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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

O'Neill Comes to Town on Business

U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said Wednesday that it was important that Russia put newly passed economic reforms into practice to reassure companies eager to invest.

Speaking to reporters as he flew to Moscow from London, O'Neill said the Russian government was well aware that American and European businesses were looking at investment opportunities but had some reservations.

"I believe we haven't seen more [investment in Russia] because of the absence of the rule of law and enforceable contracts and having to pay people off in order to do business," he said.

The State Duma passed several key bills in its spring session, greatly furthering President Vladimir Putin's plans for economic reform.

"The real challenge is to see implementation take place … we need to see some practice," said O'Neill.

He said that debt service would not be a major part of his talks.

Before leaving London, O'Neill told reporters that he was taking with him a long-standing personal interest in the country as well as business experience there.

The 65-year-old former industrialist said his memories of Russia range from long-ago schoolhouse drills against nuclear attack to his dealings in the country when he was chairman of aluminum giant Alcoa Inc.

Now, he says, it is time to find ways to help Russia achieve greater prosperity for its citizens in order to ensure that past tensions do not reappear.

"I've been interested in Russia and have been going to Russia on a regular basis for quite a long time," said O'Neill on Tuesday.

"I've been interested in Russia as a private citizen because I've lived most of my adult life during the period that we call the Cold War, where people were really frightened about the prospect of global arms competition and the threat of the use of nuclear devices."

The treasury secretary is to be joined in Moscow by Commerce Secretary Don Evans. Among issues they are expected to discuss with Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin and others is Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization.

Over 2 1/2 days in London,O'Neill had meetings with Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown and Bank of England Governor Sir Edward George. He also met experts on Russia and representatives of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development as he prepared for the Moscow trip.

O'Neill recalled the reasons for his original interest in Russia.

"It's a distant memory but I do remember children clambering under our desks as a drill at our school in the early 1950s because of a concern that the nuclear weapons were going to be unleashed," O'Neill said.

O'Neill said he began visiting Russia regularly out of a belief that "it would be possible to create a set of economic relationships, not just between the U.S. but between the broader world and Russia, because I think broader economic involvement and integration is a way of reducing tensions between people."

Asked about his efforts as Alcoa's leader to do business in Russia during the 1990s, O'Neill conceded that it had not always gone as he wished.

"We did invest, but on a smaller scale than I had hoped," he said.