Putin, Gadhafi Hold Nuclear Reactor Talks

Reuters

Russia and Libya are negotiating a deal under which Moscow would build nuclear research reactors for the North African state and supply fuel, officials said Saturday.

Russia earns billions of dollars each year by exporting its civilian nuclear expertise, but it has faced criticism from Western governments who say the nuclear technology could fall into the wrong hands.

Officials said a document on civilian nuclear cooperation was under discussion at talks Saturday between Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, on his first visit to Russia in 23 years, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Under the deal, Russia would help Libya design, develop and operate civilian nuclear research reactors and provide fuel for them, a reporter who saw a draft of the document said.

"The agreement has not yet been signed. Negotiations are under way," government spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Russia is in a three-way race with Europe and the United States to secure lucrative contracts with Libya after it emerged from international isolation by giving up its weapons of mass destruction program.

Putin said last month that Russia was ready to consider building nuclear power plants for Venezuela, which under President Hugo Chavez has been a fierce adversary of the United States.

Russia is also building a nuclear power station for Iran, suspected by the United States and others of seeking to build an atomic bomb under cover of its nuclear power program. Tehran denies it has any such intention.

In keeping with his tradition on foreign visits, Gadhafi — who was born into a family of Bedouin herdsmen — pitched a tent in a Kremlin garden for his visit. A barbecue grill was set up in front of the tent.

Gadhafi later joined Putin for a public concert by French singer Mireille Mathieu.

At an earlier meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev, he said he wanted more energy cooperation.

"Unfortunately, in the past our relations have been mainly focused on military and diplomatic contacts and there was virtually no cooperation in civilian sectors," Gadhafi told Medvedev.

Shokri Ghanem, Libya's top energy official and head of its OPEC delegation, had come to Moscow "so he could discuss coordination with his Russian colleagues," Gadhafi said.

"I believe such cooperation is especially appropriate in the current conditions. Moreover, we are linked by a common vision of energy policy," he said.

Diplomats say Gadhafi's trip to Moscow is intended to counterbalance his fast-expanding relations with the West. U.S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went to Tripoli in September for the first visit by a U.S. secretary of state in 55 years.

Kommersant reported Friday that Gadhafi planned to offer the Russian Navy a base in the port of Benghazi, but the proposal was not mentioned during the part of Saturday's talks attended by reporters.