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Analysis: Ending Iranian nuclear conflict

Toronto man charged in Iran nuclear technology case
Ottawa (AFP) April 17 - A Toronto man has been arrested for allegedly procuring and trying to clandestinely export a device used to enrich uranium to Iran, federal police said Friday. Mahmoud Yadegari was detained after an "extensive" eight-week probe by Canada's federal police and foreign service, Canadian and US border officials, and the US Department of Homeland Security, police said in statement. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police allege Yadegari "attempted to procure and export items known as 'pressure transducers.'" The devices are used in the production of enriched uranium, for military applications or commercial use. Initially, police said the suspect was attempting to send them to Dubai, but at a press conference RCMP Inspector Greg Johnson told reporters they were ultimately destined for Iran. "The declared point of destination was Dubai, United Arab Emirates, however we have evidence to support the fact its ultimate destination was Iran," Johnson said. Charges were laid under Canada's nuclear non-proliferation policy and international treaties prohibiting exports of "strategic technologies" for illicit purposes, as well as a United Nations act regulating sanctions against Iran. Iran is under intense international pressure to curb its nuclear ambitions, but has resisted, saying its program is for civilian energy use, not military. The police investigation showed steps were taken to conceal the identification specifications of the transducers in order to export the items without the required export permits, said the RCMP. Two transducers were seized as they were being shipped. Others were discovered during a search of a Toronto home, said Johnson. The components, originally obtained from a company near Boston, are critical as part of a larger device to enrich uranium to weapons grade. Yadegari faces up to 10 years in prison and a one-million dollar fine, if convicted.
by Stefan Nicola
Berlin, April 17, 2009
Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic that has stormed to riches thanks to its abundant natural resources, may now become instrumental in solving the West's nuclear conflict with Iran.

U.S. President Barack Obama is "seriously considering" an offer from Kazakhstan to host an international nuclear fuel bank, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Such a bank would provide states with fuel for nuclear power plants in a bid to eliminate the need for domestic enrichment capacities that could also be abused to build nuclear weapons.

Obama has long touted the idea of such an institution as a way out of the impasse with Iran, which the West fears is abusing a civil nuclear program to secretly acquire an atomic bomb.

At first glance, Kazakhstan seems an unlikely candidate to host such a fuel bank. But that's largely due to the fact that it's still a blank spot on the map for many in the West.

Once populated by nomadic tribes, Kazakhstan, a landlocked country larger than Western Europe, has evolved into the best economic performer in Central Asia. Thanks to its large oil, gas and mineral reserves and a speedy free market reform, the Kazakh economy has over the past few years averaged double-digit yearly growth.

It has moreover engaged in slick diplomacy to balance cooperation with its powerful neighbors, including China and Russia, and with the West. Kazakhstan, for example, is one of the main suppliers of a key pipeline to Europe bypassing Russia, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, but it nevertheless managed to keep relations with Moscow strong. It has been courted many times by the West and the East but has always resisted swinging one way or the other.

"Kazakhstan is neither dependent on Russia, nor on China nor on the United States. That's a significant diplomatic accomplishment," Gernot Erler, Germany's deputy foreign minister, said earlier this week in Berlin.

Recently, however, Kazakhstan has been looking westward. The country's authoritarian leader, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, has launched a new strategy called "The Way to Europe," which aims to intensify the country's relations with the European Union.

Next year, Kazakhstan will chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, moving the country to the forefront of the Western strategies in this region connecting Europe and Asia.

All this makes Kazakhstan an interesting partner for the West, but what qualifies the country to host a nuclear fuel bank is its spotless proliferation record.

The Soviet Union for decades tested its nuclear weapons in Kazakhstan, staging some 500 explosions in the steppe. After the end of the Cold War, Kazakhstan was left with a significant nuclear arsenal -- but instead of becoming a nuclear power, it decided to destroy the weapons. Because Kazakhstan also sits atop the world's second-largest uranium reserves, it is a candidate to consider.

Obama has already hinted that he may soon visit the country, which would be the first trip there of a U.S. president. Iran's notorious President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad already did so earlier this month, and at a joint news conference with Nazarbayev, he lauded his idea to host a nuclear fuel bank as "a very good proposal."

That Iran trusts Kazakhstan is a major plus for the country -- but not so much for its democratic record.

Nazarbayev enjoys dictator-style powers; he has been in charge of the country since 1989, and some of his opponents have ended up jailed or dead. The Kazakh press isn't free, and its elections, although improved, do not yet meet international standards.

In Europe, diplomats including Erler, the German deputy foreign minister, hope that the OSCE leadership will speed up democratic reforms in Kazakhstan.

Already, Nazarbayev has handed some of his powers over to Parliament, with bills in the making that will hopefully improve the electoral system and boost civil rights.

"President Nazarbayev has chosen … democracy," Nurlan Onzhanov, Kazakhstan's ambassador to Germany, said earlier this week in Berlin.

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Israel's Barak urges Russia against Iran missile deal
Jerusalem (AFP) April 16, 2009
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday warned Russia's visiting deputy foreign minister against any sale of advanced surface-to-air missiles to Iran, a senior official said.







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