U.S. Watching Change at Russian Nuclear Energy Ministry Closely

WASHINGTON, Mar 30, 2001 -- (Agence France Presse) The United States is closely watching Russian President Vladimir Putin's cabinet changes, but has focused interest on his replacement of controversial nuclear energy minister Yevgeni Adamov, a senior U.S. official said Thursday.

"We think that the atomic energy ministry has been tolerating if not supporting the transfer of sensitive technologies to Iran," the official said, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity.

"Whether the change in leadership stops that or not we'll have to see ... it's hard to say, but we'll be obviously watching carefully because we think that ministry has not been acting consistantly with the kind of assurances that we've been getting from Putin," the official said.

Despite pledges from Putin and other top Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and newly named Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, that Moscow intends to abide by its nuclear non-proliferation agreements, Washington and others have accused the ministry of violating those vows.

The United States is most concerned about past and possible future transfers to Iran, which it terms a "rogue state," and has threatened to impose sanctions on Moscow should it continue them.

"Putin and company assure us that Russia intends to stand by its non-proliferation commitments and yet we see an atomic energy ministry that we think has been tolerating if not supporting transfers of sensitive technology to Iran," the U.S. official said.

"We'll see if this leads to greater control," he said, refering to Adamov's replacement, Alexander Rumyantsev, who has been head of the Kurchatov Institute, Russia's main nuclear research establishment, since 1994.

In addition to the U.S. concerns about Adamov, the environmental lobby Greenpeace has accused the minister of illegal nuclear deals.

Last month the anti-corruption committee of the Russian Duma detailed alleged illegal activities by Adamov, accusing him of having interests in at least 10 commercial enterprises in Russia and abroad.

Washington is also watching to see the impact on the Russian military of Putin's replacement of former defense Igor Sergeyev with his close ally, Ivanov, the former national security advisor, the official said.

"Sergei Ivanov going to the defense ministry gives Putin more control and a certain level of civilian control over the defense apparatus," he said, declining to comment on what the United States expected from those changes. ((c) 2001 Agence France Presse)