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By Maxim Kniazkov,
Agence France Presse &,
10 July 2006

US to dangle nuclear deal in exchange for Russia`s help on Iran

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States said it is beginning negotiations with Russia on a potentially lucrative nuclear energy accord, but made clear any deal would be conditional on Moscow`s full cooperation in US attempts to block Iranian nuclear ambitions.

Russia and China have been a key impediment to efforts by the United States to rally members of the UN Security Council behind its plan to slap international sanctions on Tehran in order to force it to halt uranium enrichment.

The issue is expected to be front and center in negotiations between President George W. Bush and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, at a Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg next weekend.

Although details of the proposed deal have not been released, it is seen as an attempt by the Bush administration to soften Russia`s recalcitrance ahead of the Bush-Putin talks and bring Moscow firmly into the US camp.

"We are initiating negotiations on a peaceful nuclear cooperation agreement with Russia," White House spokesman Peter Watkins told AFP on Saturday. "Such an agreement would benefit both the United States and Russia and indeed the world by enabling advances in greater use of nuclear energy."

He did not say when the talks would formally begin, but another official speaking on condition of anonymity said a formal announcement could be expected at the G8 summit.

The White House official, however, was adamant in linking the deal to Russia`s approach to Iran and its readiness to cooperate with the Bush administration in halting what it sees as Iran`s secret nuclear weapons program.

"We have made clear to Russia that for an agreement on peaceful nuclear cooperation with the United States to go forward, we will need Russia`s active cooperation in blocking Iran`s attempts to obtain nuclear weapons," Watkins said.

"Our policy on assistance to Iran`s nuclear program has not changed," he added.

Under the proposed deal, Russia could become a key international repository of spent nuclear fuel, including from countries that use US-supplied nuclear reactors, a lucrative arrangement that may also pave the way for it becoming a leading supplier of nuclear technology and fuel around the world, US media reports said.

The US government had opposed such cooperation up to now in part because of Russia`s assistance to Iran in building a nuclear power plant in Bushehr, a project opposed by the United States.

A change in procedures for handling nuclear waste coming from US-built reactors operating overseas will require congressional approval, and there were indications Saturday it may not come easy.

Democratic Representative Edward Markey (news, bio, voting record), who co-chairs the Bipartisan Task Force on Nonproliferation, was quoted by The New York Times as saying turning Russia into a nuclear waste dump would create "one-stop shopping for nuclear terrorists and would-be proliferators."

Nevertheless, Watkins indicated the deal would be in line with Bush vision for expanded reliance on peaceful nuclear power around the world, provided all the safeguards required by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty were strictly observed.

"The president has said that states that comply with their obligations under the NPT have a right to peacefully use their nuclear energy," he said.

The proposed deal, experts said, was also aimed at allaying concerns in Russia that economic sanctions against Iran, a major trading partner, would boomerang against it.

Bush hinted at his willingness to address the issue Friday when he told reporters in Chicago that he was determined to bring doubters to America`s side.

"Some nations are more comfortable with sanctions than other nations, and part of the issue we face in some of these countries is that they`ve got economic interests," he said. "And part of our objective is to make sure that national security interests, security of the world interests trump economic interests."

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