In Moscow, VP Biden Pushes for Greater Democratic Reforms, Reiterates Support for Russia’s WTO Bid

Mar 10, 2011 3:50pm

ABC News' Karen Travers reports:

In the signature event of his five-day trip abroad, Vice President Biden called for Russia to make further progress on democratic reforms and reiterated the Obama Administration’s support for Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization, citing the opportunity for strong commercial ties between the two nations.

“The next frontier in our relationship,” Biden said, “Will be building stronger ties of trade and commerce that match the security cooperation we have accomplished over the last two years and hopefully will continue to grow.”

Noting several times that the US-Russia relationship had improved, Biden delivered some chiding words for Russia’s leadership, which he said he could do without jeopardizing ties between the two nations.

“We will continue to object when we think human rights are violated or democracy and the rule of law is undermined,” he said.

The vice president specifically mentioned the cases of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who was arrested after accusing police of fraud and died in prison before being tried, and oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsy, imprisoned since 2003 amid charges of misconduct in his trial.

The vice president, in a subtle nod to what is happening across the Middle East, said that this was not just the United States asking for more from Russia, but the Russian people who “now call on their country to strengthen their democratic institutions.”

“Polls shows that most Russians want to choose their national and local leaders in competitive elections.  They want to be able to assemble freely, and they want a media to be independent of the state.  And they want to live in a country that fights corruption,” he said in remarks at Moscow State University. “That’s democracy.  They're the ingredients of democracy.  So I urge all of you students here:  Don't compromise on the basic elements of democracy.  You need not make that Faustian bargain.”

In a speech that was very lengthy even by Biden’s standards, the vice president touched on a wide range of issues: the US-Russian relationship and the “reset” the Obama Administration made a key part of its foreign policy agenda in 2009; nuclear proliferation; Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan, and economic cooperation.

He said Russia's entry into the WTO will help American companies by giving them “great and more predictable” access to its growing markets, potentially boosting both U.S. exports and employment. There are congressional hurdles related to this issue – the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment denies Russia “most-favored-nation” trade status, which is required for all WTO to extend to other members. The U.S. has granted waivers every year since 1974 but Congress has not acted to repeal the amendment citing Russia’s human rights issues.

Earlier today Biden met with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for about two hours, including a 15 minute one-on-one session. A senior administration official said the two spent most of their attention on missile defense, which the administration sees as “a real opportunity to turn an area of arguably the most contentious dispute into an area of cooperation.” They also discussed trade issues, Georgia, Afghanistan and energy.

Biden used a teleprompter for the lengthy speech but that did not prevent a few “notable flubs” when pronouncing Russian names, as the print pool reporter traveling with the vice president reported.

He mispronounced Tchaikovsky at the beginning, and when pool says “mispronounced” he is not quibbling,” the Wall Street Journal’s Jonathan Weisman wrote. “It was hard to known whom he was referring to. He called the scramble for central Asia and Afghanistan “the Grand Game,” not the Great Game. Most significantly, VPOTUS mangled the name Khodorkovski beyond recognition. In context, listeners may have been able to figure out whom he meant, but not necessarily.”

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