A Strong Step Towards Improving US-Russian Relations

Today The Russia Monitor was privileged to attend an event at The National Press Club entitled, U.S. and Russia: A Window of Opportunity. Speaking at the event were Thomas Pickering, Undersecretary of State from 1997-2000 and Robert C. McFarlane, National Security Advisor from 1983-85; the even was moderated by Matthew Rojansky, Executive Director of the Partnership for a Secure America (PSA) – you can read Rojansky’s blog posts on Russia here and here. The purpose of the event was to announce a set of policy recommendations for encouraging renewed U.S.-Russian relations, under the aegis of the PSA and supported by 34 former Ambassadors, Secretaries of Defense and State, Senators, etc.

The PSA statement recommends six areas of cooperation that should form the basis of a renewed relationship between Russian and the United States:

  • Emphasizing the importance of the NATO-Russia Council and inviting Russia to participate fully in a collective security strategy, beginning with peace and stability for Afghanistan;
  • Engaging in discussions aimed at securing Russian cooperation to establish effective defenses against missile attacks for Europe while providing Russia with security assurances;
  • Encouraging Russia to take a leadership role in multilateral negotiations with Iran to stop uranium enrichment;
  • Advancing the US-Russia dialogue on arms control and non-proliferation, and working to extend or replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which could be followed by another stage of verified nuclear disarmament;
  • Reiterating U.S. support for Russia’s WTO candidacy, calling on Congress to repeal the “Jackson-Vanik” trade sanctions, and encouraging other member states to offer Russia a clear path to membership based on its commitment to the WTO Charter; and
  • Expanding the US-Russia dialogue on energy and climate change, to include seeking common ground on environmental concerns and new oil and gas pipelines to guarantee reliable energy supplies for the entire North Atlantic region.

In the Q&A after their prepared remarks, both Pickering and McFarlane agreed that the best starting point among the six proposals is the renegotiation of START at the end of this year and the NPT Treaty conference next year, as it is relatively easier than the other issues and, arguably, the most important from a security perspective. Pickering also emphasized the utility of revisiting Jackson-Vanik, which apparently has not been used for years but remains, in his words, “a rusting sword of damocles” that we hold over Russia’s head. He emphasized the benefit of agreeing to not do something we already do not do. McFarlane, for his part, also agreed that WTO membership would be a positive step to the extent that it would impose enforceable rules in the economic sphere. Furthermore, both speakers stressed the need for showing respect in our interactions with the Russians, and that there is no need to withold this as it costs us nothing.

The release is cleverly timed to coincide with Secretary of State Clinton’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in Geneva next week (I told you she wasn’t going to Moscow), and with Fmr. Amb. Burns’ trip to Moscow last week. The speakers stressed that the purpose of the statement and the rollout is to create ‘politically safe space’ to approach US-Russian relations. I think this is an excellent and essential goal. For too long and to an increasing extent, the default position amongst the media and politicians in the U.S. has been to at least implicitly encourage a more antagonistic relationship with Moscow. It is great to have these heavyweights rallying around a simple yet effective statement of how we can ‘reset’ U.S.-Russian relations and set out on a more positive trajectory. I would like to echo Pickering’s congratulations to Rojansky and thank him for organizing this statement. So many times, I have had the discussion with my Russia-focused friends about the need for a planned approach to improving US-Russian relations. It is interesting to, as there really is no organized anti-Russian lobby (unless you count Georgia). The sad truth is, as I said, Russia-bashing and even Russophobia have become the conventional wisdom in Washington and amongst the cogniscenti. Hopefully the PSA and this campaign can help convince the Obama Administration to get us back on the right track.

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