the killing of the Egyptian-born militant, the Times said. U.S. authorities had been tracking Abdullah and other al-Qaeda operatives in Iran for years, the newspaper said.

In January, prominent Revolutionary Guard general Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, were among seven killed in a drone strike in Baghdad.

The UN’s human rights expert issued a report calling the drone strike a “watershed” event in the use of drones and amounted to a violation of international law.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed that report, stating the operation was in “response to an escalating series of armed attacks in preceding months by the Islamic Republic of Iran and militias it supports on U.S. forces and interests in the Middle East region.”

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North Korea begins key meeting before deadline in nuclear negotiations with U.S.

North Korea has opened a high-profile political conference to discuss how to overcome “harsh trials and difficulties,” state media reported Sunday, days before a year-end deadline set by Pyongyang for Washington to make concessions in nuclear negotiations.

The ruling Workers’ Party meeting is a focus of keen attention as some observers predict North Korea might use the conference to announce it would abandon faltering diplomacy with the U.S. and lift its moratorium on major weapons test.

The Korean Central News Agency reported that leader Kim Jong Un presided over a plenary meeting of the party’s Central Committee convened in Pyongyang on Saturday. It called the gathering the “first-day session,” suggesting it would continue for at least another day.

The meeting is intended to “overcome the manifold and harsh trials and difficulties and further accelerate the development of the revolution with transparent anti-imperialist independent stand and firm will,” KCNA said.

The meeting will also discuss “important matters” in the party and national defence, KCNA said.

KCNA said Kim made a speech on overall state affairs and the work of the Central Committee, but gave no further details.

In April 2018, at the start of nuclear talks with the U.S., North Korea held the same Workers’ Party meeting and announced it would suspend nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and shift its national focus to developing the economy.

Diplomacy breakdown would be blow to Trump

After his second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in February in Vietnam failed, Kim gave the U.S. until the end of this year to offer new initiatives to salvage the nuclear negotiations. North Korea has recently warned that its resumption of tests of long-range missiles and nuclear devices depends on U.S. action.

Restarting nuclear and ICBM tests would be a blow to Trump, who has boasted that North Korea’s moratorium was a major foreign policy win. But that would also likely completely derail diplomacy with the U.S. and further dim the prospect for North Korea to get badly needed sanctions relief to rebuild its troubled economy, some experts said.

North Korea is pushing to win major sanctions relief in return for limited denuclearization steps, but the U.S. maintains sanctions will stay in place until North Korea takes significant steps toward ridding itself of nuclear weapons and technology.

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Iran announces more violations of nuclear deal

Iran announced on Monday its latest violations of the nuclear deal with world powers, saying it now operates twice as many advanced centrifuges banned by the 2015 accord and is working on a prototype that’s 50 times faster than those allowed by the deal.

The announcement came as the country marks the 40th anniversary of the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover that started a 444-day hostage crisis.

By starting up these advanced centrifuges, Iran further cuts into the one year that experts estimate Tehran would need to have enough material for building a nuclear weapon — if it chose to pursue one.

The comments by Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, came ahead of an expected announcement by Tehran of the new ways it would break the accord.

Already, Iran has broken through its stockpile and enrichment limitations, trying to pressure Europe to offer it a new deal, more than a year since U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord.

Speaking to state TV, Salehi said Tehran is now operating 60 IR-6 advanced centrifuges — twice as many as before. Such a centrifuge, an IR-6, can produce enriched uranium 10 times as fast as the first-generation IR-1s allowed under the accord.

The nuclear deal limited Iran to using only 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges to enrich uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas.

Salehi also announced scientists were working on a prototype he called the IR-9, said to be 50 times faster than the IR-1.

Meanwhile, demonstrators gathered in front of the former U.S. Embassy in downtown Tehran on Monday as state television aired footage from other cities across the country making the anniversary.

“Thanks to God, today the revolution’s seedlings have evolved into a fruitful and huge tree that its shadow has covered the entire” Middle East, said Gen. Abdolrahim Mousavi, commander of the Iranian army.

However, this year’s commemoration of the embassy seizure comes as Iran’s regional allies in Iraq and Lebanon face widespread protests. The Iranian Consulate in Karbala, Iraq, a holy city for Shias, saw a mob attack it overnight. Three protesters were killed during the attack and 19 were wounded, along with seven police officers, Iraqi officials said.

Trump retweeted posts by Saudi-linked media showing the chaos outside the consulate. The violence comes after the hard-line Keyhan newspaper in Iran reiterated a call for demonstrators to seize U.S. and Saudi diplomatic posts in Iraq in response to the unrest.

The collapse of the nuclear deal coincided with a tense summer of mysterious attacks on oil tankers and Saudi oil facilities that the U.S. blamed on Iran. Tehran denied the allegation, though it did seize oil tankers and shoot down a U.S. military surveillance drone.

The U.S. has increased its military presence across the Mideast, including basing troops in Saudi Arabia for the first time since the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Both Saudi Arabia and the neighbouring United Arab Emirates are believed to be talking to Tehran through back channels to ease tensions.

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Nobel Laureate Wants to Blast Nuclear Waste With Lasers Until It’s Safe

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Nuclear power could become increasingly important as the world continues to combat climate change, but atmospheric carbon isn’t the only existential threat to the future of humanity. The waste produced by nuclear power is dangerous for millions of years, and no one can decide what to do with it. Nobel laureate Gérard Mourou is using his notoriety to call attention to an interesting solution. Mourou believes that it may be possible to transmute nuclear waste into a safer form. This isn’t medieval alchemy, though. It’s science and lasers

Mourou shared half of the 2018 Nobel Prize in physics with Donna Strickland. The pair won for their work inventing a process called Chirped Pulse Amplification (CPA) at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the University of Rochester. CPA creates very short laser pulses with ultra-high intensity. The original research focused on applications like laser machining and eye surgery, but scientists could also use it to observe atomic processes that happen at almost unfathomable speeds. If we could speed it up a bit more, Mourou says CPA could have a use in processing nuclear waste, too. 

Nuclear waste currently sits in drums in secure facilities across the world, and it’ll be dangerous for many years to come no matter where we store it. The most hazardous waste, uranium 235 and plutonium 239, have a radioactive half-life of about 24,000 years. So, these materials won’t be safe for millions of years. According to Mourou, it may be possible to turn that waste into something you can hold in your hand with a laser. 

Close up illustration of atomic particle for nuclear energy imagery. Credit: Getty Images.

Currently, CPA can produce laser pulses as brief as one attosecond — that’s a billionth of a billionth of a second. To transmute nuclear waste into something safe, Mourou says you’d need to increase the pulse rate by roughly 10,000 times. That might sound like a tall order, but CPA itself was an order of magnitude increase over previous lasers. Another innovation like CPA, and we could be in the ballpark. 

With an ultra-fast laser pulse, it may be possible to bombard nuclear waste and knock protons out of the nucleus. That turns a dangerous substance like uranium 235 into something comparatively harmless like lead. Other experts have chimed in to note that the physics makes sense on a theoretical level. However, the logistics of developing the right laser technology, separating out radioactive nuclei, and irradiating them is still beyond our reach.

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Stalemate endures as North Korea breaks off nuclear talks with U.S.

North Korea’s top negotiator said late on Saturday that working-level nuclear talks in Sweden between officials from Pyongyang and Washington had broken off, dashing prospects for an end to months of stalemate.

The North’s chief nuclear negotiator, Kim Myong-gil, who spent much of the day in talks with a U.S. delegation, cast the blame on what he portrayed as U.S. inflexibility, saying the other side’s negotiators would not “give up their old viewpoint and attitude.”

“The negotiations have not fulfilled our expectation and finally broke off,” Kim told reporters outside the North Korean Embassy, speaking through an interpreter.

The U.S. State Department said those comments did not reflect “the content or spirit” of more than 8 hours of talks, and Washington had accepted Sweden’s invitation to return to Sweden for more discussions with Pyongyang in two weeks.

“The U.S. brought creative ideas and had good discussions with its DPRK counterparts,” spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. North Korea is also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

She said the U.S. delegation had previewed a number of new initiatives that would pave the way for progress in the talks, and underscored the importance of more intensive engagement to solve the many issues dividing both sides.


Meeting at an isolated conference centre on the outskirts of Stockholm was the first formal working-level discussion since U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met in June and agreed to restart negotiations. (Pontus Lundahl/TT NYHETSBYRÅN/AFP via Getty Ima)

“The United States and the DPRK will not overcome a legacy of 70 years of war and hostility on the Korean Peninsula through the course of a single Saturday. These are weighty issues, and they require a strong commitment by both countries. The United States has that commitment,” she said.

North Korea’s Kim downplayed the U.S. gestures.

“The U.S. raised expectations by offering suggestions like a flexible approach, new method and creative solutions, but they have disappointed us greatly and dampened our enthusiasm for negotiation by bringing nothing to the negotiation table,” he said.

Swedish broadcaster TV4 reported that the U.S. Special Representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, who led the U.S. team, had arrived back at the country’s embassy in central Stockholm.

The Swedish foreign office declined to give any details on the invitation for new talks, or whether Pyongyang had accepted.

The meeting at an isolated conference centre on the outskirts of Stockholm was the first formal working-level discussion since U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met in June and agreed to restart negotiations that stalled after a failed summit in Vietnam in February.

Watch: Vietnam summit abruptly ends with no nuclear deal

Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un seemingly went to Vietnam to make a nuclear deal at their second face-to-face meeting. A signing ceremony was even scheduled. Instead, it all fell apart, and each side came out of it blaming the other. 2:00

Since June, U.S. officials had struggled to persuade North Korea to return to the table, but that appeared to change this week when North Korea abruptly announced it had agreed to hold talks.

On Saturday evening, negotiator Kim accused the United States of having no intention of solving the countries’ difficulties through dialogue, but said a complete de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was still possible.

He said it would only happen “when all the obstacles that threaten our safety and check our development are removed completely without a shadow of doubt,” an apparent reference to North Korea’s desire to see Washington ease economic pressure on it.

Tensions

The delegation from North Korea, which is under sanctions banning much of its trade due to its nuclear program, arrived in Sweden on Thursday.

Analysts have said the leaders of both countries faced growing incentives to reach a deal, although it was unclear whether common ground could be found after months of tension and deadlock.

Jenny Town, a managing editor at 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea project, said the readout from the talks did not sound very promising.

“I think (North Korea’s) expectations were too high that the removal of Bolton would provide more flexibility on what the U.S. wants as initial steps,” said Town. “While certainly it removes some pressure for an all or nothing deal, it seems the gap between what the two sides want as a baseline and are willing to reciprocate still has not narrowed.”


In this Wednesday photo provided by the North Korean government, an underwater-launched missile lifts off in the waters off North Korea’s eastern coastal town of Wonsan. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

Only a day after announcing the new talks, North Korea said it had test-fired a new ballistic missile designed for submarine launch, a provocative gesture that also underscored the need for Washington to move quickly to negotiate limits on Pyongyang’s growing arsenal.

Speaking in Athens on the last leg of a tour of southern Europe while the talks were still underway in Stockholm, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had said he was hopeful of progress in the talks.

“We are mindful this will be the first time that we’ve had a chance to have a discussion in quite some time and that there remains to be a lot of work that will have to be done by the two teams,” he told a news conference.

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Three Mile Island nuclear plant closes down

The money-losing Three Mile Island, the 1979 site of the United States’s worst commercial nuclear power accident, was shut down Friday by its energy giant owner.

The end of the 45-year electricity-producing career of Three Mile Island Unit 1 came after Chicago-based Exelon Corp. tried and failed to get financial aid from Pennsylvania in the spring.

Unit 1 opened in 1974 and was licensed to operate through 2034, but Exelon complained the plant was losing money in competitive electricity markets.

Three Mile Island also faced particularly difficult economics because the 1979 accident that destroyed Unit 2 left it with just one reactor.

Decommissioning Unit 1, dismantling its buildings and removing spent fuel could take six decades and cost more than $ 1 billion US, Exelon estimates, although companies specializing in the handling of radioactive material are buying retired U.S. nuclear reactors and promising to do it in under a decade.

The destroyed Unit 2 is sealed, and its twin cooling towers remain standing. Its core was shipped years ago to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory. What is left inside the containment building remains highly radioactive and encased in concrete.

Work to dismantle Unit 2 is scheduled to begin in 2041 and be completed in 2053, its owner, FirstEnergy, has said.

No nuclear plant proposed after the 1979 accident has been successfully completed and put into operation in the U.S.


A sign marks the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, where the U.S. suffered its most serious nuclear accident in 1979. The destroyed Unit 2 is sealed, and its twin cooling towers remain standing. Its core was shipped years ago to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

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U.S. formally withdraws from 1987 nuclear pact with Russia

The U.S. formally withdrew from a landmark nuclear missile pact with Russia on Friday after determining that Moscow was in violation of the treaty, something the Kremlin has repeatedly denied.

U.S. President Donald Trump made the determination that the U.S. would terminate adherence to the 1987 arms control accord, known as the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), senior administration officials told reporters.

The treaty bans either side from stationing short- and intermediate-range, land-based missiles in Europe. Washington signalled its intention six months ago to pull out of the agreement if Russia made no move to adhere to it.

“The United States will not remain party to a treaty that is deliberately violated by Russia,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement about the U.S. withdrawal.


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says that the U.S. was put in jeopardy by Russia’s non-compliance of the treaty, an accusation that Moscow denies. (Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters)

“Russia’s noncompliance under the treaty jeopardizes U.S. supreme interests as Russia’s development and fielding of a treaty-violating missile system represents a direct threat to the United States and our allies and partners,” Pompeo said.

The senior administration officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Russia had deployed “multiple battalions” of a Russian cruise missile throughout Russia in violation of the pact, including in western Russia, “with the ability to strike critical European targets.”

Russia denies the allegation, saying the missiles range puts it outside the treaty, and has accused the U.S. of inventing a false pretext to exit a treaty Washington wants to leave anyway so it can develop new missiles. 

Russia asks U.S. to refrain from deploying missiles in Europe

In response, Russia said it had asked the U.S. to declare and enforce a moratorium on the deployment of short and intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe.

“We have proposed to the United States and other NATO countries that they weigh the possibility of declaring the same kind of moratorium on the deployment of short and intermediate range missiles as ours, like the one announced by Vladimir Putin,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted as saying by the TASS news agency.


Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov has urged the U.S. to put a moratorium on testing new missile systems. (Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images)

The INF treaty, negotiated by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and ratified by the U.S. Senate, eliminated the medium-range ground-launched missile arsenals of the world’s two biggest nuclear powers and reduced their ability to launch a nuclear strike at short notice.

The treaty bans land-based missiles with a range between 500-5,500 kilometres.

Trump has sought to improve U.S. relations with Russia after a chill during the tenure of his predecessor, Barack Obama. He and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone on Wednesday about Siberian wildfires and trade.

Arms control did not come up in the call, the officials said.

European officials have voiced concern that if the treaty collapses, Europe could again become an arena for nuclear-armed, intermediate-range missile buildups by the U.S. and Russia.

Possible trilateral deal with China

The officials said the U.S. was months away from the first flight tests of an American intermediate-range missile that would serve as a counter to the Russians. Any such deployment would be years away, they said.

Trump has said he would like to see a “next-generation” arms control deal with Russia and China to cover all types of nuclear weapons.

He has broached the topic individually with Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, including at the G20 summit in Osaka in June.

China is not a party to nuclear arms pacts between the United States and Russia and it is unclear how willing Beijing would be to be drawn into talks.

China’s foreign ministry has reiterated that the country had no interest in joining such talks.

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Iran says it breached 2015 nuclear deal’s stockpile limit

Iran has breached the limit of its enriched uranium stockpile set in a 2015 deal with major powers, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Monday according to the ISNA news agency, defying a warning by European co-signatories to stick to the deal despite U.S. sanctions.

Zarif confirmed Iran had exceeded the relevant limit of 300 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride (UF6), but Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi said Iran’s steps to decrease its commitments to the nuclear deal were “reversible.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said its inspectors were verifying whether Iran had accumulated more enriched uranium than allowed.

“Our inspectors are on the ground and they will report to headquarters as soon as the LEU [low-enriched uranium] stockpile has been verified,” a spokesperson for the UN agency said.

Enriching uranium to a low level of 3.6 per cent fissile material is the first step in a process that could eventually allow Iran to amass enough highly enriched uranium to build a nuclear warhead.

Last Wednesday, the IAEA verified Iran had roughly 200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, just below the deal’s 202.8 kg limit, three diplomats who follow the agency’s work told Reuters. A quantity of 300 kg of UF6 (uranium hexafluoride) corresponds to 202.8 kg of LEU.

After talks on Friday in Vienna, Iran said European countries had offered too little in the way of trade assistance to persuade it to back off from its plan to breach the limit, a riposte to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision last year to quit the deal and reimpose economic sanctions.

Mousavi urged them on Monday to step up their efforts.

“Time is running out for them to save the deal,” state TV quoted him as saying.

The deal between Iran and six world powers lifted most international sanctions against Iran in return for restrictions on its nuclear work aimed at extending the time Iran would need to produce a nuclear bomb, if it chose to, from roughly two to three months to a year.

‘Never threaten an Iranian,’ foreign minister says

Iran says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes, including generating power. Its regional adversary Israel, which Iran does not recognize, says the program presents it with an existential threat.

Joseph Cohen, head of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, urged the international community to stop Iran from “stepping up enrichment.”

“Just imagine what will happen if the material stockpiled by the Iranians becomes fissionable, at military enrichment grade, and then an actual bomb,” he told the Herzliya security conference before Zarif’s announcement.

“The Middle East, and then the entire world, will be a different place. Therefore, the world must not allow this to happen.”

In May, Washington piled pressure on Tehran by ordering all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil, and tensions have been growing in the Gulf ever since.

Washington has dispatched extra forces to the Middle East, and U.S. fighter jets came within minutes of conducting air strikes on Iran last month after Tehran downed an unmanned American drone.

In a speech on Monday broadcast on state TV, Iranian Zarif said: “Iran will never yield to pressure from the United States … If they want to talk to Iran, they should show respect.

“Never threaten an Iranian … Iran has always resisted pressure, and has responded with respect when respected.”

Trump has called for negotiations with Iran with “no preconditions,” but Tehran has ruled out talks until the United States returns to the nuclear pact and drops its sanctions.

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Semi-Autonomous, Nuclear Decommissioning Robot Sees With Microsoft Kinect

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There are various “levels” of nuclear waste, but none of them is something anyone ought to handle in person. That’s why remotely operated robots have become the standard tool to decommission nuclear facilities and process radioactive materials. However, it’s difficult to control every movement of a robot when doing complex tasks like cleaning up a nuclear reactor. That’s why a team from Lancaster University have developed a semi-autonomous robot that could make the process faster and easier.

It’s very unlikely that a truly autonomous robot will be trusted with nuclear decommissioning tasks any time soon. After all, AI is still far from perfect, and the stakes are as high as they get when you’re dealing with highly radioactive materials in large enough quantities to cause runaway nuclear reactions.

The Lancaster robot splits the difference by adding some autonomous smarts to the process but leaving the human operator in the driver’s seat. The team created imaging software that lets the robot “see” the world around it and identify objects like pipes, handles, and other materials common inside nuclear decommissioning sites. It does that with the help of a Microsoft Kinect camera. Yes, the doomed gaming accessory lives on among scientists who need a cheap depth-sensing camera.

The robot has graspers that a human could awkwardly control using a joystick, but operators working with the Lancaster robot merely have to tell it what task to undertake next. In testing, it took just four mouse clicks for an operator to point the robot at an object and select an action. It’s up to the robot to work out the specifics of lifting, pulling, and cutting. The team says its semi-autonomous robot vastly outperformed manual operation.

This technology could make decommissioning work faster and speed up the training of new operators. However, the test was far from authentic. It took place in a laboratory with no radioactive materials — any radiation would have spelled trouble for the robot, which lacks industrial radiation shielding. The robot successfully completed tasks like cutting plastic pipes, which is similar to work it would need to do in the field. The researchers intend to keep improving the design and operation. Future versions may be able to survive radiation exposure and relay data like temperature and audio from the hot zone.

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