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U.S. Revives Nuclear Energy Pact With Russia, Citing Cooperation On Iran

  • RFE/RL

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a landmark nuclear disarmament treaty in Prague in April.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a landmark nuclear disarmament treaty in Prague in April.

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama has resubmitted to Congress a pact on nuclear energy cooperation with Russia that was first submitted two years ago, but was canceled just months later in the aftermath of the Russian-Georgian war.

The so-called "123 Agreement" would allow the exchange of nuclear energy technology, material, and equipment between the two countries, including reactors and components for nuclear research and power production.

The 30-year deal would also enable joint nuclear energy ventures by U.S. and Russian companies and allow Russia to reprocess spent nuclear fuel from the United States.

In a statement sent to lawmakers on May 10, Obama said that the agreement would "advance the nonproliferation and other foreign-policy interests of the United States."

He cited a year of "significantly increased cooperation" with Russia on nuclear nonproliferation and energy issues as one of the key reasons for reviving it.

In April, Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a new START treaty on arms reduction that cut the number of deployed nuclear warheads on both sides by nearly a third.

Obama hailed the treaty as proof of a "reset" in relations with Moscow, which has been one of his administration's top foreign-policy priorities.

Speaking on April 8 at the signing ceremony in Prague, Obama said: "I also came to office committed to resetting relations between the United States and Russia, and I know that President Medvedev shared that commitment.

"As he said in our first meeting in London, our relationship had started to drift, making it difficult to cooperate on issue of common interest to our people. And when the United States and Russia are not able to work together on big issues, it is not good for either of our nations nor is it good for the world. Together, we've stopped that drift and proven the benefits of cooperation."

'Moving Forward'

That "drift" in relations was at its widest two years ago in the aftermath of the Russian-Georgian war.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush had sent the "123 Agreement" to Congress in May 2008, but withdrew it four months later after Russia invaded its Western-leaning neighbor.

In his statement, Obama said that "the situation in Georgia need no longer be considered an obstacle to proceeding" with the agreement.

While the administration maintains its support for Georgian claims to the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, it has attempted to isolate impasses in bilateral relations from areas of potential cooperation -- a policy described by U.S. officials as "more mature."

Obama also said that "the level and scope of U.S.-Russia cooperation on Iran are sufficient" to pursue the pact.

He said the Kremlin had "indicated its support" for a fourth round of UN sanctions against Iran, which the West accuses of trying to build nuclear weapons. Tehran insists that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes.

Some opposition Republicans in Congress have expressed concern that Obama is moving too far in Russia's direction before he has secured Moscow's concrete support for sanctions.

Russia has sizeable economic ties to Iran, including a $1 billion contract to build a nuclear power plant at Bushehr, which is expected to go online this year.

Russian officials have also said that sanctions that negatively impact the Iranian people would be misguided.

Obama said Russia "has begun to engage on specific [UN Security Council] resolution elements with P5 members in New York," referring to the five permanent, veto-wielding members of the Security Council: Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States.

The deal does not require Congressional approval, but must be sent to lawmakers for a 90-day review period, during which they can vote to kill it if they disagree with it.

Russian lawmakers have reacted to Obama's resubmission of the agreement by calling it an "important step."