U.S. should shelve nuclear deal: Russian official

MOSCOW Mon Aug 25, 2008 4:45pm EDT

1 of 3. A Russian serviceman gestures while waiting to travel on a road leading to Russia, in South Ossetia, near the border with North Ossetia, August 25, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - The White House should postpone a Congressional vote on a landmark U.S.-Russia civilian nuclear pact to prevent it being held hostage to a row over the conflict with Georgia, a Russian nuclear official told Reuters.

The pact between the world's two biggest nuclear powers is aimed at opening up the booming U.S. nuclear market and Russia's vast uranium fields to firms from both countries by removing Cold War-era restrictions.

The deal was signed in May but needs approval from Congress. A Russian official told Reuters it would be better for the deal to be delayed until next year to prevent it being blocked.

"It is a shame that the U.S. administration could not push this agreement through Congress in the time there was," the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

"If you take into account the recent political events, Congress is unlikely to pass it, so to avoid it being blocked it would be right and proper to recall it and let it be looked at by the new administration."

"The question of peaceful use of nuclear energy should not depend on the current political situation," the source said.

The 123 agreement, so called because it falls under section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act, is required before countries can cooperate on nuclear materials.

It is crucial to the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, or GNEP, which the United States and Russia have discussed for more than a year as a way to expand peaceful nuclear energy development and mitigate proliferation risks.

If ratified by Congress, the pact could open the way for deals potentially worth billions of dollars.

Relations between Moscow and Washington are strained over Russia's military intervention in Georgia.

The United States has demanded that Russia withdraw all its forces immediately from Georgia, and Moscow has complained that Washington is turning a blind eye to Georgian aggression.

U.S. officials and lawmakers have discussed the possibility of adopting measures to punish Russia for its actions in Georgia.

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, editing by Tim Pearce)

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