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U.S. Commerce Chief Says Russia WTO Bid At Risk Over Georgia

Commerce Secretary Gutierrez (file photo)

Commerce Secretary Gutierrez (file photo)

BERLIN -- Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) is at risk because of its military operations in Georgia, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez has been quoted as saying.

Gutierrez told German weekly "Der Spiegel" that Russia was "maneuvering itself into a extremely difficult situation," according to the German text of the interview. "The president has made it clear several times: until now, America was Russia's advocate when it came to integrating the country into the global community."

"We included Russia in the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrialized nations," Gutierrez said. "We welcomed and pushed forward Russia's desire to join the World Trade Organization. That is all at risk now."

It was unclear when the interview took place, although it was after NATO suspended regular contacts with Russia on August 19 over the conflict in Georgia's breakaway South Ossetia region.

U.S. President George W. Bush said earlier this month the fighting in South Ossetia was hurting Russia's efforts to join modern global economic and security institutions.

Gutierrez had previously said Russia still had work to do before it was ready to join the WTO but played down any connection between its military action in Georgia and its 15-year-old membership bid.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has called for a review of Russia's WTO bid.

Georgia was already blocking formal talks on Russian accession to the world trade body because of Moscow's support for the country's separatist regions.

Under WTO rules a candidate country must reach agreement with all 153 members, represented by a working party which any existing member can join, as well as agreeing separate bilateral deals with any member that seeks them.

Russia, the world's 10th largest economy, is by far the biggest country still outside the WTO.

Georgian troops were back in control of the country's main east-west highway after Russian forces pulled back, but Washington condemned the Kremlin for keeping what Moscow describes as peacekeepers in Georgia's heartland.

"Der Spiegel" asked Gutierrez whether Russia should be excluded from the G8 and barred from the WTO. He responded that, "In this crisis situation we can't start taking options off the table," adding, "The Russian government now needs to think about what its interests are."