Deal Near on Safeguarding Russian Nuke Materials

Prospects are good that the United States and Russia will soon conclude an agreement designed to keep Russian nuclear fuel out of terrorists' hands, a top Senate architect of the program said Monday.

"Daylight is on the horizon" and the agreement could be signed by President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin (search) at the G-8 (search) meeting of leading industrialized countries in Scotland July 6-8, said Sen. Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M., in an Associated Press telephone interview.

The goal is to dispose of 68 tons of weapons-grade plutonium. The main hurdle for the last two years has been arrangements for compensation in the event of accidents. U.S. contractors are seeking protection from liability at disposal facilities they would construct.

Domenici, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said efforts to define responsibility for accidents had moved along and the two sides were making headway toward an agreement.

He credited Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and John R. Bolton (search), the department's top international security official until he was nominated to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, with major progress toward resolving a two-year impasse.

"Bolton took a very active and positive role before I ever talked to Secretary Rice," Domenici said. "She then went on to work very hard to unsnarl the liability problem, and we have made great strides."

Bolton, whose nomination is being contested by Senate Democrats, has been succeeded as undersecretary of state by Bob Joseph.

Last year, Domenici publicly rebuked Bolton at a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing for slow progress on liability.

But in January, U.S. negotiators offered the Russians a compromise arrangement that eased liability responsibilities and the Bush administration is now waiting for a formal response from Moscow.

"The concept is rather novel to them and very hard to put into an agreement, but I think they are making headway," Domenici said.