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by Staff Writers
Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan (AFP) Sep 08, 2006
 
Amid criticism from certain western powers, the five former Soviet states of Central Asia on Friday pledged to make their collective territories a nuclear weapons-free zone.

At a ceremony held in the city of Semipalatinsk -- just 120 kilometres (75 miles) from the former Soviet Union's main testing ground for atomic bombs -- foreign ministers and ambassadors from the five states signed a treaty in which they pledged not to produce, acquire or deploy nuclear weapons or their components.
 
Kazakh Foreign Minister Kassymjomart Tokayev said the treaty, which took nine years to negotiate, was "particularly relevant in the context of the fight against terrorism". The agreement should help prevent weapons of mass destruction "falling into terrorists' hands", he added.
 
But for the treaty to enter into force, the signatories -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan -- must sign a separate agreement with the five nuclear powers that are permanent members of the United Nations' Security Council. These are Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States. And some western diplomats are already saying that the treaty is not worth the paper it is written on. They argue that article 12 of the text does not call into question the terms of a collective security agreement between the five central Asian states and Russia, which allows Moscow to transport atomic weapons across the newly-created nuclear free zone.
 
"Britain first raised this problem... The idea of this kind of treaty in Central Asia is very good but it still allows Russia to transport nuclear arms, which is contradictory," said a western diplomat based in Almaty.
 
Tokayev rejected these criticisms and insisted there was "no contradiction".
 
The disagreement over the treaty meant that while the Russian and Chinese ambassadors were present at the ceremony, along with UN representaties and members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the US, France and Britain were not represented.
In a letter sent to the signing ceremony, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan urged the Security Council and the Central Asian states to try to patch up their differences.
 
"I note that some nuclear states continue to be concerned about some aspects of the Central Asia nuclear-free zone treaty... I would therefore urge the five Central Asian states to engage with the nuclear weapon states with the view to bridging the differences and insuring the treaty's effective implementation," he wrote.
 
The Soviet Union tested nearly five hundred atomic bombs at its complex near Semipalatinsk, irradiating 1.5 million people and around 10 percent of Kazakh territory, an area equivalent to the size of Germany.
 
Kazakhstan is often held up as a model of nuclear non-proliferation. When it won independence from the Soviet Union, it gave up its massive nuclear arsenal, which was the world's fourth largest.

 

By ROBERT JABLON, Associated Press Writer
Sat September 2, 2006 12:56 PM ET

An interceptor missile destroyed a mock warhead in space over the Pacific Ocean on Friday, a key test of the U.S. missile defense system that prompted North Korea to accuse America of threatening war.

It was the most realistic test of the systems that would be used against an attack, said Missile Defense Agency spokesman Rick Lehner.
 
The 54-foot interceptor shot out of an underground silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base on the central California coast at 10:39 a.m., 17 minutes after the mock warhead was launched from Kodiak Island, Alaska, Lehner said.
 
The interceptor carried a refrigerator-sized "kill vehicle" that locked on to the approaching mock enemy missile and flew into the 4-foot-long warhead at 18,000 mph.
 
Lehner said both disintegrated more than 100 miles above the Earth and a few hundred miles west of Vandenberg. The interceptor's flight lasted 13 minutes.
 
North Korea characterized the test as provocation.
 
The U.S. move "clearly shows that it is the U.S. which is increasing tensions on the Korean Peninsula and threatening war against our country," the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland said in a statement.
 
The North will strengthen its "self-defensive deterrent," said the statement, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. Pyongyang often uses the phrase to refer to its nuclear program.
 
The $85 million test was designed to see whether the "kill vehicle" could get close to the warhead to test the tracking and sensor systems which would be used in an actual missile attack.
 
"It gave us a good chance to measure overall system performance. It was the most operationally realistic test we've had," Lehner said.
 
The interceptor was launched by remote control from a command center in Colorado. The test also was the first use of an early warning radar at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., to provide the data required to put the interceptor on a proper path toward its target.
 
The test was a "total success," Lt. Gen. Henry A. Obering III, the agency director, told a Pentagon news conference.
 
"What we did today is a huge step in terms of our systematic approach to continuing to field, continuing to deploy and continuing to develop a missile defense system for the United States, for our allies, our friends, our deployed forces around the world," Obering said.
 
Data from the test will take several weeks to review, Lehner said.
 
Stephen Young, a senior analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a group that advocates curbing the spread of nuclear weapons, said the demonstration was still far from replicating an actual missile attack, he said.
 
"They know the when, the where, the what (of the target missile) ... where it's coming from, the size of the warhead," he said by phone from Maryland.
 
The test was a small step forward, but the system is still far from being able to protect Americans from long-range missile attacks, said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
 
"The whole point is for us not to worry about the North Korean missiles," said Pike. "They are not close to that yet. Whether it will ever happen is subject to debate."
 
The launch was postponed from Thursday after fog socked in Kodiak Island. There was also fog over Vandenberg Friday morning but it burned off.
 
More than $100 billion has been spent on America's missile-defense system since 1983 and it has been the subject of criticism by those who call it a costly boondoggle. There also have been allegations that early tests were rigged or their success exaggerated. The Pentagon says the technology used in those tests is not part of the current research program.
 
Critics also argued early on that the end of the Cold War made a full-scale missile attack on the U.S. unlikely. Supporters say the U.S. still is vulnerable to missiles from rogue states.
 
In July, North Korea unsuccessfully test-fired a missile that was believed capable of reaching the northwestern U.S. coast.
 
When asked the odds of a U.S. interceptor being able to shoot down a North Korean missile using the existing missile defense system, Obering said the estimate is classified secret.
 
"But what I will tell you is that this test validated the confidence that I've expressed in the past with the performance of the system," he said.
 
Asked whether he would rate the chances, broadly speaking, as excellent, good, fair or poor, Obering said, "I think we have a good chance. And it's one that I feel a lot safer and sleep a lot better at night."
 
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in a statement that he was pleased but would leave it to the experts to characterize the details.
 
"While today's test was a success, the test program is by no means complete," he said. "Tests will continue, some of which will be successful and some will not. This was a challenging test, and the tests will become even more challenging in the period ahead."
 
There have been nine intercept tests since 1999, and five were successful in hitting the target, Lehner said. An actual intercept test was scheduled for the end of this year or in early 2007, he said.
 
Although Obering described the test as realistic, the target missile did not deploy decoys or other devices that might be aboard an actual long-range ballistic missile fired by an attacking country. Obering said decoys or other countermeasures might be added to the next test, scheduled for December.
Associated Press writers Bob Burns in Washington, D.C., and Rachel D'Oro in Anchorage, Alaska, contributed to this report.

Kazakhstan's soldiers stand guard near a monument to a nuclear explosion in Semipalatinsk, 08 September 2006. Photo courtesy of Vyacheslav Oseledko and AFP.

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