Rice: `Time isn't right for the Russia agreement'

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, left, and Poland's Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, right, speak to the press after arriving at the Okecie military airport in Warsaw, Poland on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2008. Poland's government gave its formal approval to a missile defense deal with the United States on Tuesday, as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Warsaw to sign the agreement. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
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ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) -- Now is not the right time for the U.S. to move forward on a once-celebrated deal for civilian nuclear cooperation with Russia, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Saturday.

Her comment increased speculation that President Bush is planning to punish Moscow for invading Georgia, a former Soviet republic, by canceling the agreement. Such a move is being planned, according to senior Bush administration officials, but is not yet final.

"The time isn't right for the Russia agreement," Rice told reporters while flying from Tunisia to Algeria during a visit to North Africa. "We'll be making an announcement about that later."

U.S.-Russian relations have cooled considerably since last month's military standoff between Russia and Georgia. On Saturday, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the war has shown the world that "Russia is a nation to be reckoned with."

Traveling in Italy, Vice President Dick Cheney pushed back against Moscow, saying: "Russia's actions are an affront to civilized standards and are completely unacceptable."

The nuclear deal was signed in May by U.S. and Russian officials and is now before Congress. It would give the U.S. access to modern Russian nuclear technology and clear the way for Russia to establish itself as a lucrative center for the import and storage of spent nuclear fuel from American-supplied reactors around the world.

Such a deal was seen as crucial to boosting relations with Russia, and to fulfilling Bush's vision of increasing civilian nuclear energy use worldwide as a way to combat rising energy demands and climate change.

Withdrawing the agreement from Capitol Hill would have little effect. The deal probably would not have been approved before Bush's term ends in January. But pulling it would send a message to Russia that its actions in Georgia are not acceptable and will not go unanswered.

"I am relieved the administration finally appears to be heeding calls from Congress to withdraw the ... agreement with Russia from consideration," said Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn. "I have long believed that it is highly inappropriate to reward Russia with nuclear cooperation when it is recklessly providing Iran with sensitive technologies to protect its nuclear program."

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