Biden in Russia to broaden 'reset' in ties

9th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

US Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday holds talks with Russian leaders in the hope of realising the potential of economic relations and finding common ground on the revolts rocking the Middle East.

Officials said that Biden is seeking to build on the "reset" in ties spearheaded by Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev aimed at overcoming the legacy of the last years when relations plunged to a post-Cold War low.

Both sides have long acknowledged that economic relations remain well below their potential and Biden will want to make clear Washington's backing for the Russian bid to join the WTO as the Kremlin seeks to modernise the economy.

But events in the Middle East, especially in Libya, are bound to cast a shadow, with Moscow sounding less than enthusiastic about the domino collapse of Arab regimes and warning against any kind of foreign intervention.

Biden started his visit by laying a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier and was then to visit Skolkovo outside Moscow, the Russian equivalent of Silicon Valley and the hub of Medvedev's dream to create an innovation-based economy in Russia.

He will meet Medvedev later in the day and hold talks on Thursday with strongman Prime Minister Vladimir Putin before giving a keynote speech at Moscow State University.

"With the world economy recovering from a painful crisis we need to explore ways to realise the full potential of our relationship and generate more trade and investment," Biden said in an interview published Wednesday.

He told the ITAR-TASS news agency that the United States supported Russia's ambition to finally join the WTO in 2011 and end its status as the only major global economy not to have joined the global trade body.

"If the Russian government shows the same determination and seriousness of purpose it did in our negotiations, I have no doubt it will join the WTO on schedule. But it will take work," he said.

Russia meanwhile has long pushed for the repeal of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment which slapped trade penalties on socialist countries in response to Soviet Union's restrictions on Jewish emigration and remains on the books.

A major breakthrough in economic relations came this year when the Russian authorities approved PepsiCo's acquisition of Russia's largest dairy and baby food producer Wimm-Bill-Dann but many US firms are wary of doing business here.

Top White House Russia advisor Mike McFaul confirmed Biden would discuss the the Middle East, predicting "interesting and robust conversions" in an indication both sides may not see fully eye-to-eye.

Russia approved UN Security Council sanctions against the regime of Moamer Kadhafi but has made clear it will not support foreign military intervention as some Western powers float the idea of a no-fly zone.

"The Libyans must resolve their problems themselves," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

Biden, who has on occasion been remarkably outspoken on Russia, may not on the surface seem the most natural figure to realise the full potential of the Obama reset.

In an 2009 interview with the Wall Street Journal he described the Russian economy as "withering" and suggested Russia's long term weaknesses would force it to make concessions to the West.

"It's a very difficult thing to deal with, loss of empire," Biden said at the time.

But officials on both sides rubbished a Russian newspaper report last week that the real purpose of Biden's mission was to encourage Medvedev to stand in presidential elections in 2012 at the expense of Putin.

The Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper said that as consolation Putin would be offered a post as head of the International Olympics Committee.

© 2011 AFP

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