Clinton Tells Russia That Sanctions Will Soon End

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VLADIVOSTOK, Russia -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pledged Saturday that the United States would soon lift cold-war-era trade sanctions on Russia, but she did not address human rights legislation in Congress that has so far stalled passage, infuriated the Kremlin and become an unexpected issue in the American presidential race.

Attending the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting here in place of the campaigning President Obama, Mrs. Clinton welcomed Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization last month. And she said that the United States must now normalize trade relations so that American businesses can reap the benefits of Russia's membership, including lower tariffs for American products.

Although the sanctions included in the 1974 law known as Jackson-Vanik are waived each year and have no practical effect, they violate W.T.O. rules, which could allow Russia to retaliate against American businesses.

The effort to grant Russia normal trade status, however, has become entangled in legislation that would punish Russian officials accused of abusing human rights, denying them visas and freezing their assets. That has raised doubts that any agreement on lifting the Jackson-Vanik provisions can be reached before the November election.

The human rights bill, which has bipartisan support in both houses of Congress, is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in prison in 2009 after being prosecuted on charges that his supporters argue were manufactured to cover up official corruption.

Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential challenger, injected the issue into the campaign last week by issuing a statement saying that, as president, he would normalize trade with Russia only if the Magnitsky bill were enacted. The Obama administration, by contrast, has opposed the bill as too expansive and lobbied against mixing it with the trade issue, while expressing support for addressing rights abuses in Russia in some way.

The divisions over Russia as an issue in the American campaign came starkly into focus as Mrs. Clinton wrapped up a 10-day, six-nation trip to Asia that overlapped with the national party conventions at home.

The Romney campaign, in a statement, criticized "the Obama administration's attempts to scuttle the Magnitsky bill and its overall reluctance to shine a light on human rights abuses in Russia and the Putin government's backsliding on democratic principles."

President Vladimir V. Putin, the host of the conference, weighed in on the American campaign last week in an interview in which he praised Mr. Obama as "a very honest man" and rebuked Mr. Romney for calling Russia "without question the No. 1 geopolitical foe" of the United States.

Mr. Putin and other Russian officials have vehemently opposed the Magnitsky bill, warning of so-far-unspecified reciprocal measures if it is enacted into law.

Although Mrs. Clinton did not mention the Magnitsky legislation in public on Saturday, a senior State Department official said she raised the issue of human rights and recent moves by Russia to restrict nongovernmental organizations during a private breakfast of crepes and red caviar with Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov.

At the news conference that followed, Mrs. Clinton emphasized the accomplishments of what the administration called the "reset" policy toward Russia.

"During the past three and a half years, the United States and Russia have deepened our cooperation to address shared challenges," she said, citing the New Start treaty to reduce nuclear weapons and Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization.

The Jackson-Vanik trade barriers were imposed to punish the Soviet Union for its restrictions on the emigration of Jews. Although the Jackson-Vanik provisions have been waived since the Soviet Union fell apart, their continued existence in American law would allow Russia to maintain higher duties on American products of its own choosing.

"We hope that the Congress will act on this important piece of legislation this month," Mrs. Clinton said in her main speech at the economic forum.

The administration has had tensions with Russia this year over Mr. Putin's re-election, the protests that followed and the government's intensifying crackdown on opponents, including three members of the punk band Pussy Riot, who were sentenced to two years in prison for a political protest in a cathedral. The United States has also been upset by Russia's refusal to support efforts intended to force President Bashar al-Assad from power in Syria to try to stop the war there.

None of those issues surfaced publicly here.

The trade issue was among several topics that Mrs. Clinton discussed with Mr. Putin in a private 15-minute meeting on Saturday evening before they attended a dinner with other leaders.

The senior State Department official said that Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Putin also discussed Syria and efforts to halt Iran's nuclear program, as well as plans by the United States for a missile defense system in Europe that Russia opposes. The two then sat next to each other at dinner and chatted throughout the 90-minute meal about wildlife conservation; the Russian Far East; the Winter Olympics to be held in Sochi, Russia, in 2014; and other topics, the official said.

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Lavrov announced modest agreements on noncontentious issues and sought to portray them as examples of what Mr. Lavrov called "constructive cooperation."

They signed a memorandum of understanding on scientific cooperation and rescue operations in Antarctica and issued two statements encouraging exchanges of regional trade delegations and establishing ties between national parks on either side of the Bering Strait.

"We are grateful for this and other opportunities to work more closely with Russia on areas of common concern that will deliver benefits to the people of both our nations," Mrs. Clinton said.

In their brief remarks, neither mentioned the pending human rights legislation in Congress.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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