SYDNEY, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to sign a nuclear energy deal with Australia and hold tough talks with U.S. President George W. Bush after arriving for the APEC meetings on Friday.
Putin, keen to establish Russia as an integral part of the booming Asia-Pacific region, visited Indonesia on his way to Sydney in a clear sign of his commitment to turn Moscow’s face eastwards.
He will hold talks with Australian leaders that are expected to climax in a deal to buy uranium for civilian use. His meeting with Bush, dominated by U.S. missile defence plans in Europe, will precede the weekend summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
Russia has been seen so far in the region mostly as a supplier of weapons and energy resources. On Thursday, Putin signed a US$1 billion deal to sell Indonesia Russian tanks, helicopters and submarines.
However, Russia is looking to engage in more technologically sophisticated sectors, and nuclear energy, where it has decades of experience, could become one.
Russia is interested in getting uranium for its processing plants from Australia, which holds 40 percent of the world’s reserves.
But until lately, Australia has not been able to export uranium to Russia, where processing plants shared by the defence and energy sectors were outside international control.
The problem was removed earlier this year when the government exposed the Angarsk plant in Siberia, one of Russia’s four uranium processing plants, to surveilance by the U.N. watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
A Kremlin official said a new intergovernment agreement, due to be signed during Putin’s visit, would open doors for Australian uranium exports to Russia.
Russia has promised the agreement, which needs ratification by parliaments, will be transparent to ease Australian concerns.
Australian wants to to ensure that its uranium does not end up in Iran, suspected by the West of developing its own nucear weapons, or Syria, blamed by the West for supporting terrorism. Russia has close ties with both states.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard told local radio on Thursday Russia would offer guarantees about that.
“We will be taking the Russians through the ropes in relation to any arrangement we have and we will be wanting to satisfy ourselves completely that won’t occur,” he said.
Differences over Iran have been one of a number of painful rifts that have soured relations between Moscow and Washington in the past few years.
The most recent irritant to relations has centred on U.S. missile defence plans in Europe.
Russia rejects Washington’s claims that setting up elements of its missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic are needed to avert possible missile attacks from Iran and says the plan jeopardises its national security.
Moscow has instead proposed setting up a common missile defence system with Washington and its European allies and offered to share its radars monitoring Iran and the Indian Ocean as part of this proposal.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has made clear Washington will not back down on its initial plans.
A Kremlin official said Putin would seek a clearer idea from Bush on the U.S. proposal when the two meet in Sydney on Friday.