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A Russo-US agenda

Madeleine Albright & Igor Ivanov (World View) / 1 January 2013

The recent experience of ‘reset’ in Russian-American relations is remarkable in at least two ways. On the one hand, it demonstrated that, given the political commitment of both presidents, the two sides can accomplish a lot within a short time span.

On the other hand, this experience confirmed that the relationship between our countries remains vulnerable to shifting political winds and passing policy differences, as we are currently witnessing.

The challenge we face at the beginning of 2013 is not to preserve reset, but to move beyond it. The time has come to turn the page and to address the realities of the 21st century.

With President Obama re-elected and President Vladimir Putin solidly in charge in Moscow, now is time for both leaders to reinvigorate US-Russian cooperation to the benefit of the two countries. They can also act together to strengthen global security in general and pave the way for a more stable and predictable world.

American and Russian interests converge on a number of significant and timely issues. As we have written together in the past, the two countries share a common objective in reducing the nuclear danger. The New Start Treaty was an important achievement, but more can be done, including accelerating implementation of the reductions required by the treaty (why wait until 2018 to have the limits take full effect?), and launching a new bilateral negotiation to further cut nuclear stockpiles.

Russia and the United States control 90 to 95 per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons. We can readily continue negotiations of further reductions and still safely ensure our security. If we do, we will be more persuasive when asking other nuclear-weapons states to join in the nuclear-arms reduction process and will enhance the credibility of our diplomacy in mobilising international pressure on Iran to refrain from trying to build a nuclear weapon.

This year will mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Limited Test Ban Treaty, the first nuclear arms control agreement. It would be an appropriate year for the US Senate to consent to ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which has been languishing for 13 years. The United States could then join Russia among the countries that have ratified, thus bringing the treaty closer to entry into force.

The long-running dispute over missile defence continues to cast a shadow over possible progress on arms control, even though both Nato and Russia say they want to cooperate in that sphere. Now is the time to be creative. With some imagination on both sides, missile defence could prove a game-changer, making Nato and Russia allies in protecting Europe.

We have focused on arms control issues not just because of the important security implications for Russia and the United States. Progress on arms control can also help stimulate gains in the broader relationship, as has been demonstrated in the past.

Cooperation between Russia and the United states makes sense on a range of other issues. For example, neither the US nor Russia wants Afghanistan to revert to control by the Taleban or become a failed state. That is why Russia has been so helpful in facilitating the flow of supplies to US and Nato forces in Afghanistan. Another area of mutual interest is promoting an expansion of US-Russian trade and investment relations. The current level of bilateral commerce falls significantly short of its potential, given the size of the countries’ economies. An increase would benefit both. Russia’s recent entry into the World Trade Organisation will help, as will full implementation of the important trade and market access provisions that made that agreement possible. The US Congress decision to remove Cold War restrictions and finally extend permanent normal trade relations status to Russia was long overdue.

Obviously, cooperation on some issues does not mean that Moscow and Washington will see eye-to-eye on every question. Because we interact on so many issues, it is too much to expect agreement in every case. Differences of perspective can sometimes be sharp, as over Syria, human rights and democracy. Nevertheless, disagreements, no matter how complex and painful, must not block the development of ties along other lines. It is essential not to interrupt dialogue even on those issues where positions differ substantially.

The history of relations between Washington and Moscow teaches the importance of presidential engagement and leadership. If our countries are to derive the maximum benefit from our shared interests, Presidents Obama and Putin must make our potential for partnership a priority.

Some speculate that, with Putin’s return to the Russian presidency, managing US-Russian relations will become more difficult. We see no reason to assume that. The reset improved bilateral ties, which are certainly stronger today than they were in 2008; that progress would not have happened had Putin opposed it. The challenge for our two presidents is to move now to the next stage — to embark on a historic mission to start a new chapter in bilateral relations between Russia and the United States.

Madeleine Albright served as US secretary of state from 1997 to 2001. Igor Ivanov was Russia’s foreign minister from 1998 to 2004


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