WASHINGTON President Bush will pursue a nuclear cooperation agreement when he meets Russian leader Vladimir Putin next week during a summit of industrialized nations in St. Petersburg, the White House said Saturday.
But any agreement would be conditioned on Russia helping to pressure Iran to give up its alleged desire to develop nuclear weapons, said Frederick Jones, spokesman for Bush's National Security Council.
"We have made clear to the Russians that for an agreement on peaceful nuclear cooperation to go forward, we will need Russia's active cooperation in blocking Iran's attempt to obtain nuclear weapons,"Jones said.
The two presidents will announce the start of negotiations on the agreement when they meet on the sidelines of the July 15-17 Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg, the White House confirmed.
Nuclear cooperation between the two countries has stalled for more than a decade because of Washington's objections to Russia's nuclear cooperation with Iran, including construction of an atomic power plant in Bushehr.
The Bush administration's willingness to reverse course and pursue a nuclear cooperation agreement reflects the U.S. view that Moscow is now a partner in the effort to persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions, rather than a hindrance to it.
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"Now that Russia has been more cooperative in putting pressure on Iran to abandon its"alleged nuclear weapons program, the United States"won't allow the Iran relationship to get in the way of this particular activity,"said Jon Wolfstahl, an analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace in Washington.
The White House sees an agreement with Russia as a win-win, despite concerns that Putin is backtracking on democratic advances, about the security of Russian nuclear material, and that Moscow has so far opposed imposing sanctions on Iran if it refuses to abandon suspected nuclear weapons development.
Bush wants the use of nuclear power increased, especially in developing countries, to reduce the global demand for oil. Russia, meanwhile, sees a lucrative market in playing a role in providing such capabilities to other countries.
"Such an agreement would benefit both the United States and Russia, and indeed the world, by enabling advances in and greater use of nuclear energy,"said Jones, the Security Council spokesman.
The two leaders, who have been promoting nuclear energy as a clean alternative, have made proposals on providing nuclear power to developing countries while building in safeguards for nonproliferation of weapons.
Rose Gottemoeller, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, said the potential joint project was"probably the biggest story coming out of the Petersburg summit."
"This is a field where Russia has a clear technological advantage because over the past 30 years, the U.S. has essentially abandoned nuclear power technology development"in the wake of the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in Pennsylvania and the Chernobyl accident in 1986, Gottemoeller said at a round table discussion on U.S.-Russian relations.
In January, Putin proposed establishing an international nuclear center in Russia that would provide full fuel cycle services. He said the center could be the start of a network of such centers around the world.
At about the same time, Bush introduced his Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, which would provide fresh fuel to countries that agree to use it only for power generation and would recover spent fuel.
"President Bush is very anxious to move his nuclear energy proposals forward and he sees his relationship with President Putin as a natural way to add momentum,"said Wolfstahl of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace.
"The Russians have probably more modern nuclear reactor technology than we do but they need our endorsement and our cooperation if they are going to bring it to the international market,"he said.
Environmentalists have criticized Russia's efforts to develop such a business, arguing it will turn the country into a dumping ground for nuclear waste.
Russia has 31 reactors at 10 nuclear power plants, accounting for about 16 percent of the country's electricity generation, and Putin has called for raising the share to 25 percent.
Last month, Russia's atomic energy agency signed a contract with a military shipbuilding plant to build the world's first floating nuclear reactor near the Arctic port of Severodvinsk.
AP Writer Judith Ingram in Moscow contributed to this story
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