The Bush administration confirmed Wednesday it is offering Russia financial incentives if it halts nuclear cooperation with Iran. The issue is expected to figure in the meeting this coming weekend between President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Mexico.
Officials here say the United States is prepared to remove obstacles to lucrative nuclear deals for Moscow if Russia stops construction of a nuclear power reactor and other cooperation with Iran.
Confirmation of the offer came in a written statement by the State Department in response to press reports from Moscow about the proposed trade-off.
The United States has long been pressing Russia to cease its role in the building of a nuclear plant in the Iranian coastal city of Bushehr, a facility U.S. experts believe could advance what is described here as an "aggressive" covert effort by Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.
The statement said if Moscow does stop work on the Bushehr plant, the Bush administration is prepared to lift restrictions on the import to Russia from third countries of spent nuclear fuel that was originally supplied by the United States.
It said the arrangement could potentially be worth over $10 billion to Moscow, which would collect fees for storing and reprocessing the nuclear fuel. It said that would far exceed any short-term gain Russia would get from "sensitive transfers" to Iran.
Russia reportedly stands to net about $800 million by finishing the Bushehr plant, which has been under construction, in fits and starts, since before Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979.
A Washington Post report from Moscow this week said Russian officials were cool to the U.S. offer, in part because the Bush administration had failed to deliver on an earlier pledge to drop trade restrictions under the Jackson-Vanik law in exchange for Russian support in the war on terrorism.
The nuclear issue was on the agenda for the Moscow visit earlier this week by the State Department's arms-control chief John Bolton, and is expected to be raised again when President Bush meets Mr. Putin on the sidelines of the Pacific-rim summit in Los Cabos, Mexico.
The statement issued here said the United States is "deeply concerned" that Russian entities continue to provide "important" assistance to Iran's weapons-of-mass-destruction and missile programs even though Moscow has denied giving such help.
It said an end to Russian proliferation to Iran would allow the United States and Russia to "reap the full promise" of their new strategic relationship.