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Russia says needs U.S. cash to maintain space station
March 31, 2003

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia, which now runs the only rockets linking earth to the $95 billion International Space Station, might have to halt the project if Washington does not provide extra funds, Russian news agencies reported Monday.

Since the Columbia broke apart on reentry two months ago, the U.S. space shuttle fleet has been grounded, leaving Russia responsible for trips to the international project.

The agencies quoted Yuri Koptev, head of Russia's Rosaviakosmos space authority, as saying Russian-U.S. talks were "not simple" and had not resolved whether Russia would get the extra cash it says it needs.

"We are in constant talks with the American side," Itar-Tass news agency quoted him as saying. "However, questions of additional funding have not been resolved."

But in further remarks quoted by RIA Novosti news agency, Koptev said Russia could be forced to halt the project since it could not afford to pay for all the rockets without help.

"If extra means are not found by the international community and if shuttle flights are not resumed by the United States, the danger is that the station may have to be mothballed," he was quoted as saying.

The Russian Space Agency would have to spend its entire $130 million budget on building rockets to service the ISS, he said, adding that Moscow wanted an extra $50 million from the United States and the European Union to maintain supplies.

But the negotiations seemed to be going nowhere after Washington insisted that last year Russia had not carried out all the launches it has signed up to make in a year and should now simply make up for the shortfall.

Relations between Russia and Washington, which were brought close by their cooperation in President Bush's "war on terror," have turned sour in recent months, mainly over Moscow's adamant opposition to the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

They are also complicated by the Russian supply of nuclear technology to Iran. Bush branded Iraq and Iran -- together with North Korea -- as part of an "axis of evil."

Koptev said it was important not to let these differences harm the decade of work on the international space program.

"(It) must not turn into a political hostage," Tass quoted him as saying.

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