18 Dec 2008

U.S. Ambassador John Beyrle: The U.S. has no intention to punish Russia for August crisis in Caucasus

Mr. Ambassador, оur two countries seem to be approaching the end of the term in office of the current administration with a zero sum. In addition, we regressed in many areas after the August events. Are you, a high-ranking diplomat in charge of the development of Russian-U.S. relations, dispirited about this?

I think the fact that I‘ve been involved in U.S.-Soviet and U.S.-Russian relations for most of career as a diplomat gives me a sense of perspective on these periods in our bilateral relationship where we go through strains, experience tensions and there is always an inclination to look at the dark side of things during these periods of strain. I think that sometimes obscures some of the very positive aspects of the joint work that we are doing together in a very positive way that started in the Bush administration (i.e., things that started in the Bush Administration), so I don‘t think we are ending with a zero result at all, if you look at something like the global initiative to combat nuclear terrorism, which was a joint idea, actually I believe it was a Russian idea. President Bush agreement with President Putin, and more than fifty countries, maybe it‘s up to sixty now, have joined together in this global initiative to take part in joint training and information exchange against global terrorism. The U.S. and Russia continue on a bilateral basis to do a lot of good work on securing nuclear materials in Russia and the United States.

On the economic side, our economic relationship has grown tremendously just since I left in 2005. The level of trade and investment is enormous now, we have companies like Ford and General Motors, which are expanding or opening plants, we have Boeing, which is involved in a very productive partnership with Sukhoi, Microsoft calls Russia its second largest market in the world after the U.S. We have Severstal, Lukoil in the U.S. doing great business, growing and prospering. We‘ve greatly increased the levels of tourism and student educational exchanges. The number of visas that we give to Russians to visit the U.S. is up this year 22% over 2007.

We gave 32,000 visas to young Russians just this past year on a Summer Work and Travel program, to visit the U.S., to work, to make some money, to travel and see the beauty and natural wonder of our country. And in 2009 we are hoping to give visas to over 40,000 Russians to do that same Summer Work and Travel program. And in fact, we‘ll be accepting applications in January for that and the information is available on our website (http://moscow.usembassy.gov). So, all in all, yes, we are going through a period of strain in the relationship over what happened to Georgia and all of our countries are under stress because of the financial crisis. But there‘s still a lot of productive, constructive work done in the U.S.-Russian relationship.

What positive signals can both countries send to each other in order to avoid a pause in bilateral relations, given that the current administration is stepping down and the new one will not be formed until March?

Well I think the discussions that I described between John Rood and Deputy Minister Ryabkov would help a lot because one of the most important files that will be handed over to the new administration is the strategic security file. In 2009, the START I Treaty expires and we need to be prepared to move quickly to make a decision on how we are going to react to the fact that it‘s expiring. And the more work that we can do now before the Bush administration leaves with the Russian Federation, the better we will understand the Russian position and the faster our new administration under a new president will be able to pick up that file and continue to work on it. That‘s one very concrete example where the Bush administration intends to work right up until January 20th, until the inauguration of the new president because these issues are simply too important to leave unattended.