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Putin blasts U.S. discrimination against Russian nuclear firms

MOSCOW, July 12 (RIA Novosti) - Russia opposes U.S. discrimination against its nuclear companies and wants to supply uranium directly, the Kremlin press service quoted President Vladimir Putin as saying Wednesday.

"We disagree with the discriminatory restrictions that are currently in force in the U.S. for Russian nuclear companies, and would like to supply uranium for your [American] nuclear power plants directly, and not via an intermediary monopoly that was established, in our opinion, artificially," Putin said in response to a U.S. questioner who raised the issue at a Web cast with the president on June 6.

The president added that he planned to discuss the issue with his U.S. counterpart George W. Bush.

Restrictions on imports from Russia of low-enriched uranium have been in force since the Soviet era. Russia is currently allowed to operate on the U.S. market without a 116% import duty only through the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC), a special intermediary agent, under the HEU-LEU Conversion program, but is facing anti-dumping procedures.

Sergei Kiriyenko, the head of the Federal Agency for Nuclear Power downplayed the political implications of the issue during a visit to the U.S. in May.

"We believe that this is a commercial issue, which we intend to resolve in the framework of existing U.S. legislation," Kiriyenko said during his visit. "We are not demanding any preferential treatment, any benefits or special conditions, but we are demanding equal rights and equal opportunities for competition on the U.S. market."

But the U.S. Department of Commerce appeared to dent his hopes on June 9 when it said it intended to keep the existing restrictions in place.

Russia's nuclear agency said Wednesday that the U.S. International Trade Commission would vote on lifting the restrictions on July 18, but that it had little hope for a positive resolution of the issue. According to current procedures, if at least one U.S. company claims the existence of a dumping threat, the committee will vote to keep the restrictions in effect, the agency said.

An agency official also said Russia and the U.S. had previously agreed to form a task force to draw up an action plan aimed at resolving the anti-dumping issue.

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