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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Making Good on a Promise

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Thirty years ago, with the passage of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, the U.S. Congress made a courageous decision to link the Soviet Union's trade status to its record on Jewish emigration. Due in large part to that policy, countless numbers of Jews escaped oppression to begin new lives in new lands. It was the right policy for the right time.

But times have changed and Jackson-Vanik has served its purpose. Indeed, Russia has been in full compliance with the statute since 1994. Today, Russian Jews freely emigrate and Russia has been recognized as a market economy under U.S. trade law. Terminating Jackson-Vanik is consistent with these changes and it is supported by the overwhelming majority of U.S companies active in the Russian marketplace (the U.S.-Russia Business Council has testified repeatedly to this effect) and numerous Jewish organizations, including the National Council on Soviet Jewry.

The tension that defined our relationship with Russia in the early days of the Soviet collapse has been replaced with new opportunities for broad-based partnership. President Vladimir Putin was the first foreign leader to contact President George W. Bush after Sept. 11, 2001, offering condolences, intelligence assistance and other support, including agreeing to the positioning of U.S. forces in Central Asia, which was a key to our military success in Afghanistan. The fact that such cooperation continues despite recent disagreements demonstrates the strength of this new relationship between the United States and Russia.

Even before Sept. 11, signs of Russia's strategic realignment with the West, and with the United States particularly, were apparent. Putin's decision to close the Lourdes listening facility in Cuba removed a long-held irritant to our relationship. Perhaps clearest of all has been Russia's constructive reaction to the latest round of NATO expansion. Rather than protest the enlargement of the alliance, Russia negotiated with NATO to establish a formal method of cooperation. Just a short time ago, this would have been unthinkable.

While the changing nature of our strategic relationship with Russia has been startling and full of promise, it has been challenged by a growing number of domestic constituencies within Russia, including many who initially embraced the turn. This opposition, rooted in distrust of pro-American policies, threatens many of the reforms Russia has achieved. In my role as co-chairman of the State Duma-U.S. Congress study group, I confront the distrust and opposition constantly. However, in cooperation with Alexander Kotenkov, Vladimir Petrosyan and the International Foundation to Support Humanitarian Programs, I am able to demonstrate that the United States is committed to Russia by terminating Jackson-Vanik, thereby discarding a relic of the Cold War.

Given that it has served its intended purpose and is now primarily of symbolic importance, Congress should resist changing the legislative intent of Jackson-Vanik to meet unrelated trade objectives, such as linking the amendment to Russia's accession to the WTO. These issues have never been linked in the long history of Russia's WTO negotiations -- to do so now would weaken U.S. credibility. WTO rules already require agreement by every member of the working party before a country is granted membership. As such, Russia cannot accede without U.S. consent. This guarantees that U.S. negotiators have sufficient authority to set the bar high on Russia's accession. Jackson-Vanik need play no role here.

Just as it is inappropriate to link Jackson-Vanik to WTO, so too is it wrong to use the issue as leverage in addressing specific trade disputes. These are natural components of evolving trade relationships, and there are effective remedies under current trade law to address them. This administration, like those in the past, has continued to press Russia on behalf of U.S. exporters, and there is no reason to believe the existence of Jackson-Vanik in any way influences their success. In fact, hints of linkage may well be counterproductive.

In just two months Bush and Putin will meet for their first extended summit since the war in Iraq.

Before this meeting, Congress should act to remove Russia's Jackson-Vanik trade status. This will yield real benefits to our bilateral relationship and help unlock the enormous potential of U.S.-Russia trade and investment.

Curt Weldon is a U.S. congressman. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.