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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks at Bipartisan Policy Center

Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
BPC Panel discussion, "Putin's Return: The Political and Commercial Implications for America"
Washington, DC
March 15, 2012


Moderator: [in progress] lively debate over whether some new form of human rights sanction needs to immediately be put into effect were Congress to lift Jackson-Vanik. So first of all, can you give us a sense of where the administration is at in terms of the big picture positioning? Is there still a reset possible with President Putin returning to official power in the Kremlin? And in that context, where does this debate in Washington fit in?

Assistant Secretary Gordon: Thanks, Susan. I would be happy to do that. Indeed, I appreciate the invitation to put it in that broader context. This is an important thing we’re trying to do with Russia, but there are a lot of important things we’re trying to do with Russia and they are related.

Let me start, though, by saying how much I admire the report by the task force. As we head into this debate in Congress there is no doubt going to be a lot of polemics and politics and what is called for is a serious, thoughtful assessment with even some facts in it. I think that’s what you all have produced and it’s going to be very valuable and I would encourage members of Congress, the media and others to rely on it. I really think it’s an important contribution on this important issue.

I said I wanted to put this in context, Susan, and what I would say about that is, you all are very well familiar with the way we and the Obama administration have tried to approach the issue of Russia in general. The relationship was strained when the President took office, which he regretted, and thought was not in the U.S. interest because we have so many potential areas of common interest with Russia, whether that’s in the economic area or nonproliferation or counterterrorism. So what he set out to do was to find those areas of common interest, try to reach practical, real substantive agreements while also being very clear that there would be things we would disagree on and we wouldn’t sweep them under the carpet as we pursued these things.

We’re actually very proud of what, in three years, we have accomplished in that regard, whether it’s the New START Treaty or cooperation on Afghanistan which has been very significant to our efforts there; or the 123 Nuclear Agreement on civil nuclear cooperation; Russian support on North Korea; and, particularly Iran, to a degree that I don’t think was imaginable a few years before; the Bipartisan Presidential Commission which has strengthened our relations in areas from environment to sports and culture and business; and, then the WTO agreement which as you and the Secretary and others have said, has been on the agenda for a very long time. We worked very hard, in our own interest, to reach an agreement that we think would benefit -- much as Russia, and we think it would -- but ourselves and other members to the international community by providing greater opportunity for trade and bringing Russia into a binding organization governed by rule of law and open trade. So that, after 20 years of trying, both in the United States and in Russia, we think is a major accomplishment and very consistent with what I described as our overall effort with Russia.

So where does that leave us now? I can talk, and I’m sure you’ll have questions about the broader fate of the reset and how we’re doing in other issues, and I’m happy to engage on that, but since we’re really here to talk about Jackson-Vanik and the WTO, let me just give you the bottom line on that.

Having reached this agreement to bring Russia into the WTO it is in our interest to graduate Russia from Jackson-Vanik so that our firms will benefit, and I would say period. The President, especially in this tough economic climate is determined to do everything he can for American firms and American exports, and were we to fail to graduate Russia from Jackson-Vanik right now, we would be disadvantaging American companies, without costing Russia anything. It’s not in that sense at all a gift to Russia, it is in the fundamentally economic and security interest of the United States and I am quite confident that that’s what Senator Baucus will hear from the businesses today, which include the leadership of some major American companies that want to see this get done.

I think you cited some of the opposition figures in Russia who have said the same thing. The statement they put out last week said that leaving Jackson-Vanik on the books as it is and keeping it applying to Russia would “not be helpful in any way”, and we think that’s right: it would not be helpful in any way.

So, very straightforward and clear, it’s in our interest to graduate Russia from Jackson-Vanik.

I do want to say, though, because this issue is now debated in the context of what we’re doing on democracy and human rights in Russia. I want to be clear on that, too. Even as we’ve pursued this better relationship with Russia and concrete agreements with Russia we’ve been very clear about the importance of democracy, human rights, and civil society in our foreign policy. We’ve done quite a lot in that regard. Since 2009 we’ve spent more than $200 million seeking to promote democracy, human rights and civil society on the recent elections.

From the start we’ve said, the President said that even as we pursue these concrete agreements we will be clear when Russia is doing things that we don’t believe are in our interest or that we disagree with. We’ve done so on a range of issues, on the question of Georgia, and on the question of democracy. So in December when there were parliamentary elections that we did not think were entirely free and fair, we said so. The Russian government didn’t appreciate it, but I think we’ve been consistent to our principles on that issue.

We have proposed, as you know, using some of the resources that were generated from the U.S.-Russia investment fund and asked Congress to consider taking those resources which would be some $50 million and using it as a further effort to promote democracy, civil society and human rights in Russia.

On some of the specific measures in the Magnitsky Bill that has been referred to, which is sometimes linked to the question of lifting Jackson-Vanik, we have also been very clear that it is the policy of the United States to deny visas to people guilty of serious human rights violations. In the Presidential Proclamation last August in the Immigration and Nationality Act, we have the provisions to do that and we have done so and will do so.

So I want to be very clear, even as I say that Jackson-Vanik should be lifted simply unrelated to anything else because it’s in our interest, at the same time, of course, we strongly support the goals of the Cardin legislation. We have been very active on democracy on human rights, we will continue to be active on democracy and human rights, but the bottom line on the question of Jackson-Vanik: it is in our interest to graduate Russia as soon as possible.

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