Iraq's government warned the UN July 10 that ISIS-led Sunni militants have seized 40 kilograms nuclear materials used for research at a university in Mosul. The letter appealed for international help to "stave off the threat of their use by terrorists in Iraq or abroad." US officials reportedly played down the threat, saying the materials were not believed to include enriched uranium. In a similar letter two days earlier, Iraqi officials said ISIS have taken control of a former chemical weapons facility at Muthanna northwest of Baghdad, where remnants of 2,500 rockets filled decades ago with the nerve agent sarin are stored along with other chemical agents. The US government again played down the threat from the takeover, saying it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to use the seized material for military purposes. (BBC News, July 10; AP, July 8)
The ominous story in the Los Angeles Times today, "Russia tests missiles as Ukraine militants defy call for vote delay," opens, without explanation: "A day after claiming to have withdrawn thousands of Russian troops from Ukraine's border, Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin presided over East bloc military maneuvers Thursday that included tests of Russia’s nuclear forces and live firing of intercontinental ballistic missiles." Excuse us? "East bloc"? What "East bloc"? The Warsaw Pact has been defunct since 1991, as the LA Times could easily glean from goddam Wikipedia. There isn't a clue in the text of the article as to what they mean by "East bloc," or whether any countries other than Russia participated in the maneuvers. The whiff of Cold War nostalgia around the Ukraine crisis is getting out of hand.
As thousands of protesters blocked a main traffic artery in Taipei and clashed with police sent to clear them, Taiwan's ruling Kuomintang party agreed April 28 to halt work on two nuclear reactors. Work on the Lungmen nuclear plant, which would be Taiwan's fourth, started more than a decade ago in the island's northeast, about 20 miles outside Taipei, but has met growing opposition since the Fukushima disaster in Japan. The No. 1 reactor at Lungmen is to be sealed, while work on the No. 2 reactor will be put on hold, Premier Jiang Yi-huah said. The decision was made following negotiations with opposition parties. Jiang added that the announcement does not represent a major change in the government's energy policy, and refused to say that the Lungmen project has been permanently abandoned. (BBC News, Radio Australia, Taiwan Today, NYT's Sinosphere blog, April 28)
CNN reports April 26 of a "perilous face-off" as Russian state news complained that Ukraine has mobilized 15,000 troops in the suburbs of Slavyansk in the country's eastern Ukraine "in order to wipe out the city and its residents." A Defense Ministry source said the number of Ukrainian troops put the pro-Russian militants who control the city at a disadvantage, as the latter are "armed only with small amount of pistols and shotguns." Of course, Russia's military massively outweighs Ukraine's and the Defense Ministry's statement is a barely veiled threat of intervention. Meanwhile, USA Today reports that Russian warplanes have entered Ukrainian airspace several times in the last 24 hours, according to the Pentagon. The violation of Ukraine's airspace follows war games that have moblized some 40,000 Russian troops to the Ukrainian border. Earlier this week, the Pentagon deployed 600 paratroopers to Poland and the Baltic states "to reassure NATO allies in the region about the US commitment to their defense." Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk charged that Moscow "wants to start World War III" by seeking to take over Ukraine.
In a case of very disturbing bluster (but, we hope, still just bluster) Ukrainian parliamentarian Pavlo Rizanenko told the Western media that Ukraine may have to arm with nuclear weapons if the US and other world powers refuse to enforce a security pact that he said obliges them to act against Moscow's takeover of Crimea. "We gave up nuclear weapons because of this agreement," said Rizanenko of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR). "Now there's a strong sentiment in Ukraine that we made a big mistake." (KSDK, March 10) Rizanenko was refering to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. Late last month, Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, formally invoked the Memorandum. In their statement, lawmakers said: "Ukraine received guarantees of country's security in the 1994 Budapest memorandum on security assurances over Ukraine's accession to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty." (ITAR-TASS, Feb. 28)
Some 100,000 people from eight cities across Taiwan marked the approaching three-year anniversary of the Fukushima disaster by taking to the streets to demand an end to nuclear power in the island nation. Protesters called for a halt to construction on the island's fourth nuclear power plant, now underway at Lungmen, as well as closure of the existing three installations. They also demanded the removal of nuclear waste from Orchid Island, and that the government review its policy on the long-term management of radioactive waste. (Taiwan Today, March 10; China Post, March 9)
With the passing of Nelson Mandela today, Barack Obama of course issued the requisite accolades, hailing the departed icon of South African freedom as "one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this Earth... Like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set. And so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him." (USA Today) Obama's words may well be heartfelt, but the notion that the US stood beside Mandela in the long struggle against apartheid is revisionism that must be combatted.
The P5+1 world powers, which include the US, UK, Russia, China, France and Germany, reached an agreement (PDF) with Iran on Nov. 24 committing Iran to limiting its developing nuclear program in exchange for relief from international sanctions. The agreement outlines a six-month program, although the US holds that this agreement is only an initial step, and the full force of its sanctions against Iran will not be lifted until [it has been determined that] Iran has come into full compliance with its obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In a speech regarding the agreement, US President Barack Obama made the following remarks regarding the agreement: