- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2008

Coming U.S.-Russia freeze

The Russian military operation in Georgia is beginning to negatively impact U.S. ties to Moscow, including a pending U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation agreement and possibly space cooperation.

Five senators wrote to President Bush last week urging him to “immediately withdraw” the so-called 123 nuclear agreement from Congress because of “Russian aggression” against Georgia.

“This is simply not the time for our government to be promoting expanded cooperation with Russia in this sensitive area,” the senators said in the Aug. 21 letter. Among those signing were Republican Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, John Ensign of Nevada and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

“Instead, we believe that the United States must send a strong signal to Russian leadership that its increasingly belligerent foreign policy will not be rewarded.”

Two U.S. officials - one in Congress, the other in the Bush administration - said policymakers in the State Department want to go ahead with the nuclear deal, which would involve the transfer of reactor technology.

The senators also said Russian sales of SA-20 missiles to Iran are another reason to cancel the nuclear accord because sales of the air-defensive equipment are going forward despite U.S. protests.

Another coming chill in relations as a result of the Georgia crisis involves joint space cooperation, which is in jeopardy after reports that Russia illegally used the International Space Station (ISS) for military reconnaissance during the early days of the war.

NASA’s Web site posted a status report on the ISS that disclosed that a Russian cosmonaut used digital cameras to photograph “the aftereffects of border conflict operation in the Caucasus.” Aviation Week first reported the issue.

Russia’s space agency stated that the pictures were not for military use but to support “humanitarian” operations.

However, U.S. officials said the military photography by the Russian violated a 1998 U.S.-Russia agreement that limits activities on the station to civilian use. “There is clearly a need to exercise better supervision of their onboard activity,” one official said.

NASA is planning to use Russian boosters to send U.S. astronauts to the space station after the shuttle is shut down in 2010, but some in Congress are saying that the shuttle program should be continued because of the Russian action in Georgia.

Rep. Tom Feeney, Florida Republican and ranking member of the House subcommittee that oversees NASA, said he is concerned about the reported Russian photography from the ISS. “By definition, the space station is to be used for peaceful purposes,” Mr. Feeney said in an interview. “It is a concern when any of our international space partners use the station … for what could be used for strategy or tactics.”

Another worry, Mr. Feeney said, is overreliance on Russia for access to the space station. “We do not want the Russians to have a monopoly on access to the space station,” he said. “That’s a much bigger problem than cosmonauts taking pictures.”

NASA spokesman John Yembrick said NASA accepts Russia’s explanation that the photography was related to water problems in South Ossetia and not for military reconnaissance. “NASA has no concerns about it,” he said.

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