- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2003

NEW YORK — Russian President Vladimir Putin, on the eve of a two-day Camp David summit with President Bush, sidestepped disputes over Iraq yesterday and urged greater effort to stop global proliferation of deadly weapons.

“These include further universalization of the existing nonproliferation regimes, the strengthening of international verification instruments and the introduction of safe technology in nuclear production and energy,” Mr. Putin told the U.N. General Assembly.

He made no mention of Russia’s building nuclear power plants in Iran, which the Bush administration views as part of an Iranian effort to make atomic weapons.

One of Mr. Putin’s top foreign policy advisers defended Russian efforts to help Iran develop a nuclear power industry.

“Our cooperation with Iran in the nuclear field is not because we want the ayatollahs to have a nuclear bomb,” said Mikhail Margelov. Rather, he said, it was a question of economics.

“I call it a wise economic approach: We have that branch of industry and it employs thousands of people. There should be money coming into our nuclear industry. If the project is on the table, somebody should get involved,” he said in a telephone interview on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

Iran’s nuclear program will be high on the agenda for today’s meeting with Mr. Putin, especially after reports from the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency yesterday that it had found traces of weapons-grade uranium at a second site in Iran.

The Vienna, Austria-based International Atomic Energy Agency has given Iran an Oct. 31 deadline to demonstrate it is not building nuclear weapons.

Relations between Washington and Moscow have been strained since Russia opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Mr. Margelov said that given the lack of public support, Russia was unlikely to send combat troops to Iraq before the Dec. 7 parliamentary elections.

“After that, anything might be possible,” he said.

Mr. Margelov, who is also the chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of Russia’s parliament, said Mr. Putin would also talk about a “new approach to the whole philosophy of international relations and the changing world.”

“One of the main challenges for this summit is actually to close the page of the Cold War,” he said.

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