Georgia, US ink deal to fight nuclear smuggling
TBILISI, Feb 27 (AFP) Feb 27, 2009
Georgia and the United States signed a deal Friday to provide modern equipment and training to help Georgia combat the smuggling of nuclear materials, the Georgian foreign ministry said.
The deal is part of longstanding US efforts to prevent the smuggling of nuclear materials through Georgia, where smugglers carrying weapons-grade uranium have been arrested twice in the last six years.
In a statement, the foreign ministry said the deal envisages providing Georgia with "modern equipment, information-sharing... the training of Georgian experts and other required activities."
Fearing that materials smuggled through Georgia could be used to create so-called "dirty bombs", the United States has reportedly spent nearly 50 million dollars (40 million euros) in recent years to help Georgia combat nuclear smuggling.
In a joint US-Georgia sting operation in 2006, officials arrested a Russian citizen trying to sell 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of highly enriched uranium to a Georgian officer posing as a buyer from a radical Islamic group.
Three years earlier, Georgian border guards intercepted an Armenian national carrying highly enriched uranium as he tried to cross from Georgia into Armenia.
Experts have warned that Georgia is also a potential source of radioactive materials left over from Soviet-era weapons and nuclear research facilities.
Washington has provided hundreds of millions of dollars of assistance, including substantial military aid, to ally Georgia in recent years, straining relations with Russia, which fought a brief war with Georgia last year.