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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Pickering 'Optimistic' As Russian Term Ends

With just a month to go before his scheduled departure from Moscow, U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering expressed optimism Friday on the evolving, post-honeymoon nature of U.S.-Russian relations.

With NATO pressing toward Russia in the West, the situation in Iraq unstable, the Middle East peace process stalled and Afghanistan roiling with tension, the United States and Russia have plenty to discuss.

But the two countries are coming to the table as more mature partners, Pickering said at an Interfax press conference.

Pickering welcomed this tendency in the relationship's development, noting, "I do not lament the passing of the honeymoon period."

On the question of NATO expansion, Pickering said he perceived "a positive and heartening interest in moving ahead on the part of Russia and NATO in a very serious effort to define their relationship."

Despite Russia's strenuous objections to the United States' recent use of military force against Iraq, "We were totally, 100 percent agreed on the need to have the Iraqi forces immediately withdrawn," Pickering said.

On the emergency meeting of Benjamin Netanyahu and Yasser Arafat in Washington, Pickering said Russian diplomats had not been invited because their inclusion would not have provided a "suitable format" for resolving the present crisis between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Concerning the recent military successes of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Pickering said: "My government believes very strongly that there should be a national government of reconciliation, including all parties and factions in Afghanistan.

"We would like to see an end in Afghanistan to illegal narcotics production and narcotics trafficking. We would like to see an end in Afghanistan for support of terrorism and terrorism training."

In addition to being optimistic on U.S.-Russian cooperation in the political sphere, Pickering sees reason to be upbeat about business development. He said the inclusion in the new Russian government of "key individuals" dedicated to economic reform should attract investment.

And although "one can always find a reason not to invest in Russia," he said, businesses should take a hard look at the opportunities available here, particularly as their competition is likely to be eyeing those possibilities.

Of his decades-old style of diplomacy, Pickering said, "When I served in the Middle East, I used to say there are only two kinds of diplomats in the Middle East: optimists and lunatics. And I wasn't going to put myself in the [latter] category."