Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
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#20 - JRL 7206
May 31, 2003
Getting U.S.-Russian Relations Back on Track
By Alexander Vershbow, U.S. Ambassador to Russia

Against the backdrop of the celebration of St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary, President George W. Bush and President Vladimir Putin will meet on June 1st for their sixth summit meeting. The meeting takes place on the heels of the ratification of the Treaty of Moscow by the Duma and Federation Council, the unanimous passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1483 on Iraq, and successful visits to Moscow by Secretary of State Powell and to Washington by Minister of Defense Ivanov. As a result, the summit promises to continue the positive trend in U.S-Russian relations since our disagreement over Iraq.

Although the summit will be short, I expect the presidents to discuss a number of vital issues, including Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran, and our common fight against terrorism. Our shared interest in confronting the threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, in expanding our cooperation in exploration of space, and in expanding economic ties will also be priority issues for the two presidents. Although there is much that remains to be done, we have made great strides in fulfilling our presidents' common goal of transforming U.S.-Russian relations. As we prepare to welcome President Bush to St. Petersburg, I think it is instructive to take stock of the many areas in which we can already see practical results.

The U.S. and Russia, along with the other members of the United Nations Security Council, worked together to find common ground on dealing with post-war Iraq, as reflected in last week's passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1483 by a 14-0 vote. This resolution lifts the sanctions burden on the people of Iraq, encourages international assistance to re-build the country, and ensures that the UN will play a vital role in Iraq's reconstruction. The United States looks forward to Russia's contribution to this effort, especially as Iraq begins to restore the energy export capability that will help lay the foundation for a future of hope and prosperity that was for too long denied the people of Iraq by the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein.

The U.S. and Russia also continue to cooperate closely to strengthen international efforts to defend the civilized world against the threat of international terrorism. With the adoption of UN Security Council resolution 1373, we established a broad set of obligations requiring nations to block terrorist financing and deny safe haven to terrorist groups. Russian support was an important element of the victory of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, which freed that nation from the Taliban regime that had transformed the country into a base for al Qaeda. In the process, we have dealt a heavy blow to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a terrorist threat to Russia's interests in Central Asia and its border regions. We have made great strides, working with Georgia, to root out terrorist forces and camps with links to al Qaeda in the Pankisi Gorge. At the same time, we have strengthened cooperation among intelligence and law enforcement agencies to go after terrorist networks and sources of finance elsewhere. The decision by the U.S. government to designate three Chechen groups as terrorist organizations, which won unprecedented support in the UN sanctions committee, is an example of the practical benefits of joint efforts by Russia and the U.S. in the fight against terrorism. This type of cooperation doesn't always generate newspaper headlines, but it is producing results.

The Treaty of Moscow, signed by our Presidents at their May, 2002 summit and now ratified by both the U.S. Senate and the Duma, reduces the strategic nuclear arsenal of both countries in a mutual, balanced manner. It is also a sign of a permanent change in our relations. Our two countries are no longer focused on counting numbers and types of warheads. Instead, we are now together turning our focus to the new threats of the 21st century. A second document signed by our Presidents at that 2002 Summit may be judged by historians as even more important than the Moscow Treaty: that is the joint declaration on the New Strategic Relationship, which sets forth an action plan for dealing with new security challenges that confront all humanity: terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, narcotics trafficking, and organized crime. One especially promising area for cooperation is anti-missile defense, where we are working to identify specific projects that could unite our defense industries in developing the means to defend our countries and our armed forces against the threat of ballistic missile attack.

Russia and the United States are also cooperating closely in the search for peace in the Middle East. The process has gained new impetus in the aftermath of the Iraq war and, most recently, with the historic decision by the Israeli cabinet on May 25 to endorse the "Road Map" for a comprehensive peace settlement based on two states. President Bush is committed to seizing this new opportunity, and we appreciate the key role Russia, alongside my country, the UN and the EU, is playing in the Middle East Quartet. Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has demonstrated Russian leadership in the diplomatic efforts to reach a consensus on the "Road Map." We hope that Russia will use its influence with the new Palestinian leadership, and with the Government of Syria, to halt the terrorist activities of radical groups- Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and many others - that threaten the chances for peace.

One year ago the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) was formed. It is our view that an enlarged NATO alliance and a close partnership between NATO and Russia will better enable all of us to deal with new risks and take advantage of new opportunities. Formation of the NRC has already resulted in intensified cooperation in the war against terrorism, short-range missile defense, crisis management, defense reform, and military-military cooperation. The first-ever Moscow meeting of the NRC at Ambassadorial level was held earlier this month.

There will certainly be difficulties and differences between our countries as we continue to grapple with these complex issues. In particular, we need to develop better tools to deal with the gravest proliferation challenges - Iran and North Korea. Russia, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and original member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and other non-proliferation regimes, has a major role to play in developing more effective ways to address this serious threat to international security. Secretary Powell's talks here two weeks ago suggest we are making progress, as Russia is coming to share our long-held concerns about Iran secretly developing uranium enrichment capability and about Pyongyang's provocative steps to develop nuclear weapons.

Further developing the economic dimension of our relationship with Russia is also one of our highest priorities and an area where I see considerable, undeveloped opportunities for expanding our still relatively modest trade and investment ties. A number of significant U.S. investments have moved forward in Russia during the past year, particularly in the energy, automotive and consumer goods sectors, and negotiations are underway on other prospective deals, but much more can and should be realized. Our private sector partners in the Russian-American Business Dialogue are playing a vital role in helping to identify and address the trade and investment barriers that still stand in our way.

One of the most promising areas of our joint cooperation is on energy issues, where there are clear benefits on both sides - developing new markets for Russian energy producers and diversifying supplies for the U.S. Presidents Bush and Putin endorsed the importance of our work together in enhancing global energy security at their May and November summits last year, the first Russia-U.S. Commercial Energy Summit was held in Houston last year, and planning is now underway for a second Energy Summit in Russia this fall.

The U.S. strongly supports Russia's full integration into the global economy, including its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in pursuit of its efforts to modernize, grow and diversify its economy. Although negotiating the terms of entry is difficult, the U.S. will remain an active partner in this process, prepared to engage on all issues that will lead to the early conclusion of a strong, commercially viable agreement. The benefits of joining the WTO would be enormous: greater access for Russian exports to other markets; increased foreign investment in Russia; and the protection that comes from participation in a rules-based international trading system. Further progress by Russia in combating violations of intellectual property rights and resolving still outstanding agricultural trade issues will help enormously to move this process along.

In addition, as its democracy and free-market economy continue to evolve, Russia faces many challenges that if not met, could have serious implications not only for Russia but also for global security and the global economy. Continued progress in the development of the rule of law, freedom of the press, and human rights is needed. Battles against crime and corruption, excessive bureaucracy, environmental degradation, and the fast-growing problem of HIV/AIDS in Russia must be fought and won. America stands ready to support the Russian people as they continue these struggles.

The U.S. recognizes that Russia has a larger stake than most in helping to ensure global peace, security and prosperity. As part of both Europe and Asia, Russia has a key role to play in ensuring security and economic well being on both continents. With its proximity and ties to the Middle East, it has a constructive role to play in bringing peace to this troubled region. The many heads of state, including President Bush, are gathering in St. Petersburg not only to honor that city's 300th anniversary, but also in acknowledgement of the central and constructive role played today in global affairs by the Russian Federation.

The U.S. remains committed to building a strong bilateral relationship between our two great countries, without which the world has little hope of resolving the new challenges of the 21st century. Our ability to weather the storms of the last few months has been due in large part to the solid relationship between our Presidents, which will only be enhanced by the upcoming summit. Together they will continue to define the agenda of common interests which is the foundation of the broadened, strengthened U.S.-Russia partnership that we seek.

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