. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gore Urges Reform as Joint Talks Open

U.S. Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin began two days of talks Monday on how to stabilize Russia's precarious finances, increase investment and address concerns of foreign firms trying to do business here.

Despite Russia's still-daunting economic problems, Gore pointedly focused on Moscow's progress toward market reforms in his opening remarks to the seventh session of the semi-annual U.S.-Russian Joint Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation.

"All the world stands in awe of the tremendous progress the Russian people have made in the past five years," Gore said. "Russia is controlling inflation, freeing prices, developing capital markets and giving its citizens real experience of private ownership.

"We need to take bolder, more assertive strikes to ensure Russians and Americans can do business together."

This may signal that in return for controlling inflation, Russia may want flexibility in its commitment to fulfill the International Monetary Fund's $10 billion loan agreement. Chernomyrdin told Gore that Washington needs to take into account that "variations from the commitments" are a possibility, Interfax reported.

Since its creation in 1993, the joint commission has paired U.S. officials with their Russian counterparts to work on trade and technology cooperation.

Co-chaired by Gore and Chernomyrdin, the commission's committees this week will focus also on space, energy, defense conversion, science, agriculture and eradication of disease.

U.S. Cabinet members in Moscow for the meeting include Secretary of Defense William Perry, NASA Administrator Dan Goldin and Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala.

Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary is expected to discuss nuclear issues with her counterpart, Viktor Mikhailov.

The Committee for Economic and Technological Cooperation, chaired by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Davydov and U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor, met Monday morning to outline key trade and investment issues.

Chernomyrdin earlier this month said foreign investment in Russian is expected to grow to about $3 billion in 1996, a paltry sum compared with the hoped-for tens of billions of dollars of direct and indirect investment. And the climate probably won't improve dramatically until clear rules on free trade, taxation and financial accounting are written into law, business leaders say.

In a sign that business is still stumbling over details, an oil joint-venture deal scheduled to be signed in tandem with the commission meeting was scrapped in a disagreement over terms.

On Monday, proposed loan agreements for the modernization of the Russian timber industry were postponed until the fall. The Russian side of the U.S.-Russian partnership hadn't completed the preparations under a memorandum of understanding signed by the Russian Timber Ministry and the Export-Import Bank, Interfax reported.

A raft of legislation smoothing the way for a free flow of capital and goods in and out Russia is under review. But business leaders are clearly frustrated that Russian legislators have yet to fine tune issues such as value-added taxation and crucial oil and gas production sharing legislation.

For its part, Russia drew attention to what it called discriminatory U.S. trade limits and anti-dumping procedures, which it said were more rigid than those applied to most countries, Interfax reported.

In the meantime, concerns over newly re-elected President Boris Yeltsin's health cast a pall over the proceedings, particularly since many of the taxation, trade and other market reforms Yeltsin hopes to push into legislation depend largely on his political longevity.