US diplomats are reportedly having secret talks with their Russian counterparts behind the scenes at the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg in hopes of avoiding a stalemate over Syria.
Moscow publicly warned that a military strike on Syria could have catastrophic effects if a missile hit a small reactor near Damascus that contains radioactive uranium.
The talks started last week and are continuing both in Russia and New York, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly about bilateral diplomatic talks.
Russia is insisting that Barack Obama call off a planned military strike against Syria if either house of Congress declines to authorize it.
Meanwhile, US diplomats are insisting that the Russians bend in the opposite direction. They want Vladimir Putin’s government to entertain seriously a proposal from Saudi Arabia, which would require them to refrain from opposing UN Security Council resolutions pertaining to Syria and wind down its arms sales to Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Vladimir Putin is insisting that Barack Obama call off a planned military strike against Syria if either house of Congress declines to authorize it
Russia urged the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) secretariat to “react swiftly” and present IAEA members “an analysis of the risks linked to possible American strikes on the MNSR and other facilities in Syria”.
Moscow has been the most powerful ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, shielding him from tougher UN resolutions and warning that a Western military attack on Syria would raise tensions and undermine efforts to end the country’s civil war.
“The IAEA is aware of the statement but has not received a formal request from the Russian Federation,” an IAEA spokesperson said.
“We will consider the questions raised if we receive such a request.”
The IAEA said in a report to member states last week that Syria had declared there was a “small amount of nuclear material” at the MNSR, a type of research reactor usually fuelled by highly enriched uranium.
Following talks with the US, North Korea has agreed to suspend uranium enrichment, as well as nuclear and long-range missile tests.
The US State Department said Pyongyang had also agreed to allow UN inspectors to monitor its reactor in Yongbyon to verify compliance with the measures.
In return, the US is finalizing 240,000 tons of food aid for the North.
The move comes two months after Kim Jong-Un came to power following the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il.
The move could pave the way for the resumption of six-party disarmament negotiations with Pyongyang, which last broke down in 2009.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US still had “profound concerns” over North Korea, but welcomed the move as a “first step”.
“On the occasion of Kim Jong-Il’s death, I said that it is our hope that the new leadership will choose to guide their nation onto the path of peace by living up to its obligations.
“Today’s announcement represents a modest first step in the right direction.”
Hillary Clinton said the US would however be watching Pyongyang closely, and would be “judging North Korea’s new leaders by their actions”.
North Korea agreed to nuclear moratorium two months after Kim Jong-Un came to power following the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il
North Korea confirmed the move in a foreign ministry statement released in Pyongyang.
The statement, carried by the KCNA news agency, said the measures were “aimed at building confidence for the improvement of relations” between the two countries, and said talks would continue.
Yukiya Amano, director general of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said the announcement was “an important step forward” and that inspectors stood ready to return to North Korea, Reuters reports.
Earlier, a senior US military official said the issue of food aid for North Korea was now linked to political progress – contradicting earlier policy.
North Korean population has suffered persistent food shortages since a famine in the 1990’s, and relies on foreign aid to feed its people.
The country agreed in 2005 to give up its nuclear ambitions in return for aid and political concessions, as part of a six-nation dialogue process involving the two Koreas, the US, China, Russia and Japan.
But progress on the deal was stop-start, and the agreement broke down in 2009.
Contact between the US and North Korea aimed at restarting the talks began in July 2011.
A meeting last week between US and North Korean officials in Beijing was the third round of talks aimed at exploring how to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table.