It was only 11 months ago that the Americanenergy secretary - Ernest J. Moniz, a former M.I.T. professor whohas championed scientific programs that would bury the Cold Warcompetitions between the United States and Russia - went to Viennato sign the agreement, an indication of how recently the Obamaadministration believed it had a chance of building on aquarter-century of gradual integration of Russia with the West,The New York Times writes.
Handshakes and congratulations exchanged withMr. Moniz's Russian counterpart, Sergey V. Kirienko, sealed anarrangement that would let Russian scientists into, among otherplaces, the heart of the American nuclear complex at Los AlamosNational Laboratory in New Mexico, where the first atomic bomb wasconstructed 70 years ago, and a dozen sister laboratories devotedto the making of the American nuclear arsenal. In return, Americanscientists would be allowed deep into Russian nuclear facilities,including the birthplace of the Soviet bomb.
The Energy Department's announcement of the dealalso highlighted its potential for "defense from asteroids,"shorthand for a proposal to recycle a city-busting warhead thatcould be aimed at an incoming earth-destroyer - a plot Hollywoodhad imagined 15 years before in two far-fetched thrillers,"Armageddon" and "Deep Impact," in which Bruce Willis and BenAffleck, among others, saved humanity.
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Today, the real-life accord is on ice. Thisyear, the Energy Department canceled nuclear meetings, symposia andlab visits with Russia.
Daniel B. Poneman, the deputy energy secretary,said that Russia's annexation of Crimea in March had prompted thedecision to freeze the accord.
"We've made it very clear that this is not atime for business as usual," Mr. Poneman said Friday in his office.He added, however, that the Energy Department continued to workwith Russia on the security of atomic materials.
American officials and experts say the decisionwill limit how much each side knows about the other's capabilitiesand intentions after more than two decades in which American andRussian nuclear scientists worked alongside one another. Thoseprograms let once-bitter rivals, locked in the ultimate arms race,take each other's measure and deepen relationships, reducing thechances for deadly miscalculation and technologicalsurprise.
Now, both sides are slipping back toward habitsreminiscent of the Cold War. The joint atomic projects havedeclined substantially. Last week, Washington accused Moscow ofviolating a major arms treaty on missile technology. After thenegotiation of the modest New Start treaty in 2010, progress towardanother round of nuclear warhead reductions is dead in the waterand unlikely to be revived during President Obama's term inoffice.
Satellite photographs released publicly byAmerican intelligence agencies purport to show the movement ofheavy arms across the Ukrainian border from Russia - evidencereminiscent of the kind released by the United States duringconflicts half a century ago over Cuba andBerlin.
Perhaps most startling is not the direction ofthese steps, but their speed: As recently as January, the two sideswere meeting regularly on joint arms control and scientificprograms. The cancellations show how rapidly Mr. Obama has movedfrom a strategy that assumed Russia's continued interest incooperation to one that assumes that President Vladimir V. Putin ofRussia is out to take as much territory and control as he can, andthat letting Russian scientists into America's nuclear complex isunwise.
For Mr. Obama, the motivation for negotiatingthe accord clearly had much less to do with asteroid destructionthan geopolitics.
The United States' 20-year effort to secureSoviet nuclear materials was winding down. Siegfried S. Hecker, aformer director of the Los Alamos weapons lab who has workedclosely with Russian scientists, said the agreement had promised anew phase of teamwork and technicalcollaboration.
"It was an attempt to get back to goodscientific cooperation," Mr. Hecker said. "Unfortunately, suchthings were struggling before Ukraine and have gone nowheresince."
That is not true of every effort at cooperation.Americans and Russians are still working alongside each other,though increasingly at cross-purposes, on the Iranian nuclearnegotiations. The United States still needs its astronauts to rideto the International Space Station on Russian rockets, and it wantsto keep buying Russian engines for its missiles.
Even so, at a moment when the White House isimposing sanctions and working to counter the flow of weapons intoUkraine, it might be difficult to justify an exchange of nuclearscientists. But some experts say it is when times are tense thatsuch midlevel interchanges are the most critical.
"The idea of having thick relations with Russiannuclear scientists is a good idea," said Graham Allison, a Harvardprofessor who negotiated some early deals on securing the Sovietarsenal during the Clinton administration, the peak of cooperationbetween American and Russian nuclear weapons scientists. "Peopleget to know each other, work on joint projects, and there is abasis for conversation and cooperation."
That was part of the impetus, after the collapseof the Soviet Union, behind the West's effort to fund new projectsfor Russian nuclear scientists. Keeping them busily employed, thetheory went, made it less likely that they would sell theirexpertise to Iran, North Korea or a terrorist group with nuclearambitions.
But the agreement last fall went far beyondthat: It promised cooperation on complex, if peaceful, nuclearprograms, including wide Russian access to the American nuclearcomplex.
While it would have allowed both sides toexclude "sensitive" military sites, it listed 137 Americaninstallations at 15 locations from coast to coast, including thecenters for nuclear weapons design at Los Alamos and in Albuquerqueand Livermore, Calif.
The 25 installations at Los Alamos includedfiring sites, the Warhead Verification Test Lab, the Sigma Complexfor materials development and the Dual-Axis RadiographicHydrodynamic Test Facility, a giant X-ray machine that can peerinto bomb processes.
The accord also listed five installations atBrookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, including a giantparticle accelerator that runs through miles of tunnels. At theLivermore lab, the Russians were to get access to a $5 billionlaser the size of a football stadium designed to ignite miniaturehydrogen bomb explosions.
The September accord was posted online late lastyear by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit newsorganization based in Washington. The disclosure received littlepublic notice.
In October, a month after the accord was signed,Russian and American scientists from the nuclear laboratories heldpreliminary discussions on planetary defense, said an Americanofficial who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of thetopic's political implications.
In January, the State Department held a spaceforum in Washington with representatives of many countries,including Russia. It called for international cooperation onprojects such as defending Earth from asteroids.
"We may have different flags patched to ourspacesuits," John P. Holdren, the president's science adviser, saidin an opening address. But as cooperative space projects havedemonstrated, he added, "we can transcend thesedifferences."
William J. Burns, the deputy secretary of state,told the group that the United States welcomed global support formissions that would "help us learn how to better defend our planetfrom a catastrophic asteroid collision."
While asteroid defense may seem like the stuffof science fiction, the risk burst into public consciousness earlylast year when a meteor exploded over Russia and injured more than1,200 people, mostly as windows shattered into clouds of flyingglass. "It's not a laughing matter," said William E. Burrows,author of the new book "The Asteroid Threat." "If it brings theinternational community together, that's a goodthing."
But the cooperative mood vanished after theinvasion of Crimea. Russia complained bitterly: In April, Rosatom,its state nuclear energy company and partner in the accord, put outa statement calling the suspension of the partnership "a mistakethat contradicts the constructive atmosphere that has builtup."
Politics, it added, "should have no place inthis field."