12 Sep 2010

U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns: Russia‘s entry to WTO now closer than ever before

U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns held a series of meetings with Russian officials and civil society representatives in Moscow on September 7 and 8, and he granted an interview on the outcome of the talks to Interfax correspondent Alexander Korzun.

Question: Мr. Burns, how would you assess the current level of Russia-U.S. relations?

Answer: We‘ve made a lot of progress together over the course of the last 18 months and we have some tangible achievements to point to with the START agreement, significant cooperation in the pursuit of our shared interests in Afghanistan, the recent mission of the #123 agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation to the U.S. Congress, diplomatic cooperation, issues ranging fr om North Korea to Iran and the establishment of the presidential commission, which has paid practical dividends for both of us.
The challenge now is to keep moving forward as our two presidents agreed on June 24 in Washington. And at the next stage of our partnership we look forward to widening the park of our cooperation, particularly to include areas of the economy, trade and innovation. The centerpiece, I think, of this next phase of our relationship is to do everything we can to promote Russia‘s accession to the World Trade Organization. Russia is making good progress in that direction and President Obama has made it one of his highest priorities in Russian relations to help achieve it.
We have a very full and challenging agenda before us but I think that the United States and Russia have a great deal to gain by working together.

Q.: You have discussed a wide range of topics during your visit in Моscow. Should we expect something new in our relations?

A.: As I said I think U.S. support for Russia‘s accession to the World Trade Organization is a very important goal and we are determined to do everything we can to help make that possible. The Russian government set a target of September 30 to resolve a number of outstanding issues. And we believe it is making good progress in that direction. And the United States will work at the multilateral negotiations in Geneva to help support Russia‘s case.

Q.: Is it possible to complete all procedures between the U.S. and Russia in September?

A.: Well, Russia and the United States at the June 24 summit in Washington set September 30 as the target for resolving a number of outstanding bilateral issues and, as I said before, Russia is making good progress towards those goals.
The United States is doing everything it can to be supportive, so I think it‘s possible to preserve and build on a momentum that has built up and I think we are at a moment, wh ere Russia‘s accession to the World Trade Organization is closer than it has ever been before.

Q.: Can the Russian government‘s plans to raise the duties on imported cars prevent Russia‘s accession to WTO?

A.: Well, as a member of the WTO Russia will have to live up to the standards that the other members of WTO have to comply with and certainly in the meantime, as Russia gets closer to WTO accession, it is important to avoid protectionist measures.

Q.: The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations is expected to go back to voting on the new START Treaty in September. I presume next week. Do you expect the discussion in the Committee and the Senate, in general, of the issue to be difficult? What are the chances of it being approved and can that be done before the November Congress elections?

A.: We are confident that the Senate will ratify the new START agreement. We are working very closely with the Senate to achieve that goal. It‘s worth noting that each of the nuclear arms reduction treaties that have been reached going back to President Reagan‘s times, have been approved or ratified by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in the Senate. You are right, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to vote on the new START Treaty next week around September 15 or 16. And then, we hope and expectant, the full Senate soon after will consider the treaty. And so, as I said, we are optimistic. We are working hard with the Senate, which ultimately has to pass judgment on the treaty. But we believe that it is a very good treaty and in the interests of both the United States and Russia.

Q.: What do you believe is the reason why the U.S. and Russia still cannot begin practical interaction on issues relating to the creation of a common missile defense system, but are limiting themselves to mutual rhetoric?

A.: Well, I think we have begun to explore some practical areas of cooperation. In missile defense, for example, we are conducting a joint threat assessment of ballistic missiles. We‘ve also begun to explore within Russia-NATO Council ways in which we might resume cooperation in missile defense. I think the decisions that President Obama took last autumn with regard to missile defense, when he significantly adjusted American plans for missile defense, have opened up new opportunities for cooperation with Russia. And we are certainly committed to explore those. Obviously, given the history of this issue, given the difficulties that we‘ve had in the past, it takes time to do that. But we believe there are real opportunities here in the interests of both of our countries to go forward.

Q.: As you know, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin recently said that he does not see any indications of a "reset‘ in the U.S. plans to deploy missile defense systems in some European countries and in the United States’ continued rearmament of Georgia. What would be your response to that?

A.: Over the last 18 months, as I emphasized before, I think, the reset in relations between Russia and the United States has produced a number of significant accomplishments in the interests of both of our countries. And as I mentioned, that certainly includes the new START agreement and our efforts to promote Russian‘s WTO accession. I think it should be no surprise that we continue to have differences over some issues. I think that in a due atmosphere of our relationship we see the differences honestly and I think that in many respects we manage them more constructively, than we did before.
And Georgia. It‘s no secret, that the United States and Russia have a serious disagreement over the status of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but at the same time I think we share an interest in transparency and in stability and in avoiding a drift toward armed conflict again.
With regard to missile defense, as I said before, I think, we do have the opportunity before us to build cooperation and that‘s something we are determined to try to do.

Q.: The next issue after the new START Treaty is the issue of the tactical nuclear weapons. Is the U.S. ready for negotiations with Russia on the reduction of this type of weapons and to withdraw tactical nuclear weapons from Europe?

A.: Well, first things first. We‘ve worked to ensure that the Senate ratifies the START Treaty. Beyond that, President Obama made clear at the signing of the START agreement in Prague last April that the United States is interested in discussions with Russia about further reductions in both strategic nuclear weapons and tactical nuclear weapons. We believe in those discussions that we ought to consider reciprocal measures to increase transparency. And certainly, we will consult carefully with our partners and allies in that process.

Q.: Russia has criticized the additional sanctions, imposed by the U.S. on Iran. Can these new sanctions also affect Russian companies and organizations working with Iran? Does the U.S. intend to toughen the sanctions on Iran and seek "crippling" sanctions for this country?

A.: The record of cooperation between the United States and Russia on the Iranian nuclear issue has been a very strong one over the last 18 months. We worked together to launch new diplomatic initiatives last year. When Iran failed to respond constructively to those initiatives we worked together with other permanent members to produce the Security Council resolution #1921 and the sanctions that resulted are directed against Iran, not against Russia. And the sanctions are not an end in themselves. They are aimed at producing a situation in which Iran realizes that it is in its interests to reengage with international community to demonstrate the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program and to reengage seriously in the pursuit of a diplomatic resolution. This is something the United States remains committed to and we want to work with Russia to try to accomplish that.

Q.: Is the U.S. ready to resume negotiations with Iran on the supply of fuel for the Tehran research reactor within the framework of the Vienna Group?

A.: Well, when Resolution 1921 was passed by the Security Council in June, the foreign ministers of the P5+1 countries issued a clear statement indicating our readiness to reengage diplomatically with Iran. We remain committed to that. And Baroness Ashton from the European Union has been in touch with Iranians trying to schedule a new meeting. We are certainly committed to do everything possible to achieve a diplomatic resolution of this issue consistent with Iran‘s obligations to the IAEA, as well as to the U.N. Security Council. Within the context of a renewed 5+1 diplomatic effort we are certainly prepared to discuss possibilities for fuel for the Tehran research reactor. We recall that we with Russia made a proposal last October with regard to the Tehran research reactor. Unfortunately, after initially expressing interest in that proposal Iran failed to respond constructively. Last spring, Iranians in the Tehran declaration offered another version of the Tehran research reactor proposal. We and Russia and France made clear that we had a number of concerns about that proposal but we are certainly prepared to discuss them in the context of the renewed 5+1 effort.

Q.: How do you assess the interaction between Russia and the United States? Can the U.S. take part in financing the supplies of Russian Mi-17 helicopters to the Afghan Armed Forces? Probably you expect a greater contribution of the Russian side?

A.: Well, we welcome Russia‘s contributions to our shared efforts in Afghanistan to help the Afghan government to produce a more stable situation, to produce better governance and to create a better economic future for the Afghans. Russia‘s willingness to enter into a new air transit agreement as well as to follow through a ground transit agreement have been extremely important contributions to the international effort in Afghanistan. Already there have been some 500 flights under the joint agreement which transported something like 60000 American servicemen to join the international forces in Afghanistan. There has also been a significant amount of equipment moved by rail. We welcome Russia‘s involvement in economic reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. We welcome Russia‘s diplomatic support along with other key regional players in supporting the efforts to help stabilize Afghanistan. And we welcome the offer that Russian government made to donate some Mi-17 helicopters to the Afghan Armed Forces, and we are exploring the possibility of further commercial purchases of Mi-17 helicopters, as well.

Q.: Commercial purchases by the United States or NATO?

A.: Well, in this instance by the United States. We are exploring a number of possibilities.

Q.: Will these purchases be for the coalition forces?

A.: Well, we are exploring the possibility that these helicopters can be used in Afghanistan by the Afghan forces in particular, by the Afghanistan government.

Q.: Back to Russia. The case of Russian citizen Viktor Bout has caused frictions between Russia and the United States. Some experts believe that the question became too politicized and declare that Bout‘s extradition to the United States may negatively impact the "reset" of Russian-U.S. relations. What is your opinion on this?

A.: All I can say is that the verdict in the case of Viktor Bout was something that was reached consistent with Thai law and consistent with the U.S. - Thai bilateral extradition treaty. I cannot comment as a matter of U.S. practice on an ongoing judicial process on an ongoing extradition request.

Q.: Another pressing issue is the adoption of Russian children to U.S. families. You know about the recent case concerning the Leschinski family. Why do you think there have been so many incidents involving Russian children, especially in America? What is the prospect of signing of a new agreement on this matter?

A.: As a father and as an American citizen I am appalled by the abuses, which have taken place. As a government we have condemned quite strongly those abuses. And we‘ve worked together with the Russian government in recent months to develop a new bilateral agreement to better ensure the safety of and well-being of children that may be adopted. I think we are very close to finalizing that agreement and we believe it will serve the interests of the United States and Russia, but particularly of the children, who are involved.

Q.: You‘ve met with the representatives of Russian civil society. And some human rights activists told our agency that during this meeting the case of Sergei Magnitsky was discussed. Is this case a matter of concern for the United States?

A.: I very much appreciate the opportunity to meet - as I always do in Moscow - with a number of civil society and human rights leaders. We had a very useful and wide-ranging discussion. And I should note that it is regrettable that Lev Ponomaryov, who was supposed to be at the meeting, was not able to attend. The freedom of assembly is very important to the United States and important to any democratic society.
To answer your question about the Magnitsky case, yes, we did discuss that. And certainly, the United State has made it clear both publicly and privately our concern about the case, and our belief is that there ought to be a full investigation of what happened.
We‘ve met with my colleagues, with Mr. Magnitsky‘s mother and with others involved in the case, and we continue to believe that a full investigation is very important.

Q.: Senator Benjamin Cardin sent a letter to State Secretary Clinton, asking her to consider the possibility to prohibit the entry into the United States of some Russian officials involved in this case. Is the State Department considering this suggestion of Senator Cardin and the possibility of taking this step?

A.: Well, I can say that, of course, we take seriously the concerns, raised by Senator Cardin, and take seriously the letter that he wrote to Secretary of State Clinton, and the Magnitsky case, as I mentioned before, remains a matter of concern to the United States.