The US and Russia were to sign a landmark agreement on international civilian nuclear energy cooperation in Moscow yesterday, a US embassy official said.
The agreement foresees Moscow and Washington working together on the global nuclear market to promote safe reactor technology, provide nuclear fuel and ensure non-proliferation, drafts of the accord showed.
US President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin inked the agreement at a summit in Kennebunkport last year and discussed it again in the Russian resort of Sochi last month.
US Ambassador to Moscow William Burns and Sergei Kiriyenko, head of Russia’s state nuclear agency Rosatom, were expected to sign the agreement yesterday, the last full day of Putin’s presidency.
“The potential value of this agreement is the value of all the contracts which could be signed between the two countries’ firms in the nuclear sphere, which is obviously billions of dollars,” a Russian source said.
At the 2006 G8 summit in St Petersburg, Bush and Putin asked their governments to move forward on the deal but it has faced opposition from some US members of Congress because of Russia’s cooperation with Iran.
A 123 agreement, so-called because it falls under section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act, is required before countries can cooperate on nuclear materials.
Once the agreement is signed Bush will have to send it to Congress, which has 90 days to act. If Congress does nothing, the agreement goes into effect. If lawmakers want to block it, they must pass a resolution of disapproval. Russia’s parliament must also ratify the treaty.
Russia, one of the world’s biggest sellers of enrichment services, has been trying to break into the prosperous nuclear markets of the US and EU.
The deal creates a legal base that will allow companies to make agreements themselves on trade in nuclear materials.
“You cannot overestimate the importance of this agreement because it opens up the giant north American market for nuclear materials to Russian companies,” Vladimir Yevseyev, a senior researcher at the Moscow Center For International Security.
Meanwhile, Georgia is “very close” to a war with Russia, a Georgian minister said on yesterday, citing Moscow’s decision to send extra troops to the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia.
“We literally have to avert war,” Georgian State Minister for Issues of Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili told a news briefing during a trip to Brussels.
Asked how close to such a war the situation was, he replied: “Very close, because we know Russians very well.
“We know what the signals are when you see propaganda waged against Georgia. We see Russian troops entering our territories on the basis of false information,” he said.
Russia has said the troop build-up is needed to counter what it says are Georgian plans for an attack on breakaway Abkhazia and has accused Tbilisi of trying to suck the West into a war.
Georgian officials have rejected both allegations.