VLADIVOSTOK - The U.S. Congress may move this month to upgrade trade relations with Russia, a key part of the Obama administration's effort to bolster sometimes strained ties with Moscow and open the Russian market to more U.S. companies, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Saturday.
Clinton, addressing the Asia Pacific Economic Forum (APEC)
meeting in Vladivostok, said the Obama administration was
working closely with Congress on lifting the 1974 Jackson-Vanik
amendment, Cold War-era legislation which has blocked normal
trade privileges for Russia.
“To make sure our companies get to compete here in Russia,
we are working closely with the United States congress to
terminate the application to Jackson-Vanik to Russia and grant
Russia permanent normalized trade relations,” Clinton said.
“We hope that the Congress will act on this important piece
of legislation this month.”
Congress is under pressure to approve the permanent normal
trade relations (PNTR) bill because of Russia’s entry into the
World Trade Organization (WTO) last month, a move the United
States strongly supported.
U.S. business groups hope the House of Representatives and
Senate will pass the legislation in September before lawmakers
return home to campaign. Businesses worry that without it U.S.
firms may not get access to newly opened services markets and be
subject to potential arbitrary Russian trade reprisals.
But with concerns in Congress about Moscow’s support for
Iran and Syria, as well as its broader human rights record, the
timing of a vote remains unclear.
The Jackson-Vanik amendment tied normal tariff treatment for
goods from the former Soviet Union to the rights of Jews to
emigrate. Russia has been deemed in compliance for nearly two
decades, but the law nevertheless remains on the books despite
WTO rules which require members to provide normal trade
relations to one another on an unconditional basis.
Congress may add further conditions to any PNTR legislation,
including a measure known as the “Magnitsky bill” to punish
Russian officials for alleged human rights violations.
Republican President candidate Mitt Romney, who has called
Russia the “number one geopolitical foe” of the United States,
has said he would only support PNTR for Russia if is accompanied
by a measure to target Russian human rights violations.
U.S. officials said Clinton raised the broad question of
human rights in her talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei
STANDING IN FOR OBAMA
Clinton is standing in at the Vladivostok summit for
President Barack Obama, who is preparing for the November U.S.
presidential election. She met Lavrov on Saturday, and was due
to see President Vladimir Putin.
U.S. officials say Clinton’s trip is partially aimed at
assessing Russia’s push to expand engagement in Asia, which
parallels the Obama administration’s “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific
region following years of entanglement in military campaigns in
Iraq and Afghanistan.
Clinton intended to stress to Putin that the United States
welcomed a bigger Russian role in the region, and was seeking to
build more cooperation, the officials also said.
Clinton and Lavrov signed deals pledging to work together
both in the Antarctic and in the fragile region of the Bering
Strait between Russia and Alaska.
They also discussed North Korea and Iran, where Moscow and
Washington have been working in concert with other permanent
members of the U.N. Security Council to pressure Tehran over its
But the United States and Russia remain at odds on a number
of issues, including Syria, where Washington has accused Moscow
and Beijing of blocking three successive efforts at the U.N.
Security Council to approve tough measures against Damascus as
it battles an armed rebellion.
The United States has angered Russia by going outside the
United Nations to work with allies to support the Syrian
opposition, but Clinton told Lavrov it was possible to return to
the United Nations if Moscow and Beijing were ready to forego
their vetoes and back stronger measures.
A U.S. official said Clinton, who also visited China this
week, made the same comments to Chinese leaders.
“Her message was clear to both: if you guys are prepared to
make the UNSC of value, we’re prepared to work with you again,”
the official said.