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N.Korea can produce more uranium than current rate, report says

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November 4, 2021

By Josh Smith

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea can get all the uranium it needs for nuclear weapons through its existing Pyongsan mill, and satellite imagery of tailings piles suggests the country can produce far more nuclear fuel than it is, a new academic study concludes.

Despite a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear weapons tests since 2017, North Korea has said it is continuing to build its arsenal, and this year it appeared to have restarted https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/north-korea-appears-have-restarted-nuclear-reactor-iaea-says-2021-08-29 a reactor that is widely believed to have produced weapons-grade plutonium.

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According to research published last month in the journal Science & Global Security by researchers at Stanford University and an Arizona-based mining consulting company, North Korea may be able to increase production, and has no need for other uranium mills.

“It is clear that the DPRK appears to have substantially more milling capacity than it has been using to date,” said the report, using the initials of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “This means that the DPRK could produce much greater quantities of milled natural uranium if desired.”

The Pyongsan Uranium Concentration Plant and its associated mine are North Korea’s only publicly acknowledged source of yellowcake, or uranium ore, according to analysts.

The report comes as other satellite imagery shows North Korea is building a large expansion at its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, which analysts say may be used to produce weapons-grade uranium.

“Given the DPRK’s active nuclear program, it is of utmost importance to assess and understand its nuclear materials production capabilities,” wrote the report’s authors, who submitted their findings in April.

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These capabilities govern the rate at which North Korea might expand its nuclear arsenal, determine the magnitude of the threat to international security and the challenge of potential nuclear disarmament, and measure North Korea’s ability to fuel its future nuclear energy program, the report said.

GROWING NUCLEAR ARSENAL

The question over how many nuclear weapons North Korea possesses is a key issue for intelligence agencies in South Korea and the United States, as well as for any talks aimed at limiting or reducing North Korea’s arsenal.

The United States, which wants Pyongyang to surrender its nuclear arsenal, has said it is open to meeting with North Korea without preconditions. North Korea says talks are only possible after the United States and its allies drop hostile policies.

Intelligence on North Korean nuclear weapons is limited, but David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, has told Reuters he estimates the country has the capacity to produce material for four to six warheads a year.

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The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in September https://www.reuters.com/article/northkorea-nuclear-iaea-idINV9N2IE02B that North Korea’s “nuclear programme goes full steam ahead with work on plutonium separation, uranium enrichment and other activities.”

There have been no reported accounts of outside inspector access to the Pyongsan uranium mine after the IAEA visited in 1992, leaving details of the mill uncertain, the academic report said.

The authors used artificial intelligence algorithms developed by Orbital Insight, a California-based geospatial analytics company, to analyse satellite imagery for land use patterns around the Pyongsan facility.

Yellowcake from the mine and mill is a key component of North Korea’s nuclear fuel production, including its 5-megawatt (MW) reactor, which is seen as capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.

The IAEA and other analysts reported over the summer that the reactor appeared to be operating for the first time since 2018.

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(Reporting by Josh Smith. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

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Pope says willing to go to Moscow to meet Orthodox Patriarch

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December 6, 2021

By Philip Pullella

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE (Reuters) – Pope Francis said on Monday he was willing to go to Moscow for to meet Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill “brother to brother” in what would be the first trip by a pope to Russia.

The pair’s meeting in Cuba in 2016 was the first by a pope and a leader of the Russian Orthodox Church since the great schism that split Christianity into Eastern and Western branches in 1054.

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Both sides have declared a willingness to work towards unity but they are still far apart theologically and over what role the pope would play in an eventually reunited Church.

“We are brothers and we talk straight to each other. We do not dance the minuet,” Francis told reporters aboard his plane returning from a trip to Cyprus and Greece.

“We have to move forward, walking and working towards unity.”

He said he was willing to go Moscow and that a top Russian Orthodox official was expected in Rome next week to decide the time and location of the meeting.

Francis said working out the protocols would be less important than meeting “brother to brother” with Kirill.

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The Pope normally travels to countries with a joint invitation from its religious authorities as well as one from the government, meaning that Francis would most likely need an invitation from President Vladimir Putin to visit Russia.

The Russian Orthodox Church, the largest in Christian Orthodoxy, with about 100 million members, is closely aligned with the Kremlin.

Francis said the meeting with Kirill was “on the not too distant horizon”.

He said Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, who is responsible for the Russian Orthodox Church’s external relations, would be coming to the Vatican to meet him to discuss where and when the next meeting can take place.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alison Williams)

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Yemen Houthis bury their dead as Marib fighting rages

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December 6, 2021

By Adel Al-Khader

SANAA (Reuters) – Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis held military funerals on Monday for 25 fighters killed in battles with a Saudi-led coalition, as fighting shows no sign of abating despite intense international diplomacy to end the seven-year-old conflict.

The funerals took place as fighting has raged in the gas-rich Marib region, while warplanes from the coalition have intensified their bombing of Sanaa, Marib and other areas.

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The Houthis have also stepped up cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia using armed drones and missiles.

An honour guard carried the coffins – draped with flags, flowers and photographs of the dead – with military music through the capital Sanaa. Relatives gathered to mourn their loved ones.

“We are in these days inspired by these martyrs’ pride and dignity and say to them: ‘congratulations! You have preceded us to a paradise as wide as the heavens and earth’,” said Ali Muhyaddin, a relative of one of the dead.

The war in Yemen has killed tens of thousands and caused what the United Nations describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

U.N.-led efforts to agree a ceasefire have stalled in the conflict, which is seen largely as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign invasion.

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Houthi media showed fighters exchanging heavy artillery fire with coalition forces in Marib on Sunday as warplanes flew overhead. All the 25 fighters buried in Sanaa were killed in Marib, Houthi officials said.

The Houthis have launched a year-long offensive to take Marib, which hosts Yemen’s biggest gas fields. The city is the last stronghold of the internationally recognised government.

Marib is home to 3 million people, including nearly 1 million who fled other parts of Yemen after the Houthis ousted the government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, prompting the Saudi-led coalition to intervene.

The number of displaced people in camps in the province has risen nearly 10-fold since September, with more than 45,000 people fleeing their homes as Houthi forces press the offensive, the U.N. migration agency IOM said last month.

(Writing by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Putin and Modi discuss trade, humanitarian situation in Afghanistan

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December 6, 2021

By Alasdair Pal and Neha Arora

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Russian President Vladimir Putin in New Delhi on Monday, with trade and the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan both on the agenda.

Afghanistan’s takeover by the Taliban earlier this year has led to a humanitarian crisis in the country, which New Delhi and Moscow have both previously said risks destabilising the region.

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“The fight against terrorism is also a fight against drug trafficking and organised crime,” Putin said in introductory remarks broadcast by Indian media. “In that regard, we are concerned about developments of the situation in Afghanistan.”

The visit by Putin and several top Russian officials comes amid increasingly strained relations between Russia and the United States, also a key Indian ally.

Earlier on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a deal to supply India with S-400 air defence missile systems was being implemented despite what he said were U.S. efforts to undermine the accord.

India and Russia are expected to cement several trade and defence pacts at the summit.

“The relation between India and Russia is truly a unique and reliable model,” Modi said.

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(Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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