Thursday, March 17, 2011

U.S. Reiterates Support for Russia’s WTO Bid

FT: Biden in Moscow to Cement Improved Ties
WSJ: Biden Decries Russian Corruption During Visit
NYT: Plain Speaking From Biden in Moscow Speech
Moscow Times: Biden Lukewarm on Putin’s Visa Idea

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was in Russia this week for talks aimed at improving economic and political cooperation. The meetings are part of the Obama administration’s push to “reset” relations between the two countries. In a meeting with President Dmitri Medvedev, Biden summarized his goals, stating, “We have worked through trade disputes and we are working with US and Russian companies to create close ties, promote innovation and establish the conditions to attract foreign investment in Russia beyond the natural resources sector.”

To further these goals, the leaders presided over a $2 billion purchase by Russian airline Aeroflot of U.S.-manufactured Boeing 777 planes. Both leaders also praised the recently ratified Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which cuts the number of strategic missile launchers the two countries have in half. The tone of the meetings was generally optimistic and open, although some suggestions were not met with enthusiasm. In a meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Biden had a lukewarm reaction to Putin’s suggestion that the two countries abolish their visa requirements. Putin believes the measure would boost tourism and business ties between the nations and create “an absolutely new moral atmosphere.” Biden replied that the idea was good, but denied having enough influence over foreign policy to announce support for the matter. Biden also did not hesitate to criticize Russia’s weak record of fighting corruption and lapses in the rule of law.

One of the strongest messages from the U.S. was a positive one. The U.S. renewed its pledge to firmly support Russia’s bid for membership in the World Trade Organization. Biden stated that the bid was a top priority and agreed that Russia should strive to join the WTO by the end of 2011. Originally, support for Russia’s bid did not come without hesitation from both the U.S. and the EU. Russia began the bidding process in 1993, and in 2009 Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused the U.S. of purposely stalling the bid. However, Obama agreed to support the bid in June of 2010 and the EU announced its support in December of 2010. To prove that support, Biden promised to press Congress to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a Cold-War era sanction that denied “most favored nation” status to countries that restrict emigration.

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