Crimea crisis threatens US-Russia nuke cooperation

Tensions between Russia and the United States over Crimea could torpedo their nuclear cooperation, experts said Friday, despite the White House's insistence that both countries would move ahead on the critical issue.

"It could become a major problem indeed," Ken Luongo of the Partnership for Global Security said of the explosive Ukraine-Crimea crisis, the worst between Russia and the West since the Cold War.

"Congress won't accept to give money to US-Russia (nuclear security) cooperation programs if what Russia does is basically kick sand in our eyes," he said amid the escalating row that has seen a spate of tit-for-tat sanctions.

Crimea and the crisis "will have an effect", Luongo said at a meeting of nuclear experts in Amsterdam ahead of US President Barack Obama's global Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague on Monday and Tuesday.

"The US and Russia have collaborated very successfully in the past to secure nuclear materials and dispose of nuclear materials and I hope that spirit of cooperation will carry through the summit," Kelsey Davenport, non-proliferation analyst at the Arms Control Association, told AFP.

"Unfortunately there will be areas that will suffer because of the current political climate," she added.

The White House's top arms control official, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, insisted last week that Russia and the Unuted States were continuing to work "effectively" together to prepare the nuclear summit.

"We expect that the Russians will continue to abide by the arms control agreements that they have reached with us," Sherwood-Randall, the White House Coordinator for Defense Policy, Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Arms Control, said on March 12.

As part of its earlier "reset" of relations with Russia, the Obama administration concluded a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that limits both sides to 1,550 warheads and puts caps on the numbers of deployed intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles and other launch vehicles.

Michelle Cann, Senior Budget and Policy Analyst at the Partnership for Global Security, said that cooperation had already been on the decline before the Ukrainian crisis.

"US-Russia cooperation has been on a decline and it's a shame because we had some great success early on on this issue," Cann told AFP.

Experts noted the importance of distinguishing between nuclear security -- securing radioactive substances and preventing nuclear terrorism -- and nuclear disarmament or non-proliferation.

"The tackling of nuclear terrorism is a political question, sure, but it is certainly not a geopolitical question like the disarmament issue," said Shin Chang-Hoon nuclear specialist at South Korea's Asan Institute think-tank.

"In a certain way, you could see it as facing a common enemy," Keith Porter, director of the Stanley Foundation, said of the challenge of preventing nuclear terrorism, including the nightmare scenario of a so-called dirty bomb of radioactive material.

John Bernhard, former Danish ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that no matter how much the relationship deteriorates, there would always be some common ground.

"Even if we have a new Cold War, or anything similar to a Cold War, it is still possible to work on issues of common interest," he said.