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Russia: U.S. Moscow Envoy Waxes Optimistic Over Summit

Later this month, U.S. President George W. Bush travels to Moscow for a summit with President Vladimir Putin. Both leaders are hoping to use the summit as a chance to underscore good relations between the two countries, but lingering disagreements on arms control had threatened to overshadow the meeting. This week, the U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Alexander Vershbow, took a moment to speak to reporters about prospects for the summit. He was optimistic, saying the meeting offers a real chance to build on the improving ties. RFE/RL's Moscow correspondent Francesca Mereu attended the briefing and files this report.

Moscow, 1 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow says this month's upcoming U.S.-Russia summit (23 May) between U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin offers an excellent chance for the two countries to improve relations.

Speaking with reporters yesterday in Moscow, Vershbow says both the U.S. and Russia have been working hard over the past few months to sort out lingering disagreements over measures to reduce nuclear arms. Vershbow says progress has been made.

"There have been differences over how to carry out the reductions in the nuclear warheads. But we think these questions can be worked out. We've made tremendous progress in developing new measures for transparency and verification -- or control over the reductions. I think the important thing is that both our presidents have made very clear the determination to carry out these very radical reductions."

Vershbow notes that later this week Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington to work out final details on an arms-reduction agreement. Vershbow says the new document will be short but legally binding:

"The document on strategic arms reduction will be a very short one. It will be either a treaty, or another form of agreement, but in any case, a legally binding agreement. The main question is whether it will be a treaty -- which on our side only goes to the Senate -- [or] whether it's an executive agreement -- which would have to be approved by both houses of Congress. But the document will be short, because we intend to preserve many provisions of [existing] agreements as the foundation, particularly for verification and transparency." Last year, Bush and Putin pledged to cut their respective nuclear arsenals to around 1,500 to 2,000 warheads each from current levels of about 6,000 warheads. Bush initially favored an informal agreement on the reductions, while the Russians were pushing for a legally binding agreement.

Bush has since warmed to the idea of a binding agreement, but there are still a number of issues that require further discussion. One sticking point is a U.S. proposal to stockpile -- not destroy -- its decommissioned warheads. Russia opposes the plan, saying it falls short of an earnest effort to reduce arms.

Russia's stance on that issue softened slightly last month when Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Russia is likely to allow the U.S. to stockpile some of its decommissioned weapons.

On 29 April, Sergei Ivanov hinted at the possibility of a breakthrough by saying Russia had offered the United States new ideas on arms cuts. He did not give further details. The comments came after a meeting in Moscow with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Besides a legally binding agreement on arms cuts, Vershbow says both sides are preparing other documents for the summit.

"There will be other documents, we hope, to be finished for the summit. One of these would be a political declaration on the new strategic relationship, and this will include a plan for joint action in a number of areas, including the fight against terrorism, antimissile defense, as well as on economic and political subjects."

Moreover, Vershbow says he hopes Bush's visit -- his first to Russia -- will be a good opportunity for expanding U.S.-Russian business cooperation:

"We hope [the summit] will be a kind of impulse for more trade, for more contacts among businessmen, and among simple citizens. The presence of our president here will focus a lot of the American mass media on the changes in Russia. And in particular they'll see that some of the images they may still have in their minds, of the confusion and instability of the 90s, are out of date."

Vershbow says there still are obstacles to American investment. He says an excess of regulations and bureaucratic interference and a lack of fully impartial legal institutions are things that hinder investment.

"The key thing that all businessmen look for is predictability. They put a lot of money into the Russian market. They [hope] that investment will be protected and that they'll be able to earn a reasonable profit without facing political or other kinds of pressure. There are other things that sometimes discourage investors such as overly high tariffs, customs fees, poor infrastructures that makes it difficult to transport goods in and out of Russia."

Vershbow says the energy sector is perhaps the most promising area for expanded investment in Russia in the short term.

He says there will be some reflection at the summit of the potential for expanding U.S.-Russian cooperation in the energy field. But, he says, it's not yet clear whether this will be a separate statement or a part of a larger agreement.