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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hopes High for WTO Deal at APEC Summit

ReutersPolice escorting cars carrying delegates to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Hanoi on Thursday.
President Vladimir Putin is widely expected to secure the United States' long-awaited agreement on Russia's World Trade Organization bid at a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Vietnam this weekend, a step that could ease bilateral ties and prompt Moscow to drop its opposition to tough sanctions on Iran.

Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush are expected to reach the deal in Vietnam's capital, Hanoi, where they will meet with 19 other leaders at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

When Putin and Bush briefly met at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport on Wednesday, they spoke about Iran, National Security Adviser Steve Hadley said.

Washington and Moscow disagree about specific sanctions on Iran but they agree on the strategy, Hadley said. "I think the Russians think it's sound," he said on board the U.S. presidential plane Air Force One, according to a transcript released by the White House.

As of Thursday, the United States and Russia still differed about the extent of United Nations sanctions on Iran for Tehran's refusal to halt its nuclear program and uranium enrichment. U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton said Wednesday that there were still significant disagreements with Russia.

Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy director of the Institute for the U.S. and Canadian Studies, said Bush made his refueling stop in Moscow because he wanted to make sure Russia would support the U.S. position on Iran in the UN Security Council in exchange for a WTO deal.

"Otherwise, I can't explain this maneuver of his," he said. "They might as well chat in Hanoi."

But U.S. analysts expressed doubts that Bush had made any direct links between Iran and WTO.

"If such linkage were attempted, it would backfire. Russia is simply too strong today for the Americans to be attempting this kind of linkage," said Michael McFaul, an expert on U.S.-Russia relations at Stanford University.

It would be unrealistic for U.S. policymakers to expect any immediate and specific commitments from Russia regarding Iran in return for U.S. approval of Russia's WTO accession, said Clifford Gaddy, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "What people in the administration do hope is that this is an important step towards improving the U.S.-Russia relationship. Such improvement will hopefully benefit cooperation between the countries on a number of issues, including Iran," he said.

Andrew Kuchins, director of the Russia and Eurasia program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, also doubted that Bush was inclined to make the linkage. But the Russian position on Iran will be important when the U.S. Congress next year considers giving Russia permanent normal trade relations status as part of the WTO deal. "The debate will not only be about Russia's fitness for the WTO, but will be a broader Congressional referendum on Russia and the U.S.-Russian relationship," Kuchins said.

If Congress approves Russia's accession to the WTO it will also have to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which denies normal trade relations status to Russia, McFaul said. Without repealing Jackson-Vanik, Russia's membership in the WTO would be disastrous for U.S. companies, he said.

"With a Democrat-controlled Congress, getting this done now will be much more difficult for the Bush administration," McFaul said. "In particular, the chairman of the House Committee on International Affairs will be Tom Lantos, who has been a staunch critic of Putin's authoritarianism." Lantos earlier this year called for Russia's removal from the Group of Eight.

Gaddy said the U.S. companies doing business in Russia were gearing up for a lobbying campaign to repeal Jackson-Vanik. "They seem optimistic," he said.

The state of U.S.-Russia relations will also affect the issue likely to dominate the summit -- efforts to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table to demand that it dismantle its nuclear weapons. "We need to make real progress" to dismantle North Korea's nuclear weapons program, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said in a House International Relations Committee hearing Wednesday.

Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice plan to discuss North Korea with Putin and the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea, Burns said. Leaders at the summit, titled "Toward a Dynamic Community for Sustainable Development and Prosperity," will also discuss the fight against terrorism, efforts to prevent disasters and pandemic diseases, energy security, and mutual investment opportunities.

Sergei Bogdanchikov, president of state oil firm Rosneft, is visiting China, Malaysia and Singapore this week to promote cooperation, Itar-Tass reported. He will apparently join the Russian delegation in Vietnam over the weekend.

The Russian delegation will also include Basic Element chairman Oleg Deripaska, Vneshtorgbank president Andrei Kostin and Gazprom deputy chairman Alexander Medvedev.