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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

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The plethora of high-level meetings and summits that take place in May each year have become a traditional feature of the international political landscape. This year, however, these gatherings were of particular importance because of the need to smooth over the cracks caused by the Iraq crisis. And this was achieved, with even Presidents George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac demonstratively burying their differences.

This must have come as some surprise to the vast majority of commentators and pundits, who played up the formula attributed to Bush's National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice: "Punish France, ignore Germany and forgive Russia." I am very glad that the events of recent days have demonstrated that international relations differ significantly from the proverbial spats in the communal kitchen, where real or perceived insults fester for years and years.

I fully agree with President Vladimir Putin's assessment that the Russia-U.S. summit has "yet again confirmed the fact that there is no alternative to cooperation between Russian and the United States, both in terms of ensuring our domestic national agendas and in terms of cooperation for the sake of enhanced international stability and security." This is extremely important -- it establishes Russia's foreign policy priorities and recognizes that without a constructive partnership with the United States we cannot resolve any major problem today, whether it concern the structure and role of the United Nations, Russia's accession to the WTO, the situation in the Middle East or problems on the Korean Peninsula. The success of the high-level meetings and summits in St. Petersburg and Evian bear witness to the efforts of the U.S. administration to overcome the difficulties in its relations with many other countries (including its immediate partners in the anti-terrorism coalition) that resulted from its unilateral operation against Iraq.

Now we can finally lay to rest debates about whether Russia should have adopted a Polish-style position during the Iraq crisis, or at least a Chinese-style position, so as not to damage relations with America too much. If one recalls the anti-American hysteria inside Russia caused by the U.S. and British military operation in Iraq, then it becomes clear that the Russian leadership essentially adopted the only sound position it could, by underscoring its views on the principles and methods for resolving international disputes while preserving the basis of its relations with the United States. Bush himself recognized this when he said that differences over Iraq had strengthened, not weakened, relations between Russia and the United States.

The respect shown to Russia during the 300th anniversary celebrations in St. Petersburg by the leading world powers is strong confirmation of the soundness of our country's foreign policy course, as well as being a result of the president's unprecedented level of activity in the international arena and the personal authority he commands among world leaders. There is every reason to believe that this authority will facilitate the resolution of specific problems in Russia's relations with other countries, irrespective of the area.

Of course, there are many such problems, despite Bush's humorous remark that now the most pressing problem in U.S.-Russian relations following the ratification of the nuclear arms reduction agreement known as the Moscow Treaty is the infamous chicken leg dispute. Although the fact that the sides managed to come to an understanding regarding the involvement of Russian companies in the postwar reconstruction in Iraq and on the issue of Iran can only be gratifying. In addition, Bush unambiguously came out in support of Moscow's efforts to bring about a settlement in Chechnya and once again promised to put pressure on Congress to revoke the Jackson-Vanik amendment.

The main task in our bilateral relations now is to add content to the benign milieu created by the Putin-Bush relationship and to come up with specific measures to improve partnership in the areas of energy, investment and trade. Our common goal -- not least through inter-parliamentary channels -- is to put relatively new threats to the world such as AIDS and SARS firmly on the agenda, while not forgetting, of course, to implement agreements already reached, in particular the Moscow Treaty.

As far as Russia-EU relations are concerned, the meetings and summits in St. Petersburg and Evian should, I think, demonstrate the futility of attempts to exploit differences between Europe and the United States. Russia's relations with the EU not only do not conflict with its relations with the United States, they are in fact complementary. Russia can and ought to act as a kind of "integrator" based on the fact that the long-term interests of our country lie in international stability and forming as broad a coalition of forces as possible to battle against terrorism and other threats to the international community. Moreover, overcoming the schism within the EU should facilitate the resolution of specific problems in Russia-EU relations -- first and foremost, the issue of abolishing visa restrictions for Russian citizens.

Russia, of course, understands the difficulties faced by the EU due to the imminent accession of new member states and the necessity to iron out differences within the EU over Iraq -- which naturally distracted EU bodies from working out a balanced, common position on relations with Russia. However, we believe that now, after the most recent round of meetings and summits, there will be greater understanding and that our European partners will be able to devote more attention to their relations with Russia. An important step in the right direction is the EU's position on Chechnya as expressed by Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis, who stated: "The voting for the referendum combined with the granting of amnesties are important steps in this direction [i.e. toward a political solution]." Simitis, who currently holds the EU presidency, emphasized that the EU would continue to support Russia's efforts to find a political solution to the problem based on "peace, trust, human rights, and economic and social reconstruction."

I think that Russia is objective in its assessment of relations with its European partners, understanding well very that the business interests of European companies lie behind the sluggishness of EU bureaucracy. Although the lack of will to resolve problems in relations with Russia -- trade in nuclear materials, antidumping measures and quotas, access to markets, unfair subsidies for exporters, ongoing delays in negotiations over entry to the WTO -- is not just due to bureaucracy, but also to a large extent stems from the divergent economic interests of Russia and the EU. However, the factors bringing us together are also considerable -- it's not for nothing that EU countries are Russia's leading trade partners in all sectors.

The experience of resolving our differences over transit between Kaliningrad and mainland Russia proves that if the will is there on both sides, a mutually acceptable solution can be found through compromise. This is what Putin called for when welcoming the creation of a Russia-EU Permanent Partnership Council and proposing that a program of fast-track solutions to outstanding problems be prepared for the next summit in November. And I think he was not only addressing these comments to our European partners but also to our own bureaucrats, lawmakers and all those who are interested in Russia becoming an integral part of the "Common European Space."

And for that, first and foremost, we need to put our own house in order.

Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Federation Council's foreign affairs committee, contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.