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Russia: Chernomyrdin Says Commission Makes "Real Difference" In Relationship

Washington, 12 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S.-Russian Joint Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation, co-chaired by Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and U.S. Vice President Al Gore, finished its tenth semi-annual plenary session in Washington yesterday.

Gore told a press conference at the end of the meetings that the work the commission has done over the past five years has "made a real difference in the relationship between our two nations and in the lives of the American people and the Russian people."

Chernomyrdin told the reporters that the commission has "turned into one of the major driving forces of development of the multifaceted Russian-U.S. cooperation."

The commission, composed of more than a dozen specialized committees and working groups, is led by 21 senior Russian and U.S. government officials. But it draws on a broad array of lower level officials and experts from both countries who work throughout the year on issues to be tackled in its formal sessions.

Six formal agreements were signed at the conclusion of the commissions meeting in Washington, including a joint program on reducing environmental and health risks from lead contamination in Russia, a cooperation agreement on commercialization of technology, a framework agreement supporting U.S. exports to small businesses in Russia, a new cooperation agreement between the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) and the State Conversion Foundation of Russia, agreement to begin setting up a system of rural credit cooperatives for farmers in Russia, and a general new framework for economic cooperation between the two countries.

In addition, statements were issued concerning continuing cooperation in aeronautics and space, initiating a program of management training for Russian entrepreneurs, building support for adoption of international accounting standards in Russia, agreement on dealing with civil aviation and airworthiness certification issues for commercial airlines, and recommendations on strengthening capital markets.

As a side part of the commission meeting, U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley and Russian Minister of Foreign Economic relations and Trade, Mikhail Fradkov, hosted the signing of commercial agreements between 12 U.S. companies and three Russian firms, the Chelyabinsk Oblast and the Russian Federal Road service.

The largest potential project was a memorandum of understanding for joint oil production in the Northern territories between LUKoil and the U.S. company Conoco. Officials said that could involve investment of over $25 billion eventually.

The Russian Road service signed contracts worth over $91 million for the purchase of heavy road construction equipment from eight major U.S. manufacturers.

The AGCO corporation of the U.S. signed a contract with the Chelyabinsk Oblast for the delivery and assembly of 62.5 million dollars worth of agricultural equipment, the U.S. aerospace company Boeing signed an agreement worth $175 million on the purchase of Russian titanium, and the U.S. Corning company signed an agreement to strengthen its ties with the Samara Cable Company to meet increased Russian demand for telecommunications infrastructure.

Daley called these commercial agreements "critical to developing long-term ties between the private sectors in the U.S. and Russia."

Russian Minister of Fuels and Energy Sergei Kiriyenko said the path to these agreements "was not simple," but that the business climate that is being created between the two countries will pay off well for everyone.

On top of the commercial agreements, the U.S. Export-Import (Exim) Bank signed an agreement with Russia's Vnesheconombank to allow U.S. lending for sales to Russia on a non-sovereign credit basis. This is a break-through for Russian firms, which previously were required to get government guarantees for any credits from the U.S. export financing agency.