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Russia, Libya Discuss Nuclear Cooperation Deal

Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi (right) with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russia and Libya are negotiating a deal under which Moscow would build nuclear research reactors for the North African state and supply fuel, officials said.

Russia earns billions of dollars each year by exporting its civilian nuclear expertise, but it has faced criticism from Western governments who say the nuclear technology could fall into the wrong hands.

Officials said a document on civilian nuclear cooperation was under discussion at talks between Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, on his first visit to Russia for 23 years, and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Under the deal, Russia would help Libya design, develop, and operate civilian nuclear research reactors and provide fuel for them, said a Reuters reporter who saw a draft of the document.

A spokesman for Putin said the deal was under discussion. "The agreement has not yet been signed. Negotiations are under way," Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Three-Way Race

Russia is in a three-way race with Europe and the United States to secure lucrative contracts with Libya after it emerged from international isolation by giving up its weapons of mass destruction program.

Putin said last month Russia was ready to consider building nuclear power plants for Venezuela, which under President Hugo Chavez has been a fierce adversary of the United States.

Russia is also building a nuclear power station for Iran, suspected by the United States and others of seeking to build an atomic bomb under cover of its nuclear power program. Tehran denies it has any such intention.

In keeping with his tradition on foreign visits, Qaddafi -- who was born into a family of Bedouin herdsmen -- pitched a tent in a Kremlin garden for his visit. A barbecue grill was set up in front of the tent.

Qaddafi later joined Putin for a public Kremlin Palace concert by Mireille Mathieu. The ITAR-TASS state news agency said they were met with thunderous applause when they entered the hall.

They chatted with the French singer, enormously popular in Russia since Soviet days, over tea at the intermission.

At an earlier meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Qaddafi said he wanted more energy cooperation.

"Unfortunately, in the past our relations have been mainly focused on military and diplomatic contacts and there was virtually no cooperation in civilian sectors," Qaddafi told Medvedev at the start of talks in the Kremlin.

'Common Vision'

Shokri Ghanem, Libya's top energy official and head of its OPEC delegation, had come to Moscow "so he could discuss coordination with his Russian colleagues," Qaddafi said.

"I believe such cooperation is especially appropriate in the current conditions. Moreover, we are linked by a common vision of energy policy," Qaddafi said, in an apparent reference to the sharp fall in oil prices in the wake of the financial crisis.

Diplomats say Qaddafi's trip to Moscow is intended to counterbalance his fast-expanding relations with the West. U.S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went to Tripoli in September for the first visit by a U.S. secretary of state in 55 years.

A Russian newspaper reported on October 31 that the Libyan leader planned to offer the Russian Navy a base in the port of Benghazi, but the proposal was not mentioned during the part of the November 1 talks when reporters were present.

Libya has Africa's largest oil reserves and Russian companies, including gas exporter Gazprom, and oil majors Rosneft and Lukoil are keen to participate in energy projects there.