04/15/13: The blog Space War reports Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday he would be prepared to reach out to North Korea urging it back to negotiations, but he vowed the US would protect Japan from Pyongyang’s threats. Following talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, where Patriot missiles have been deployed in anticipation of a missile launch by the North, Kerry pledged the US would backstop its ally. “The United States is fully committed to the defense of Japan,” Kerry said at a joint press conference with Kishida. “We’re prepared to reach out [to North Korea], but we need the appropriate moment, appropriate circumstances,” Kerry said later. “There are standards clearly that we want to achieve to enter into negotiations, but there are certain channels that we can reach out to.”
04/06/13: The New York Times reports negotiations over Iran’s disputed nuclear program broke off on Saturday without signs of even incremental progress, much less an agreement on tighter controls and tougher international oversight demanded by six world powers in exchange for some easing of sanctions that now have a stranglehold on the Iranian economy. The failure to reach any accord was a serious setback for the talks, which have become complicated by the Iranian presidential election now just 10 weeks away. After the conclusion of two days of tense bargaining, Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said that after “long and intense discussions” it was clear that the sides “remain far apart on the substance." No future negotiations were announced and Ms. Ashton said that she would be "in touch very soon" with the top Iranian negotiator, Saeed Jalili, "in order to see how to go forward.” Russia’s lead negotiator at the talks, Sergei Ryabkov, also sounded a dark note but said there was still hope for future discussions.
04/02/13: The New York Times reports Iran’s double-digit inflation rate worsened for the sixth consecutive month in March, the government said on Monday, in what appeared to be an implicit acknowledgment that international sanctions linked to the disputed Iranian nuclear program are causing some economic harm. The government’s statistics office said the rate increased in March to an annualized 31.5 percent, compared with 30.2 percent in February and 26.4 percent a year earlier, the semiofficial Mehr News Agency reported. The Mehr report did not offer an explanation for the increase except to specify that much of it was in the categories of food, beverages and tobacco. Many economists say the real rate could be at least double the official rate, partly because it does not fully take into account the prices of many imported goods, which have become prohibitively expensive. The main reason is the severe depreciation of the rial, Iran’s national currency, as the sanctions that have limited Central Bank activities and oil exports have taken hold. Some experts believe the Iranian inflation calculation deliberately understates the actual rate in order to present a public face of resistance to the coercive pressures inflicted by the sanctions, which have been imposed largely by the United States and European Union.
04/01/13: The Onion reports that while performing his duties as Supreme Leader of North Korea Monday, Kim Jong-un reportedly heard a small voice in the back of his mind telling him that his actions over the last six months have been very strange and wrong. Sources confirmed that the tiny voice, which spoke to Kim at various points throughout the day, quietly suggested that the four-star military general and Worker Party’s secretary is a weird person with out-of-whack priorities who acts in a way that makes little sense to anyone. “You are a very odd man who does things that are bizarre and indicative of a mentally ill person,” the little voice reportedly said following a speech in which Kim issued apocalyptic threats to enemies in the West and predicted the destruction of America. “The things you say on a daily basis are not only extremely creepy and off-putting, but they are also very wrong. You should probably not be the leader of a country.”
UPDATE: April Fool.
04/01/13: The New York Times reports North Korea’s leader on Sunday announced a “new strategic line” that defied warnings from Washington, saying that his country was determined to rebuild its economy in the face of international sanctions while simultaneously expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal, which the ruling party called “the nation’s life.” North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un presided over a Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, the first such meeting since 1993. The party meeting took place against the backdrop of joint military exercises in South Korea involving American and South Korean forces. On Sunday, American F-22 stealth fighter jets were flown from a base in Japan to South Korea to join the exercises. In past weeks, B-52 and B-2 bombers offered a demonstration of American air power as part of the exercises.
03/31/13: The Hill reports the White House said Saturday it was taking threats of war from North Korea “seriously,” while acknowledging that Pyongyang has a history of bellicose rhetoric. “We take these threats seriously and remain in close contact with our South Korean Allies,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council. “But, we would also note that North Korea has a long history of bellicose rhetoric and threats and today’s announcement follows that familiar pattern.” North Korea Saturday declared that a “state of war” existed with the South and threatened to “dissolve” the United States in an “all-out war and nuclear war.” Pyongyang has cut the military hotline with Seoul and earlier this week said the armistice ending the Korean War in 1953 was void.
03/25/13: The Washington Times reports a new manual commissioned by NATO’s cyberwarfare center says the cyberattack by the US and Israel that crippled Iran’s nuclear program by sabotaging industrial equipment constituted “an act of force” and was possibly illegal under international law. The Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare says, “Acts that kill or injure persons or destroy or damage objects are unambiguously uses of force.” The international group of researchers who wrote the manual were unanimous that Stuxnet — the self-replicating cyberweapon that destroyed Iranian centrifuges that were enriching uranium — was an act of force, but were divided on whether its effects were severe enough to constitute an “armed attack,” which would trigger hostilities under the UN Charter and allow Iran to retaliate in self-defense. Neither Israel nor the United States has publicly acknowledged being behind Stuxnet, but they are widely believed to have been responsible.
03/25/13: Al Jazeera reports South Korea and the United States have signed a new military plan that lays out how the allies will communicate with each other and react to any future North Korean aggression. The signing on Monday comes amid North Korean threats to attack the allies over their joint military drills and recent punishing UN sanctions aimed at Pyongyang’s latest nuclear test. Seoul’s joint chiefs of staff said the plan is designed to counter a future limited attack by North Korea, but details weren’t released. Work on the plan began after a North Korean artillery attack on a South Korean island in 2010 killed four people. The allies also have a separate plan in the case of a full-blown war on the Korean peninsula. There are 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea.
03/24/13: The blog Space War reports the United States and the Netherlands say they’ve expanded their cooperation to reduce global nuclear and radiological threats. Under an agreement signed with the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)’s Office of Global Threat Reduction, (GTRI) the Netherlands will contribute $650,000 to GTRI’s efforts to secure and remove vulnerable radiological material. This is Amsterdam’s second major cooperative activity with GTRI, and the third time it has partnered with NNSA’s nuclear nonproliferation programs. Under the new agreement, the Netherlands financial contribution will support GTRI’s current work in Kazakhstan on projects related to the search, removal, and physical protection of radiological material. The NNSA is a semiautonomous agency within the US Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the application of nuclear science.
03/18/13: CNN reports China warned Monday that the United States’ plans to beef up its missile defenses against North Korea are likely to inflame tensions already running high over Pyongyang’s nuclear program. “Bolstering missile defenses will only intensify antagonism, and it doesn’t help to solve the issue,” Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a news briefing in Beijing. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Friday that the United States will deploy additional ground-based missile interceptors on the West Coast as part of efforts to enhance the nation’s ability to defend itself from attack by North Korea. The announcement came after North Korea recently threatened a preemptive nuclear attack on South Korea and the United States in response to stepped-up UN sanctions over its latest nuclear test last month.
03/18/13: The Miami Herald reports Iran’s judiciary has indicted eighteen suspects on charges of involvement in the killing of nuclear scientists. Since 2010, at least five Iranian nuclear scientists, including a manager at the Natanz enrichment facility, have been killed. Tehran has accused Israel’s Mossad, the CIA, and Britain’s MI6 of being behind the assassinations; Washington and London have denied the allegations, while Tel Aviv has not commented. Iranian state media said Sunday that authorities have issued indictments against the eighteen suspects, who will be tried in the coming months. In 2012, Iran hanged a man for the 2010 killing of a nuclear physicist.
03/17/13: The New York Times reports North Korea said Saturday that its nuclear weapons were not a bargaining chip to trade for economic concessions, warning that it would never negotiate with the United States as long as Washington maintained its hostile policy toward Pyongyang. The statement was the latest in a series in which North Korea has appeared to harden its position on its nuclear weapons program. Since the United Nations Security Council imposed more sanctions to punish North Korea for its launching of a long-range rocket in December and its third nuclear test last month, the country has said it will no longer attend talks on dismantling its nuclear program. North Korea previously quit multinational nuclear talks, but until recently had often said ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons was its ultimate goal.
03/15/13: The New York Times reports President Obama told an Israeli television station on Thursday that his administration believed it would take Iran “over a year or so” to develop a nuclear weapon, and he vowed that the United States would do whatever was necessary to prevent that from happening. Less than a week before his first visit as president to Israel, Mr. Obama pledged to continue diplomatic efforts, but he promised that the United States would keep all options on the table to ensure that Iran did not become a nuclear threat to its neighbors. Mr. Obama’s estimated timeline contrasts with Mr. Netanyahu’s stated belief that Israel and its Western allies are likely to have to intervene by the spring or summer, when, he says, Iran’s scientists will have enriched enough uranium to become a nuclear threat. Iran denies that its nuclear program has any military aim. Mr. Obama has rarely been so specific about how long American intelligence agencies estimate it will take Iran to build a bomb. In defining the problem as he did — when Iran could get a weapon, rather than when it could have the capability to build one — he subtly indicated that he and Mr. Netanyahu still saw the problem in very different terms.
03/11/13: The Washington Times reports North Korea has canceled its 60-year-old armistice with South Korea as war games with South Korea and the US began on Monday. An estimated 10,000 South Korean soldiers and 3,000 American troops kicked off a joint 11-day drill. Troops from the South are on high alert as Pyongyang responded to the joint exercise with fresh vows to launch a nuclear attack against the United States. Twice on Monday, the North ignored calls from the South to its hotline. This is the highest tensions have hit between the two nations since the North fired artillery shells at a South Korean island nearly three years ago. The North has purported to nullify the armistice before, however.
03/11/13: The New York Times reports a new sense of vulnerability created by recent aggressive talk from the North is causing some influential South Koreans to break a decades-old taboo by openly calling for Seoul to develop its own nuclear arsenal, a move that would raise the stakes in what is already one of the world’s most militarized regions. While few in the South think this will happen anytime soon, two recent opinion polls show that two-thirds of South Koreans support the idea posed by a small but growing number of politicians and columnists. In recent weeks, Pyongyang has approached a crucial threshold with its weapons programs, followed by a barrage of apocalyptic threats to rain “preemptive nuclear strikes” and “final destruction” on Seoul.
03/10/13: The Space War blog reports French President Francois Hollande and his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres said on Friday sanctions on Iran over its contested nuclear program are biting but need to be strengthened further. “I have said how much we want the sanctions to be beefed up, which are already efficient,” Hollande said after meeting Peres. Iran last month held talks with the five UN Security Council permanent members, plus Germany, in Kazakhstan. “I was very glad to hear from [President Hollande] that he plans to take more measures because if we can end this danger without military use, it will be better,” Peres said. Although Hollande and Peres both hold the title “President,” the latter is a figurehead; the real power in Israel lies with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Peres’ former political rival.
03/04/13: The New York Times reports the head of the United Nations’ nuclear regulatory body urged Iran on Monday to permit access by international inspectors to a military site near Tehran to ascertain whether tests have been carried out there on nuclear bomb triggers. International Atomic Energy Agency director Yukiya Amano spoke just weeks after IAEA inspectors returned from talks in Tehran that failed to obtain access to the Parchin site, twenty miles south of Tehran. “I request Iran once again to provide access to the Parchin site without further delay,” Amano said. The talks about Parchin are separate from the negotiations Tehran is conducting with six global powers on the broader question of its disputed nuclear program. Western powers suspect that Iran is seeking the technology for nuclear weapons.
03/03/13: The Miami Herald reports Iran’s nuclear chief says his country has produced more than 3,000 advanced centrifuges which are used to enrich uranium. Fereidoun Abbasi said Sunday that the old generation of IR-1 centrifuges will be phased out soon. Iran has more than 12,000 IR-1 centrifuges enriching uranium at its main Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. Abbasi said last month that Iran has begun installing the newer IR-2 centrifuges, which can produce more enriched uranium in a shorter period of time. He said the production line of the new, advanced centrifuges has been completed but did not elaborate. The US and its allies fear that Iran may eventually be able to develop a nuclear weapon, a charge Tehran denies. Iran has repeatedly been hit with sanctions over the program.
02/25/13: Reuters reports the Syrian opposition claimed Sunday that it captured the site of a suspected nuclear reactor near the Euphrates river which Israeli warplanes destroyed six years ago. The al-Kubar site became a focus of international attention when Israel raided it in 2007. The United States said the complex was a North Korean-designed nuclear reactor geared to making weapons-grade plutonium. A spokesman for the Eastern Joint Command of the Free Syrian Army said the only building rebels found at the site was a hangar containing at least one Scud missile. “It appears that the site was turned into a Scud launch base. Whatever structures it had have been buried,” he said.
02/25/13: Reuters reports major powers will offer Iran some relief from crippling sanctions during talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan, this week if Tehran agrees to curb its nuclear program. However, a US official said the Islamic Republic could face more economic pain if the standoff remains unresolved. Reports indicate the United States, Russia, China, Britain, Germany, and France will offer to ease sanctions on trade in gold and precious metals if Iran closes its Fordow underground uranium enrichment plant. Iranian officials have indicated, however, that this will not be enough. The US hopes the Almaty meeting February 26-27 will lead to follow-up talks, and the United States may also be prepared to hold bilateral talks with Tehran if it was serious about it.
02/24/13: The Washington Times reports Iran has selected sixteen locations as suitable for new nuclear power plants it intends to build to boost its energy production over the next fifteen years. Tehran says it needs twenty large-scale plants to meet its growing electricity needs. It currently operates a 1,000-megawat nuclear power plant at Bushehr, a coastal town on the Persian Gulf, and is planning to build a 360-megawatt nuclear power plant in the southwestern town of Darkhovin. A statement released by his organization said the sites were chosen in part for their resistance to earthquakes and military air strikes. The US and some of its allies fear that Iran could ultimately be able to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear program is geared toward peaceful purposes such as generating electricity nuclear medicine.