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Russia: Delay Makes Commission Meeting More Important

  • Robert Lyle

Washington, 19 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- It's been more than a year since the U.S.-Russian Binational Commission had a full-scale meeting -- postponed by Russia's financial crisis and a change of prime ministers and governments.

That makes the scheduled 11th plenary meeting of the commission next week (March 24-25) in Washington all the more important, says U.S. Vice President Al Gore's National Security Adviser, Leon Fuerth.

The U.S. has been building up ideas for cooperation over that year, he says, waiting for the Russian government to be ready -- ready for what he called "springtime":

"Springtime means the point at which the Russian government knows where it wants to go in these areas of policies and we can then see how to adjust our concepts and theirs and go forward to do something constructive together."

Fuerth's boss, Vice President Gore, and Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov co-chair the commission, whose formal name is the Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation.

Fuerth says the U.S. is hoping to move ahead on a broad front of issues. One big area of hope, he told reporters in Washington Thursday, is to finalize agreement to stabilize what is known as the H.E.U. agreement:

"The agreement whereby bomb-grade uranium from Russian weapons is converted into reactor-grade fuel and purchased by the United States. If that happens -- we've been doing this for some time -- but this would put in place more stable financial relations and guarantee the thing continuing on into the future. If that happens, it will be a big deal."

That agreement could be particularly important because it is part of a whole series of Russian-U.S. cooperative efforts which have been stalled by the U.S. assertion that Russia shared nuclear technology with Iran. The U.S. put sanctions on two Russian research institutes as a result.

Russia's Minister of Atomic Energy, Yevgeny Adamov has proposed a way to settle the dispute and Fuerth quickly welcomed an opportunity to discuss the overture at next week's meetings. This should be discussed diplomatically and in private, he says.

Working out that dispute, as well as the weapons to fuel program, could open up a number of major cooperative programs. Among those, for example, said Fuerth, is the present American limit on the number of U.S. satellites which can be put into orbit by the Russian space program.

The launch program is a lucrative one for the cash-strapped Russian space agency and Moscow has been anxious to be able to solicit more American business.

Primakov said this week that he will make several proposals to boost economic ties with the U.S. during his visit to Washington next week. Relations, he said, are developing too slowly.

Fuerth agreed, saying economic development is at the top of the commission's agenda:

"We would like to talk to the Russians about ways to promote further economic growth. We think the Russians have ideas relating to small business. So do we, and we are interested in exchanging ideas about that."

Primakov will arrive in the U.S. on Tuesday, March 23. He has a full schedule in addition to the two days of commission meetings.

On Wednesday, the 24th, the White House has tentatively scheduled a meeting with President Bill Clinton and on Thursday the 25th, Primakov will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

On the 24th, Primakov is also to have an important meeting with IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus. An IMF team has been in Moscow working to narrow the differences between the fund and Moscow on what is needed to restart IMF lending to Russia.

Primakov will travel to New York on Friday, March 26, for a series of meetings at the United Nations and with American business leaders. He is scheduled to fly back to Moscow on Saturday, March 27.