House Speaker John Boehner signaled Republican lawmakers would block approving Russia’s admission to the World Trade Organization until it respects the “territorial integrity” of neighboring Georgia, where Russian troops have occupied border lands since a 2008 war.
Russia is attempting “to restore Soviet-style power and influence,” Boehner said, warning of the threat it poses to its neighbors throughout Europe.
In a speech urging President Barack Obama to stop “downplaying Russia’s disregard” for democracy and human rights, Boehner said he found “alarming” reports that the U.S. won’t pressure Russia to return to borders that existed before its 2008 war with Georgia. Russian troops occupy land inside Georgia in violation of an August 2008 cease-fire agreement.
“The administration should resolve this stalemate in a manner that respects the territorial integrity of Georgia,” Boehner said in a speech today to the Heritage Foundation in Washington. “Then -- and only then -- will movement on the WTO question be worth considering.”
Congress must approve “permanent, normal trade relations” with Russia before it is admitted to the WTO, the Ohio Republican said.
State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland told reporters the U.S. has been “absolutely clear with Russia” about respecting Georgian sovereignty and “territorial integrity.”
As the U.S. tries to “reset” its relationship with Russia, the Obama administration shouldn’t shy away from pointing out Russia’s violation of democratic and human rights, Boehner said.
‘Teeth’ on Human Rights
The House stands ready to give “teeth” to a more forceful U.S. assertion of a human rights agenda with Russia, he said.
“Instead of downplaying Russia’s disregard for democratic values and human rights, we should call them on it -- publicly, forcefully, frequently,” Boehner said.
Arms control, counter-terrorism and trade are areas of “potential cooperation” with Russia, he said. “We cannot sacrifice values or get away with walling off our interests from our moral imperatives.”
The U.S. needs a clear strategy for engaging “a resurgent Russia” as the Kremlin leadership uses natural gas exports as a “political weapon” against Ukraine and Belarus and “plays ball with unstable and dangerous regimes.” Boehner said.
Nuland said the U.S. and Russia will “cooperate and work together where we can.”
Russia’s willingness to impose sanctions against Iran following the alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. will be a test of its respect for international law, Boehner said. Obama said Oct. 13 that the accused plotters had “direct links” to Iran’s government.
The U.S. “should do more to compel the Kremlin to curtail its relationship with Iran, particularly related to its nuclear program and missile technology,” Boehner said.
Lawmakers and former officials have called for tighter sanctions against Iran, saying existing strictures haven’t been effective at barring Iran from pursuing a nuclear program.
The Obama administration began a diplomatic push to have other countries condemn Iran. So far, it hasn’t pursued sanctions or action at the United Nations because of resistance from Russia and China to previous attempts.
“We do believe we’ve had progress together in tightening sanctions on Iran and this continues to be a subject in our ongoing dialogue” with Russia, Nuland said at the State Department’s daily press briefing.
Russia has vowed to block any resolution that could be used to justify or hasten regime change after a UN resolution in March authorized NATO-led military action in Libya. Russia abstained on that vote.
In 2009, Russia blocked U.S. attempts to enforce new sanctions against Iran after evidence suggested that country might have enough enriched uranium to make a bomb.
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