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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Envoy Nudges Russia on Reforms

APWilliam Burns
The new U.S. ambassador, William Burns, said on Thursday that a "sense of urgency will be crucial" if Russia is to transform into a full participant in the global economy.

At his first major public appearance since arriving in Moscow last month, Burns said that among his top priorities would be easing Russia's entry into the world economy and boosting energy relations with the United States.

Burns told members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia that he would also encourage the development of democratic institutions and lend U.S. support in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

A career diplomat, Burns last served as the State Department's top Middle East diplomat, helping restore relations with Libya and pushing President George W. Bush's road map for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Under former President Bill Clinton's administration, Burns worked as minister-counselor for political affairs in the Moscow embassy.

"The Russia I knew in the mid-1990s ... was flat on its back economically," Burns said. "Russia's economic revival is truly striking." The emergence of a Russian middle class "may well be the single most encouraging trend under way in Russia today," he said.

Yet, the country will fail to grasp economic opportunities if it does not develop clear-cut rules of the road and an independent judiciary, Burns warned.

Russia "can't afford to lose its focus or its momentum," he said.

"The trend toward over-centralization of power in both the economic and political spheres ... impedes growth ... and encourages waste of [Russia's] natural and human resources."

Burns said Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization -- which could happen as early as next year -- would be a spur for growth and help "lock in the rule of law."

Moscow must tie up bilateral trade agreements with other WTO members before joining the organization but has been bogged down in talks with Washington on issues like foreign lenders' access to the Russian banking sector and the enforcement of intellectual property rights. The Bush administration has a "strong interest" in completing bilateral WTO negotiations by the end of the year, Burns said.

In scripted remarks, Burns focused on economic issues, promising representatives of U.S. companies his backing.

But during a question-and-answer session afterward, Burns singled out cooperation in nonproliferation as another priority and reiterated Washington's goal of helping Russia secure all of its nuclear facilities by 2008.