WASHINGTON -- The United States and Russia have signed raft of agreements, including a reform of inter-country adoption rules and steps to liberalize visas regimes.
Speaking alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who was capping of a three-day trip to the U.S. capital, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the new agreements were part of an effort to keep progress coming in the "reset" of relations between the two countries.
"[The United States and Russia] are not only working bilaterally, but multilaterally, on so many important issues, from counterterrorism to nonproliferation. Our challenge now is to continue and maintain the momentum in order to deliver more results for both of our peoples," she said.
The new adoption guidelines, designed to better ensure the welfare of children, require cases to be processed through agencies authorized by Moscow unless a child is being adopted by relatives.
The strengthened provisions also give prospective parents better information about the social and psychological history of the child and implement expanded monitoring of the child’s living conditions once the adoption is complete.
The agreement comes in the wake of a series of highly publicized cases in which Russian children adopted by U.S. parents were abused on mistreated.
Washington and Moscow's agreement on visa liberalization grants three-year multiple-entry visas to eligible business travelers and tourists, while also reducing the amount of documentation required.
Clinton said the deal lays the groundwork for expanded bilateral trade, while Lavrov said the agreement was a step toward eventual elimination of the visa requirement. The new visa regime is scheduled to go into effect by the end of the year.
Lavrov and Clinton also signed agreements extending cooperation on research into the effects of radiation exposure and improving coordination in air traffic control and navigation.
The diplomats also brought into force an agreement to dispose of large stockpiles of weapons-grade plutonium, enough to create some 17,000 nuclear weapons.
Hurdles To Face
Lavrov took advantage of the U.S. trip to discuss the situations in Libya, Syria, and Iran with his hosts.
On the Iranian nuclear standoff, he suggested a "step-by-step" approach under which Tehran would be rewarded with a gradual easing of international sanctions every time it satisfactorily answered a question or concern of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
"We propose that for each IAEA concern that Iran must address, starting with the easier issues before ending with those that may take more time, that for each specific step of Iran would be followed by some reciprocal move, like freezing some sanctions and shortening the volume of sanctions," Lavrov said.
Clinton did not comment on the proposal, saying only that Washington was committed to a "dual track of pressure and engagement" with Iran and was ready to explore new strategies with Moscow.
While Clinton and Lavrov publicly played down their differences and touted improved relations, closed-door discussions focused on a number of key hurdles that some say threaten to chill ties.
Before meeting with Clinton, Lavrov met U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House for talks that focused on Russia’s long-running bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Russia, the world's largest economy outside of the trade regulatory organization, has expressed increasing frustration at the United States for not removing barriers to its entry quickly enough.
Lavrov said Obama, who has previously voiced support for Russia's bid, agreed that the issue must be resolved "very soon."
"There are ways of achieving this, and, as I understood during today's meeting in the White House, there is also a willingness to do this on the part of the leadership of the United States," he said. "Now it is a matter for the experts who must translate this political impulse into the language of practical agreements on paper."
U.S. trade officials, however, say a number of Russian tariff, export, and intellectual property rights issues must first be resolved before Washington clears the way for Russia’s entry.
A number of U.S. lawmakers have also expressed reluctance to hand Russia a major economic -- and symbolic -- victory amid concerns over widespread corruption and human rights abuses.
Russia must also secure the approval of arch-foe Georgia before it can join the WTO.
Perhaps a greater thorn in side of relations between Washington and Moscow is the issue of missile defense, which Lavrov described on July 12 as "the single irritator of considerable importance" between the countries."
"There have been ups and downs [in our relationship]. We are on the 'ups' stage now, but even the 'ups' stages are not without bumps. I alluded to one of them being missile defense. We do hope that we can overcome it, and we'll be, as Russia, doing anything we can to achieve a fair deal which would be based on equality, respect of the interests of each other, and the respect for the security concerns of each other," he said.
Moscow considers Obama's "phased adaptive approach" to missile defense, which would put sea- and land-based interceptors and radar systems in Eastern Europe, as a threat to its nuclear arsenal. Washington insists that the defense system is intended to protect against the threat of states such as Iran and North Korea.
Today, however, Clinton struck an upbeat tone on the matter, saying, "I believe we do have an opportunity to address common challenges."
In a brief mention of civil liberties in Russia, Clinton reaffirmed U.S. support for Russia's peaceful protesters, journalists, and bloggers, but said there was an "increasing emphasis within Russia on democracy."
In a statement, the White House said Obama and Lavrov had also discussed the "tragedy" of the prison death of Russian anticorruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.
Lavrov's day of talks comes after a July 12 meeting with lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a July 11 meeting of the Middle East peace Quartet.