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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Georgia, Russia Cooperate on Nuclear Smuggling

Georgia's foreign minister said Friday that Moscow and Tbilisi had agreed to cooperate in investigating a nuclear smuggling case that has sparked further friction between the two neighbors.

Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili said he had discussed by telephone with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov how prosecutors from both countries could work together.

Georgia announced a week earlier that it had arrested and jailed a Russian citizen last year for trying to sell a small amount of weapons-grade uranium to an agent posing as a rich foreign buyer.

The episode appeared to cast doubt on Russia's ability to avert black-market trade in nuclear materials and renewed concern about security at its nuclear facilities.

But Lavrov branded the announcement a "provocation" at a time of strained relations between Moscow and its small, West-leaning former Soviet neighbor, which has angered the Kremlin by seeking NATO membership.

Russian authorities have stressed that the origin of the 100 grams of uranium is unknown.

The Foreign Ministry issued a brief statement earlier in the week on the telephone talks between the foreign ministers that made no mention of any pledge for joint cooperation.

Georgia complained that attempts to trace the source of the nuclear material and investigate the man's claim that he had access to larger quantities had failed because Russia had not helped. But Russian officials countered that Georgian authorities had given Russia too small a sample to determine its origin and had refused to provide other information.

Bezhuashvili was speaking after signing an agreement between Georgia and the United States on combating the smuggling of nuclear material at a ceremony with U.S. Ambassador John Tefft. Under the accord, the United States will provide equipment and training for Georgian experts. "Georgia intends to closely cooperate with all neighboring countries in this area, including Russia," the top Georgian diplomat said.