Russia, US to deepen economic ties
US President Barack Obama on Thursday signalled his strong commitment to working for Russia's entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO), part of a deepening economic agenda for the US and Russian leaders.
The WTO issue was an especially high priority for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, who joined Obama for a press conference after morning meetings and lunch at a Virginia hamburger restaurant.
Russia's entry into the international trade group, which grants privileged economic status, has been handicapped by a history of protectionism and lack of laws to protect the rights of businesses and investors.
Medvedev speaking through a translator, told reporters that things must be "substantially changed" in the Russian business climate. Since taking office he has pushed for reforms to expand the role of civil society and protect human rights.
The leaders agreed that the unresolved WTO entry issues would be ironed out by September, Medvedev said.
"Russia belongs in the World Trade Organisation. It's good for Russia, good for America and good for the world economy," Obama said.
As a symbol of Russia's "seriousness" about joining, Obama said Russia had agreed to allow US poultry imports into the country.
Russia and the US are intent on building economic ties on the strong record of cooperation on security issues that have marked Obama's first year and a half in office: agreement on the New START Treaty on nuclear disarmament and agreement on new sets of sanctions against both North Korea and Iran.
The US-Russian relationship had "drifted to perhaps its lowest point since the Cold War" when Obama took over the office from former president George W Bush, Obama noted.
"Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, the relationship must be about more than security and arms control," Obama said, adding that mutual "prosperity" was the next goal.
Obama conceded that there were still areas of disagreement - such as that over Georgia, where the US insists Russia withdraw from its occupation of the two Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
In an interview with the Russian news agency Interfax, Obama also touched on the sensitive issue of missile defence. Obama has stepped back from Bush's plans to put a system in place across Eastern Europe, a project Medvedev strongly opposed.
But Obama noted his efforts to build an alternative system for which he hopes to get Russia's support.
The US wants "to work with Russia to be a key player and beneficiary in this global architecture," Obama told Interfax.
Obama and Medvedev agreed to work for ratification of the New Start treaty "as soon as possible," Obama said. And they discussed the crises in Kyrgyzstan, the Middle East, North Korea and Iran.
On the growing conflict in Central Asia, Medvedev expressed concern that without a "full fledged government" that can grapple with the ethnic discord, Kyrgyzstan will "degrade and break up into parts".
"All of us share concern that under these circumstances, radical elements might rise to power," the Russian leader said.
Russia, the US and the international community have been coordinating their humanitarian efforts, and the Russian Federation was not planning to deploy peacekeepers, Medvedev said. Obama noted that any actions to protect civilians in the central Asian country would "not be done under the flag of any individual country".
On his his way to Washington, Medvedev spent a day in California securing support in the high-tech community for building a Russian version of the Silicon Valley. Obama also noted the Russian purchase of $4 billion worth of Boeing aircraft, which he said would create tens of thousands of jobs.