Russian, U.S. Presidents Plan to Control Global Nuclear Fuel Enrichment

STRELNA, Russia, July 15, 2006 (ENS) - Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush have agreed to control the spread of uranium enrichment by creating one central enrichment system that will supply client countries with fuel for nuclear power plants. In a bilateral meeting before the opening of the Group of eight, G8, Summit today, the leaders agreed to move forward on the plan, known as the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership.

Enrichment of uranium is necessary before the radioactive element can be made into fuel for nuclear power plants or atomic weapons.

President Putin said today, "We have adopted a joint statement, the basis of which are our parallel initiatives on the secure development of nuclear energy. Its main goal is to contribute to the sustainability and reliability of the supply of this type of energy resource, and the parallel reduction of the threat of the spread of nuclear weapons."

"We believe that this will be possible in the case of the creation of a system of international enrichment centered into a single network, and of course, under strict control on the part of the IAEA," Putin said.

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President George W. Bush (left) and President Vladimir Putin exchange handshakes after a joint press availability at the International Media Center in the Konstantinovsky Palace Complex, site of the G8 Summit in Strelna, Russia. (Photo by Paul Morse courtesy The White House)
"The Russian initiative on the creation of multilateral centers for the provision of nuclear fuel cycle services and the idea of a global partnership in this area complement each other very well, and we'll jointly work toward integrating these two initiatives," said Putin.

"In order to achieve this we'll have to resolve problems that have to do with the terms of trade in nuclear materials between Russia and the United States," he said.

At the press conference in Strelna today, President Bush indicated that it was President Putin who gave him the initial idea for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership in a proposal on handling Iran's desire for civilian nuclear power reactors.

Bush told reporters, "You might remember that Russia proposed a very interesting way forward for Iran. It was the Putin government that said to the Iranians, 'If you want a civilian nuclear power program, we will support you in that; however, we will provide the fuel and we'll collect the spent fuel.'

"I thought it was a very innovative approach to solving the problem," said Bush. "I strongly supported the initiatives." In February, President Bush announced the furthering the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership to be his government's policy.

At their meeting today, the U.S. and Russian leaders discussed the entire range of international issues including Iran's nuclear program, the situation in the Middle East, on the Korean Peninsula, and in other regions of the world.

Russia has claimed that Iran's nuclear program should not be viewed as a threat, and Russia has provided a light water reactor to Iran's nuclear power plant at Bushehr.

In February, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization agreed in principle to set up a joint uranium enrichment project with Russia. The move was seen as a potential breakthrough in efforts to prevent an international confrontation over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

But since then, Tehran has declared it would conduct all elements of the nuclear cycle on its own territory, including enrichment.

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President George W. Bush and Chancellor Angela Merkel hold a joint press conference in Stralsund, Germany. July 13, 2006. (Photo by Paul Morse courtesy The White House)
Speaking Friday at joint press briefing with Chancellor Angela Merkel in the German town of Stralsund, President Bush said, "I made it clear to the Iranians that if they were to do what they said they would do, which is to stop enrichment in a verifiable fashion, we are more than pleased to come back to the table."

But Tehran has repeatedly said that it will not accept any pre-conditions for talks on its peaceful nuclear activities.

The U.S. President said that there is still a chance for a diplomatic solution of the Iranian nuclear dispute. "There is no question that it can be solved diplomatically," he added.

In their talks today, Presidents Bush and Putin discussed the danger that Iran and North Korea might acquire and use nuclear weapons, or that terrorists might acquire them.

The Russian and U.S. leaders adopted a joint statement on fighting acts of nuclear terrorism. Putin said, "Our countries are demonstrating the commitment to taking the most serious measures to counter the acquisition, transport, or use of nuclear and radioactive materials by terrorists, as well as improvised explosive devices based on such materials. It is equally important to rule out any hostile actions against nuclear facilities."

"We hope that this initiative will draw the attention of other participants in the G8 and will deliver concrete results," he said.

In February, Bush outlined his view of the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. "America will work with nations that have advanced civilian nuclear energy programs, such as France, Japan, and Russia," he said. "Together, we will develop and deploy innovative, advanced reactors and new methods to recycle spent nuclear fuel. This will allow us to produce more energy, while dramatically reducing the amount of nuclear waste and eliminating the nuclear byproducts that unstable regimes or terrorists could use to make weapons."

The Bush administration's Fiscal Year 2007 budget includes $250 million to launch this plan.

At the press conference today, President Putin said he views the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership as an opportunity for countries who want to develop civilian nuclear power plants to do so.

He downplayed the fact that the countries doing the enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear fuel would control the world's supply of enriched uranium.

"We are seeking not only for the possibility of controlling this or that process; we are seeking opportunities for ensuring their legal access to nuclear technology," said Putin. "It is to this end that we have adopted our joint initiative on the creation of international centers for uranium enrichment and reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel."

"These are not unilateral actions aimed at trying to block somebody's access to something," Putin said. "This is a search for solutions that could ensure development in the world, at the same time would make the development secure in terms of nuclear nonproliferation and missile nonproliferation."

The G8 Summit opens tonight with a formal dinner and working meetings begin tomorrow and continue through July 17.