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Embassy Row

- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2011

RUSSIA OVEREXTENDED

Russia is unlikely to fulfill contract obligations for the construction of more than a dozen nuclear power plants in six countries, including China and Iran, according to the U.S. ambassador in Moscow.

Ambassador John Beyrle, in a private cable leaked Thursday, said Russia's state-owned nuclear power contractor, Atomstroyexport, faces a serious shortage of trained workers. The company also lacks sufficient credit to finance the projects and special machines to build the power plants, the ambassador said.

An atomic energy official in the Turkish government, Bulat Nigmatulin, told the ambassador that Russia's plans to build four reactors in Turkey "are a fantasy."

"Russian policymakers are relying on Russia's competitive advantage in civilian nuclear power to help it diversify its natural resources-based economy," Mr. Beyrle said a 2009 diplomatic cable.

"However, the crunch on credit, insufficient machine-building infrastructure and a paucity of trained specialists make it unlikely that Atomstroyexport will be able to realize all of these plans soon."

The ambassador said Russia is "diligently pursuing construction contracts for 11 new nuclear reactors in India, Iran, Bulgaria and Ukraine." Moscow is in "active discussions" to build two power plants in China and four in Turkey, he said.

Mr. Beyrle said Russia has fewer than 5,000 construction workers trained to build nuclear power plants, down dramatically from 55,000 in the 1980s.

"Even without the crunch the financial crisis could put on [Russian government] loans, the lack of sufficient nuclear industry infrastructure and trained specialists will make it hard for [Atomstroyexport] to fulfill existing contracts on time," he said.

Mr. Beyrle's unclassified cable to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

CANADA WOOS CHINA

Canada's conservative government got little to show for a charm offensive to improve commercial ties with China, according to a private diplomatic cable from the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper dispatched Finance Minister Jim Flaherty on a special trip to China in 2007. That visit coincided with another trip to Beijing by David Emerson, who was Canada's international trade minister at the time.

"Excluding an agreement to cooperate on scientific research, the trips resulted in no apparent deliverables for Canada," David Wilkins, U.S. ambassador in Ottawa at the time, reported in the cable.

"However, they did serve to placate Canadian business leaders who had been concerned that the Canadian government was not paying enough attention to China."

Even the scientific agreement proved of little value to Canada, Mr. Wilkins added, reporting on a conversation with Martin Charron, a deputy director for commercial relations with Asia in the Canada's Foreign Ministry.

"Charron indicated that there was little substance to the agreement, and it was unclear exactly what, if anything, it would lead to," Mr. Wilkins said.

In another cable, the ambassador reported on Mr. Harper's tough line on Beijing concerning human rights, after he won the prime minister post in 2006.

"China has been a special focus on [Mr.] Harper's defense of human rights abroad," said Mr. Wilkins, who served in Ottawa from 2005 to January 2009.

Beijing "reacted angrily" to Mr. Harper's policy, the ambassador added.

Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper this week first reported on the cables, which were released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email jmorrison@washingtontimes.com. The column is published on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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