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US urging Russia to join arms interdiction effort
( 2004-01-28 11:20) (Agencies)

The Bush administration is hoping to persuade Russia to formally join a growing alliance of countries prepared to undertake interdictions to halt the trade in weapons of mass destruction, senior U.S. officials say.

Russia is the only member of the Group of Eight major industrial nations that is not yet a member of the Proliferation Security Initiative and the administration would like to see that absence remedied in time for the U.S.-hosted G8 summit at Sea Island, Georgia, in June, the officials told Reuters.

The so-called PSI is aimed at halting the flow of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons-related materials and missiles bound for states like North Korea and Iran.

It is expected to be a major topic when Undersecretary of State John Bolton visits Moscow this week for talks with senior Russian officials.

In addition, Bolton is expected to urge Russia to continue to withhold fuel for a nuclear reactor Moscow is building for Iran at Bushehr, as least as long as Tehran's nuclear ambitions remain a subject of concern.

"With Canada now joining, it would mean Russia is the only G8 country that's not a full participant in PSI. It would be nice if we could bring them in," one U.S. official said.

While the G8 summit agenda is not set, the Americans hope to keep it tightly focused on no more than three broad topics and nonproliferation efforts are likely to be among them.

When President Bush announced the PSI last May, it included 11 countries -- the United States, Australia, Britain, Japan, Poland, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands.


In December, five more countries came aboard: Canada, Denmark, Norway, Singapore and Turkey.

U.S. officials say the initiative already has had successes, including the seizure last October of a Libyan-bound ship carrying nuclear centrifuge equipment that helped persuade Tripoli to give up its nuclear ambitions.

Participating countries also have held multinational exercises that have provided experience in interdiction and intelligence sharing for their militaries, officials say.

Washington and Moscow generally have had cooperative ties during Bush's tenure, especially on terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Two sources of friction have been the Iraq war and Russia's cooperation with Iran, which the United States accuses of aggressively pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

Once wary of PSI, now "the Russians are interested in knowing more about it and perhaps even participating," a senior U.S. official said.

This would be somewhat ironic, since the United States previously accused Russia of being a major proliferator.

Nonproliferation expert Henry Sokolski said that in one sense Russia's participation "doesn't change anything because the PSI is only asking countries to uphold their own laws."

On the other hand, if Russia joined, it would leave China -- whose transfer of weapons-related technology has also been a U.S. concern -- as the only member of the U.N. Security Council not participating.

"It would consolidate support for these (nonproliferation) principles and make it tough for countries that don't support them to get away with this behavior," said Sokolski of the Non-proliferation Education Center thinktank.

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