Tags: Hidden | Bush-Putin | Summit | Agenda: | Trade

Hidden Bush-Putin Summit Agenda: Trade

Tuesday, 29 May 2001 12:00 AM

Bush is under similar fierce pressures to let nothing get in the way of U.S. companies' ambitions to exploit the enormous consumer market inside communist China.

Although those comparable goals are couched in somewhat different rationalizations, they add up to the same bottom line: commerce first, other considerations second.

Trade with China is advanced by many exponents as the surest – indeed, the only – means of bringing the communist giant into the ambit of Western civilization's norms of international behavior.

The more trade between the United States and China, the argument goes, the stronger the likelihood of influencing China's future: greater democracy, improved human rights, increased market economy, decreased possibility of armed conflict.

Proponents of moving trade to the peak of the agenda for the June 16 summit between Bush and Russian President Valdimir Putin skip such appealing serendipity and cut right to the chase: business interests before U.S. security requirements.

Focal point for those pressures on the new Bush-Cheney administration is the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, just as is the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong the prime mover for U.S. economic ventures in China.

Known colloquially in their respective countries as "AmCham," the one in Moscow represents some 450 firms doing business in Russia.

AmCham of Russia has just recently presented Bush a revealing 32-page set of proposals, titled "Commercial Engagement With Russia," that it wants the administration to follow in formulating its policies toward Russia.

That AmCham of Russia document is already emerging as the shadow agenda shrouding the summit when the two presidents sit down together for the first time next month, in the Slovenian capital city of Ljubljana in the Balkans.

The AmCham of Russia proposals can be summed up in these words from its report, which invites a certain amount of reading between the lines:

"Commercial relations should properly be viewed as the ties that bind our two countries over the long term, providing stability in the relationship as we work through consistent differences in the foreign-policy arena."

That could be construed as implying: "Let us make the most of however much time we may have."

Reuters news service put it almost as baldly, saying the lobby is calling on the U.S. government to place its emphasis "on business rather than security as the basis for healthy bilateral relations."

In more diplomatic language, the AmCham of Russia president, Andrew Somers, has been busy propounding that thesis with Russian and Western journalists stationed in Moscow, stressing his delight in how warmly it has already been received in Washington.

According to the Moscow Times, he recounted for reporters in the Russian capital his recent briefing of high American officials on the policy recommendations that were formulated jointly by AmCham members and the U.S.-Russia Business Council.

"I met with senior people from the Cabinet – energy, trade, the National Security Council and so on," Somers told the Moscow Times.

"This report is aimed to urge the Bush administration to adopt a policy of serious high-level engagement with the Russian government."

Reuters reported Somers as saying that after having met with those U.S. officials he was "optimistic" the Bush foreign-policy team would do nothing to harm commercial ties with Russia.

"The response was quite friendly," Somers told Reuters. "They said Russia is basically not the enemy and that a strong Russian economy was in the interests of the United States and a weak one was not."

The New York Times reported Sunday that the White House "is already discussing economic aid or help in developing legal and commercial systems that would make Russia more attractive to foreign investors."

That is high among the AmCham of Russia proposals, which include urging that the Bush administration assist Moscow in its ambition to gain entry into the World Trade Organization.

The lobby also wants Washington to give strong public endorsement to Putin's advocacy for revising the outmoded tax code and cleaning house in the Russian banking system, both continuing impediments to investors eager to put their money to work in Russia.

As reported by the Moscow Times, the AmCham of Russia recommendations reflect impatience by U.S. investors that their competitors in Western Europe, who benefit from greater financial help from their governments, are getting the jump on them.

Mikhail Gorbachev, last president of the now-defunct Soviet Union, took oblique note of that in a recent article published by the widely circulated Italian newspaper La Stampa.

Clearly intending to goose the United States to become more competitive with European nations in business relations with Russia, and thus to spur Europeans to grow even more active, he wrote:

"I think President Putin and President Bush should pay major attention to the development of economic cooperation. Both in Russia and America there is a keen interest in this subject.

"I am convinced that the situation can change for the better and quite quickly at that.

"Business cooperation with the United States also becomes a matter of major importance in the context of the development and improvement of relations with Europe, including the European Union. We have the right to hope that the presidents will pay due attention to all these questions.

"During my recent tour of America I saw tremendous interest in cooperation in the sphere of high technologies, among other things.

"Large-scale projects are possible in this sphere. They could have positive influence on the general state of bilateral relations."

Shortly after Gorbachev's article was printed, Russian scientists suggested a joint U.S.-Russian space exploration of the planet Mars.

Looking forward to such closer U.S.-Russia commercial relations, Gorbachev was moved to pronounce the Bush-Putin summit "doomed to success ... it cannot be any other way."

What he did not mention are extensive sales of missiles, nuclear materials and other serious armaments by cash-strapped Russia to "rogue" nations that have declared the United States their sworn enemy.

If Bush imagined he might soften Moscow's hostility to his anti-missile defensive shield with an offer to buy expensive, state-of-the-art Russian S-300 surface-to-air rockets as components in that shield, he may have miscalculated.

No sooner was the offer uttered than it was rejected out of hand by a derisive Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov.

Even so, the argument that the way to deal successfully with Russia is principally through instrumentalities of commerce – while national-security strategies are relegated to the rumble seat – has powerful voices in high places in the Bush-Cheney administration.

Pressures behind the AmCham of Russia proposals for putting business first with Russia will be playing a strong, if not highly visible, hand as both presidents face one another across the summit table.

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Bush is under similar fierce pressures to let nothing get in the way of U.S. companies' ambitions to exploit the enormous consumer market inside communist China. Although those comparable goals are couched in somewhat different rationalizations, they add up to the same...
Tuesday, 29 May 2001 12:00 AM
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