U.S. lauds civilian nuclear deal with Russia

By Steve Gutterman

MOSCOW (BestGrowthStock) – A newly approved civilian nuclear accord between Russia and the United States will help ensure Moscow supports U.S. efforts against nuclear proliferation, U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman said on Friday.

The so-called 123 agreement, which creates a foundation for closer cooperation on nuclear research, production and trade, is set to enter force after surviving a review period that ended on Thursday in the U.S. Congress.

“It provides a broad legal framework for the U.S. and Russia to continue our security cooperation, in fighting such very important problems as the proliferation threat from Iran,” Poneman said in an interview during a visit to Russia.

He said the agreement would help Russia and the United States cooperate to ensure other countries that want nuclear energy can have it without increasing the risk of bomb-making materials falling into the wrong hands.

Poneman pointed to U.S. support for fuel banks — one open in Russia and one to be run by the U.N. nuclear agency — that would provide other nations with uranium fuel for nuclear power but prevent them from enriching it in a weapons program.

The 123 agreement was submitted to Congress by former President George W. Bush but withdrawn when Russia’s August 2008 war with pro-Western Georgia badly soured U.S. ties with Moscow.

‘RESET’ ELEMENT

Obama resubmitted it in May in a drive to “reset” relations with Russia, aiming in part to secure Moscow’s support for U.S. priorities such as curbing Iran’s nuclear program and defeating Afghan insurgents.

U.S. critics contend the agreement rewards Russia despite Moscow’s close ties with Iran, where a Russian-built nuclear reactor goes on line next year. Congress approved the agreement by refraining from passing legislation to block it.

Poneman said Moscow had eased concerns that the Bushehr reactor could help Tehran develop nuclear weapons by securing an agreement under which Iran must return the spent fuel to Russia.

Russia also pleased the United States by supporting new U.N. sanctions against Tehran in June and scrapping a missile sale.

Russia is trying to expand its already robust presence in the global nuclear energy market, from uranium mining to building power plants. Poneman suggested the prospect of closer cooperation and expanded trade with the United States would encourage Russia’s support on non-proliferation efforts.

The 123 agreement “reinforces our ability to work with Russia to make sure that Iran comes back into compliance with their international obligations,” he said.

Russia on Thursday welcomed approval of what it called “one of the most important bilateral agreements” with Washington.

The Foreign Ministry said the pact would foster cooperation in research on the handling of spent nuclear fuel, the provision of services related to the nuclear fuel cycle, and the development of technology to improve nuclear security.

Obama’s administration is pushing for U.S. Senate approval of a key element of the “reset”, the New START strategic nuclear arms limitation pact signed in April.

Poneman stressed the need to help the Cold War foes keep tabs on one another’s deployments by establishing mandatory verification rules, no longer in place after expiry of the 1991 START I treaty in December 2009.

“We’ve been over a year without inspectors on the ground, so we are pressing very hard for this to achieve the consent and ratification it needs from the U.S. Senate, and we’re going to keep pressing that case,” he said.

(Editing by Tim Pearce)

U.S. lauds civilian nuclear deal with Russia