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24 Jun, 2010 19:02

Russia-US relations are not all about security – presidents

Russia and the US have some disagreements, but neither side will let that get in the way of a strong working relationship – that was the message from Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama, who held a joint press conference.

The two leaders met in Washington to discuss a broad range of international issues, as well as ways to bring the cooperation between the two states to yet another level.

At the joint media-conference on the results of the meeting, the president of the United States expressed his pleasure with how the “reset” of relations with Russia is progressing. However, he emphasized that the focus now is not only on simply resetting the relationship, but also broadening it.

“Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, the US-Russian relationship has to be about more than just security and arms control. It has to be about our shared prosperity and what we can build together,” Obama said, adding, “Today, we agreed to forge new cooperation across a whole range of areas. In particular, we are expanding trade and commerce.”

President Medvedev's first stop in the US was California's Silicon Valley. He met with the CEOs of some of the world’s leading hi-tech companies.

Medvedev said he wanted to see with his own eyes how a successful marriage of business and science works.

Russia is now building its own equivalent of Silicon Valley outside Moscow, called Skolkovo.

Medvedev welcomed foreign investors, promised huge tax breaks, as well as red-tape free work.

“We have to learn how to work, and there is nothing to be embarrassed about. We should not be swaggering and saying we know it all. We do have something to learn in terms of organizing business,” admitted the Russian leader. “This is prompted by my meeting with the representatives of Russian business community, who moved to the United States or work here on a temporary basis. They all want to work with Russian investors. Many of them want to come back to Russia, but the main thing is that they have precious experience.”

President Obama reminded the media that American companies and universities were among the first to invest in Skolkovo.

In synch with the relatively light tone of the meeting the US leader also said he is looking forward to switching from “red phones” to communication via Twitter, as both presidents now have accounts there.

Read also – Obama and Medvedev hang out at burger joint

Crisis and cooperation

Staying on the subject of economic ties, the two leaders also discussed crisis exit measures and ways to boost trade and commerce between their countries.

“Today, we spoke about how our economies are responding to the consequences of the crisis and agreed that a lot has already been done, but a great deal is yet to be done. The president of the United States told me about some new ideas that he plans to submit to Congress in order to make the US economy more stable. I briefed him on our crisis exit measures. I believe it was a helpful exchange of opinions. We will certainly cooperate when discussing at the G20 summit the issues of restoring global finance and establishing a new economic order,” reported Dmitry Medvedev.

His American counterpart in turn noted that both countries can help each other overcome the consequences of the economic crisis: “This afternoon, President Medvedev and I will join American and Russian business leaders as they move forward with a series of major trade and investment deals that will create jobs for Americans and Russians across many sectors, from aerospace and automotive engineering to the financial sector and high technology,” said Barack Obama. “Consistent with my administration’s National Export Initiative, this includes the sale of 50 Boeing aircraft – worth $4 billion – that could add up to 44,000 new jobs in the American aerospace industry.”

To achieve a higher of cooperation both countries still have a lot of work to do, admitted Dmitry Medvedev.

“There are still some areas where we have to make significant changes to the situation – I am referring to the investment climate – and stimulate our businesspeople to be more aware of one another, investing money into our economies.”

“Russia belongs in the WTO” – Obama

President Obama also stressed that it is in the interests of the whole world that Russia joins the WTO. Both presidents pledged that negotiations over WTO membership, which have lasted almost two decades, will bring tangible results later this year.

“We have coordinated a common approach today. There are practically not substantive issues left. So we moved forward in all areas starting from encryption and intellectual property, and ending with state institutions and some other issues like the changing Russian legislation in synch with the process of joining the WTO,” said the Russian leader. “There are some remaining minor technical problems, and our teams have been instructed to work as fast as possible. And we hope – and we have discussed it today – that this work will be finalized by the end of September this year.”

Obama echoed the sentiments: “What I have told my team is we are going to do everything we can to get this done as quickly as possible, and we will be very specific and very clear about the technical issues that Russia still faces. And Russia, then, will act in accordance with its needs and requirements internally to meet the demands of the WTO in order to get this done.”

He also said that the fact that the two leaders have managed to reach an agreement that will allow the US to begin exporting poultry products to Russia once again is a clear sign that Russia is serious about joining the World Trade Organization.

Moving towards a nuclear free world

As Dmitry Medvedev noted, the two leaders devoted less time to international issues than before. However some topics have still been touched upon. Among them is the new START treaty.

“Right now, our challenge as presidents is to ensure that it is ratified calmly and predictably by our parliaments. I hope this will happen soon,” said the Russian leader. “In any case, the Federation Council and the State Duma are already holding hearings on this issue. Similar hearings are taking place in Congress and the Senate. Thus, I think that these active discussions should reveal the truth and synchronize the ratification process.”

“I suppose that this is a very serious responsibility for the Russian Federation and the United States of America. We are not shying away from this responsibility. We will be in contact,” he added.

President Obama stressed that not only the US and Russia have to meet their obligations on nonproliferation, but that same goes for other nations also.

“Together, we have strengthened the global nonproliferation regime so that as we meet our obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, other nations meet theirs and are held accountable if they do not. Along with our international partners, we passed and are enforcing new UN sanctions against North Korea. We offered Iran the prospect of a better future, and when they refused, we joined with Russia and our partners on the Security Council to impose the toughest sanctions ever faced by the government of Iran.”

Situation in Kyrgyzstan is difficult – Medvedev

In light of recent events in Kyrgyzstan, the topic was, naturally, raised by the media during the news conference.

While saying that the situation in the republic is difficult, Dmitry Medvedev said both Russia and the US hope that the crisis can be resolved by the Kyrgyz authorities themselves.

“The Russian Federation did not and does not plan to deploy a peaceful contingent there,” he told the media.

However, both Medvedev and Obama said they are monitoring the situation in the republic closely.

“There is a good-working consultations mechanism in the CSTO format. Heads of Security Councils met to discuss this, including the possibility of deploying a peacekeepers contingent. But they have decided that so far there is no need to do so. However the situation may start developing according to a different scenario,” reported the Russian leader.

“There already has been excellent coordination between the United States and the Russian Federation on delivery of humanitarian aid. One of the things that we discussed is creating a mechanism so that the international community can ensure that we have a peaceful resolution of the situation there, and that any actions that are taken to protect civilians are done so not under the flag of any particular country, but that the international community is stepping in,” added Obama.

The Russian president also stressed that the situation there is so bad that it can turn into another Afghanistan.

“We all share a concern that under these circumstances, radical elements may rise to power in the country, and in that case, we will have to address the same issues that we have to deal with in other regions. I'm referring to, for example, the goals that we have in Afghanistan.”

The lessons of Afghanistan

Considering Russia’s experience in Afghanistan, President Medvedev was asked if he can offer his American counterpart any advice on the Afghan war, and whether he thinks it is even possible for a foreign country to win there.

He said that he tries to not “give pieces of advice that cannot be fulfilled.”

“This is a difficult topic,” continued the Russian leader. “I can say only two things. First of all, we think that, at the moment, the United States and some other countries are assisting the Afghan people in obtaining the much-wanted statehood, and restoring the basis of the functioning of an effective state, as well as civil society and economy. And in these terms, we will support and back the efforts of the US.”

“I would very much like to see the Afghan people having an effective state and a modern economy in the near future. This requires a lot of work, which takes more than a year. But this is the path that would guarantee that the gravest scenarios of the past will not repeat,” he added.

Agreeing to disagree

After their talks in Washington on Thursday, the Russian and US presidents adopted joint statements on the situation in Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan, as well as documents which address measures to improve cooperation in the fight against terrorism, strategic stability, the openness of state governance, energy-saving technologies, the two countries' strategic partnership in innovations, people-to-people contacts, and international adoption rules.

Both leaders stressed that, although there are still issues on which the two countries do not see eye to eye, the “reset” worked out quite well.

What is important is to address those stumbling blocks candidly and move forward, they said.

“We are united in the belief that Europe must have its own security system. We diverge on some issues mentioned by Mr. President, including the issue of the after-effects of the conflict initiated in 2008 by the leadership of Georgia. But this does not prevent us from discussing the future or launching new mechanisms for communicating on this issue,” Medvedev noted.

“We also spoke about European security. We are united in the belief that Europe must have its own security system. We diverge on some issues mentioned by Mr. President, including the issue of the after-effects of the conflict initiated in 2008 by the leadership of Georgia. But this does not prevent us from discussing the future, or launching new mechanisms for communicating on this issue,” Medvedev added.

“Our two countries continue to disagree on certain issues, such as Georgia, and we addressed those differences candidly. But by moving forward in areas where we do agree, we have succeeding in resetting our relationship, which benefits regional and global security,” echoed Obama.

“We recently marked the 65th anniversary of our shared victory in that war, including that historic moment when American and Soviet troops came together in friendship at the Elbe River in Germany. A reporter who was there at that time, all those years ago, said, ‘If there is a fine, splendid world in the future, it will largely be because the United States and Russia get on well together. If it is in trouble, it will be because they don’t get on well.’ It’s as simple as that,” he continued. “The decades that followed saw many troubles – too many troubles. But 65 years later, it is still as simple as that. Our countries are more secure and the world is safer when the United States and Russia get on well together.”

Experts' opinion

The so-called "reset" in Russian-US relations has been more productive than just smiles and statesmanship, according to Andrew Kuchins, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Robert Weiner, a former White House Drugs Policy spokesman, agrees that deepening cooperation between the two nations is real and much more than just rhetoric – especially when it comes to the US backing Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization.

He believes the fact that President Obama said that Russia belongs in the WTO is a “major, factual, important development.”

If Russia wants to be a big power, it has to play by the world rules and therefore be a member of the WTO, believes Samir Shakbaz, a political expert from RIA Novosti news agency.

“The main idea of the press conference was, ‘lets focus on the issues that we get together well on and stop bullying each other,’” he said.

Russia and the US still have various subjects they do not agree on, and the most prominent are Georgia and America’s missile defense in Europe, noted Josh Rogin from Foreign Policy magazine.

“The bottom line here is that the plans of the current US administration are still unacceptable as far as the Russian government is concerned,” he said.