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August 1, 09

NEWS / U.S.-Russian Talks Increase Cooperation, Enhance Security

By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
Staff Writer

Washington — A fresh start to U.S.-Russian relations requires more than warm words. It requires a commitment to deliver results, and President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev are working hard to do that, says a senior U.S. diplomat.

“The achievements of the Moscow Summit will help put an end to a period of dangerous drift in U.S.-Russian relations by increasing our cooperation on a range of issues that are fundamental to the security and the prosperity of both countries,” Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon said at a congressional hearing July 28.

“This significant progress in our relations with Russia … did not in any way come at the expense of our principles or partnerships with friends and allies,” Gordon added.

Obama and Medvedev met in Moscow July 6–8 to review relations and set an agenda to improve cooperation. It followed earlier talks in April in London when the two leaders met to discuss the global economic crisis and the threat posed by the potential growth in the number of nuclear-armed nations, such as North Korea and Iran.

“Simply declaring the reset itself did not create a more pragmatic relationship: It created an atmosphere in which laying the foundation would be possible in order to better secure American interests,” Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Celeste Wallander said at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe. “The Moscow Summit was therefore the first opportunity to test whether the reset of U.S.-Russia relations could produce pragmatic results, and it did.”

While the summit did not achieve everything, Wallander said, it was a critical step with significant progress on agreements on defense and military issues.

Subcommittee Chairman Robert Wexler called the oversight hearing to evaluate the talks and the expected outcomes. “I agree with President Obama that there is an opportunity for increased dialogue, cooperation and progress between the U.S. and Russia if we reject and put to rest old assumptions, old ways of thinking that the United States and Russia are destined to be antagonists,” he said.

Wexler praised both leaders for beginning the resetting of relations and developing new strategic frameworks for cooperation, though there remain serious disagreements on many issues.

Gordon said the two leaders committed to a work plan in a number of areas where each share national interests: reducing nuclear arsenals, preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, countering the threat from nuclear terrorism, overcoming a global economic crisis and developing clean energy technologies. And they created a Bilateral Presidential Commission which seeks to broaden these areas, he added.

At the heart of the current effort, Gordon said, is replacing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START I. The current nuclear arms treaty expires December 5, and negotiating teams, working from a draft outline from the presidents, are working to refine the terms of a new treaty that will substantially reduce both nations’ nuclear arsenals.

“This is a level of reduction that will be lower than in any previous strategic arms control agreement,” Gordon said.

In addition, the United States and Russia made commitments to deepen security cooperation against terrorists and transnational threats, which include maritime piracy and narcotics trafficking, he said. Significantly, Russia agreed to permit the United States to transport military personnel and equipment across Russia in support of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and coalition forces operating in Afghanistan, he said.

To further efforts to improve mutual understanding and trust, Gordon said, the United States and Russia also agreed to resume practical cooperation between military forces. Both military forces agreed to conduct nearly 20 exchanges and operational events before the end of this year, he said.

On a different level, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services signed an agreement with the Russian Ministry of Health and Social Development to cooperate in areas of public health and medicine.

Gordon said a major opportunity for expanding U.S.-Russian economic ties continues to be lost with Russia’s absence from the 153-member World Trade Organization. The United States supports Russia’s integration into the global rules-based trading system, Gordon said, adding that the pace at which Russia makes progress toward membership depends on Russia.

“Despite all of these positive developments, we have no illusions that our reset of relations will be easy or that we will not continue to have differences with Russia,” Gordon said. “Without abandoning our principles or our friends or ignoring our concerns about democracy or human rights, we demonstrated that the United States and Russia can work effectively together on a broad range of issues where our interests coincide.”

The full texts of their prepared remarks are available on the House Foreign Affairs Committee Web site.

Tags: secretary of state,


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