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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Gore Says Economy Is in Safe Hands

U.S. Vice President Al Gore on Friday lavished praise on Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko's efforts to drag Russia out of economic mire and predicted they would soon bear fruit.

It was Gore's first official meeting with Kiriyenko since he was appointed prime minister in an unexpected Cabinet shuffle in March. Both men described the meeting as a good start to a new working relationship.

The meeting comes shortly after the International Monetary Fund, with strong backing by the United States, agreed to a $17.1 billion bailout package for Russia. Like the IMF, Washington stressed that the cash is conditional on Russia getting its finances in order.

"I have every confidence that [Kiriyenko] means exactly what he says when he says he will bring these changes to pass," Gore said of Kiriyenko's anti-crisis reform package, which is to take effect Aug. 1.

"I'm actually optimistic, especially after the agreement with the International Monetary Fund, that they're going to turn the corner and start experiencing some real economic growth soon," Gore was quoted by Reuters television as saying.

Outside the Russian White House, only minutes before the news conference began, coal miners from the Far North who have been camped out for weeks outside the main government building banged their hats on the concrete to demand unpaid wages stretching back as far as two years.

Kiriyenko pledged to push forward with what may prove a painful austerity program for Russia.

"We are carrying out reforms in Russia for ourselves, for our own internal needs," he said. "This is our obligation not to the IMF or the world community, but to the Russian people."

The two leaders also discussed a broad range of other issues, including health, space, science and technology, the environment and the defense industry.

Gore urged Kiriyenko to push the START II nuclear disarmament treaty through a stubborn State Duma, parliament's lower house, so that negotiations could begin on START III forfurther reductions.

The United States and Russia also signed two preliminary agreements on putting nuclear weapons fuel and nuclear scientists to work for peaceful purposes.

The first, which Gore hailed as "the start of a brand new international effort," is on the conversion of plutonium from dismantled nuclear weapons into reactor fuel to generate electricity.

"The old biblical prophecy about turning swords into plowshares is illustrated in this kind of a program," Gore said.

Under the project's framework, Russia and the U.S. will cooperate to ensure sensitive defense information doesn't fall into the wrong hands, Gore said. He did not expand on exactly how this will be done.

Washington has expressed concern that Russia is providing nuclear technology to countries considered "rogue states" such as Iran and Iraq. Russia denies any official help, but acknowledges that some Russian companies may be trying to sell the technology privately.

The second statement signed by the two countries will help convert nuclear defense industries and create jobs for nuclear scientists in Russia's closed cities.

"Within the framework of the initiative, work is under way to identify commercially viable projects to produce civilian goods and services and attract investment to such projects," the joint statement said.

The initial focus will be on the closed city of Sarov, formerly called Arzamas-16, where thousands of workers staged a three-hour strike Thursday over wage arrears, triggering concern about safety.

The United States pledged an initial $3.1 million for the program, Reuters reported.

The United States, Europe and Japan have already spent millions of dollars on similar efforts to direct top nuclear scientists toward civilian projects.

At a round-table meeting earlier Friday, Kiriyenko told reporters that relations with Washington had improved, but that some issues remained to be resolved.

"Despite undeniable progress, there are plenty of unresolved questions dealing with our economic cooperation," Kiriyenko said.

One such issue is Russia's exclusion from the World Trade Organization, which saddles many potentially profitable Russian export industries with high duties.

But by the end of Friday, the two men had reaffirmed their commitment to work together on Russia's admission both to the WTO and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Another important aspect of Friday's negotiations was setting the agenda for a summit between U.S. President Bill Clinton and President Boris Yeltsin in September. No details were announced.

Gore spoke by telephone Friday with Yeltsin, who is vacationing in the northwestern region of Karelia. Kiriyenko is to meet the Russian president there Saturday, where he is expected to brief him on Gore's visit and discuss the anti-crisis program.

Gore's visit was part of a regular bilateral forum established five years ago with Kiriyenko's predecessor, Viktor Chernomyrdin. The two men had enjoyed a particularly warm working relationship.Gore flew into Moscow on Thursday night after a two-day visit to Ukraine. He became the most senior U.S. official ever to visit the Chernobyl nuclear plant, the site of the world's worst nuclear accident.