by Sergei Blagov
(IPS) MOSCOW --
suspected weapons of mass destruction program in Iran is creating a new obstacle to improved relations between the U.S. and Russia.
While President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin shook hands and seemed to reconcile over Iraq, differences emerged over a nuclear plant being developed in Iran with Russian help.
Russia is going ahead with construction of Iran's first nuclear reactor at Bushehr despite U.S. concerns that Iran could use the $800 million project as cover for a nuclear weapons program.
Russia is scheduled to supply enriched uranium to fuel the Bushehr reactor in the coming months. The U.S. is against the move.
"We are concerned about Iran's advanced nuclear program and urge Iran to comply in full with its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty," President Bush said on his visit to Russia.
The differences are, however, nowhere near as acrimonious as the earlier differences over Iraq. Putin sought to play down the concerns. "The positions of Russia and the United States on the issue are much closer than they seem," he said. "We need no convincing about the fact that weapons of mass destruction proliferation should be checked and prevented throughout the world."
Putin said, however, that he was "against the pretext of using the nuclear weapons program in Iran as a lever in unfair business competition against us." He said: "We will continue working with all, including the United States, to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction everywhere, including Iran."
Following the summit, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov suggested tougher international inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities. In a statement Sunday, Nuclear Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev went so far as to invite the U.S. to join Russia in construction of the nuclear power station in Bushehr.
Moves are being made meanwhile to strengthen trade between Russia and the U.S. The U.S. could be interested in increased imports of Russian crude oil, the Russian news agency RIA quoted a high-ranking U.S. diplomatic source as saying Sunday. The diplomat promised more U.S. investments in Russia's energy sector. He also said the U.S. would not discriminate against Russian companies in Iraq.
Differences over Iraq seem to have been put aside at the summit. Russia has approved a United Nations Security Council resolution lifting economic sanctions imposed on Iraq in 1990, and legalizing the U.S.-led administration in Baghdad.
"We view it as a serious step towards cooperation on this issue with the U.S. within the framework of the UN," Putin said at a press conference after the summit.
The two leaders evidently placed the accent on common interests. "Both of our countries have suffered greatly at the hands of terrorists, and our governments are taking action to confront this threat," Bush said at the post-summit press conference.
The leaders went out of their way to emphasize close ties. Putin greeted Bush as "my counterpart in a friendly nation." Bush said "this experience will make our relationship stronger, not weaker," and that "friends can disagree."
The two leaders exchanged documents marking the ratification of the Treaty of Moscow agreed last year to reduce arsenals on both sides by two-thirds. The U.S. Senate approved it earlier this year, and the Russian parliament ratified it last month.
The summit meeting in St. Petersburg also produced two joint statements on cooperation in missile defence and the continued assembly of the International Space Station. Both leaders together called on North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
June 2, 2003 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
All Rights Reserved.
Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.