Bush Cancels Russia Nuclear Cooperation Deal
WASHINGTON - In a pointed but mostly symbolic expression of displeasure with Moscow, President Bush today canceled a once-celebrated civilian nuclear cooperation deal with Russia.
Mr. Bush had sent the agreement to Congress for approval in May, after a much-heralded signing by the two nations that capped two years of tough negotiations. Today, he officially pulled it back, a move announced by Secretary of State Rice.
"We make this decision with regret," Ms. Rice, in a statement read by a spokesman, Sean McCormack, said. "Unfortunately, given the current environment, the time is not right for this agreement."
The action combines with a recently announced $1 billion foreign aid package for tiny, West-leaning Georgia and the time Vice President Cheney spent last week railing against Russia in its backyard to form the American administration's punishment of Moscow for its invasion of Georgia. The nuclear deal was highly unlikely to win approval on Capitol Hill this year anyway, but Mr. Bush decided to actively withdraw it to make a loud statement.
Moscow, though, might not be much inclined to hear it.
Newly flush with riches from sales of its vast energy resources, Russia appears to feel it no longer has as much need for the potentially billions in revenue the deal would have provided it by allowing Moscow to establish a lucrative business as the center for the import and storage of spent nuclear fuel from American-supplied reactors around the world. The Russian Embassy in Washington said there would be no comment on Mr. Bush's action.
The deal's disappearance hampers some important global goals for Mr. Bush. It would have given Washington access to state-of-the-art Russian nuclear technology, while helping it address climate change by increasing civilian nuclear energy use worldwide and keeping nuclear material out of terrorists' hands.
"The U.S. non-proliferation goals contained in the agreement remain valid: to provide a sound basis for U.S.-Russian civilian nuclear cooperation, create commercial opportunities and enhance cooperation with Russia on important global non-proliferation issues," Ms. Rice said.
But in a sign of the almost Cold War-like state of America-Russia relations right now, Mr. Bush determined the extensive and unprecedented cooperation spelled out in the agreement is no longer in the national security interests of America.
Neither Ms. Rice nor Mr. McCormack would discuss whether the Georgia invasion was the impetus for the decision but Mr. Bush was blunt. He said in the formal notice to Congress that he was withdrawing the deal "in view of recent actions by the government of the Russian Federation incompatible with peaceful relations with its sovereign and democratic neighbor Georgia."
One advantage of pulling the deal rather than allowing it to die on Capitol Hill as it surely would have is that it now remains effectively on ice. The president - or his successor - could determine the deal is once again in American interests and resubmit it for approval. Mr. Bush signaled this by saying the administration will resubmit the agreement if circumstances, which he did not specify, "should permit."
Key lawmakers were suspicious of the deal from the start, fearing it could undermine American efforts to rein in Iran's nuclear program, because of Russia's extensive business and energy - including nuclear - ties with Tehran.
After the disastrous Georgia-Russia war, the deal's outlook became even more grim, with some lawmakers asking Mr. Bush to pull it to show Moscow its actions wouldn't be tolerated. There also isn't enough time left in the fall legislative calendar for the required review period to run out - the kind of scenario that would result in it taking effect without congressional action.
By JENNIFER LOVEN, Associated Press