The meeting between the U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, which tool place on the margins of the G-20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, wasn't expected to be especially warm; Vladimir Putin never hid his suspicion toward Washington, and criticism recently voiced by senior U.S. officials on Russia's support of the Syrian regime aggravated the already existing tensions. There were few smiles, one (Obama's) pat on the back, and disagreements only briefly acknowledged.
Putin thanked Obama for his support of Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization, adding that from his perspective, the two were able "to find many commonalities" in issues they discussed and invited his U.S. counterpart to visit Moscow again.
Obama noted the progress on the New START Treaty and other areas of cooperation between the countries, adding diplomatically that "even as we recognize that there are going to be areas of disagreement, and that we can find constructive ways to manage through any bilateral tensions."
One issue that strained the discussion between the two leaders was a recent Congress initiative to replace the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which linked trade relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union with the USSR's treatment of its Jewish population, with a new law, named after Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer that exposed corruption in Russia and was apparently beaten to death in prison. The Magnitsky law is supposed to deny visas to Russian officials accused of human rights violations. It was harshly criticized by the Kremlin, which warned that its passage would hurt relations between the two countries and could even lead to possible retaliatory steps.
Obama and Putin didn't mention the Magnitsky law after their meeting, but Obama did say he emphasized his "priority of having Congress repeal Jackson-Vanik, provide permanent trade relations status to Russia so that American businesses can take advantage of the extraordinary opportunities now that Russia is a member of the WTO."
On the issue of missile defense - Russia protested that the U.S. plans to station its missile shield in its "back yard," despite U.S. assurances that it was merely a defensive measure to counter the Iranian missile program. Obama said that the two leaders "resolved to continue to work through some of the difficult problems involved there."
In their joint statement issued after the meeting, the subject of Syria was buried in the middle; the two presidents expressed their "full support for the efforts of U.N./League of Arab States Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan, including moving forward on political transition to a democratic, pluralistic political system," which would indicate, in theory, that the Russians were joining the effort to increase the pressure on Bashar Assad, but a caveat was supplied: "that would be implemented by the Syrians themselves in the framework of Syria's sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity."
"We are united in the belief that the Syrian people should have the opportunity to independently and democratically choose their own future," said the statement.
The leaders also stressed that "the need for a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace in the Middle East has never been more apparent, and we will continue working with our Quartet partners to advance peace efforts on the basis of the Quartet statements" and "to strengthen the Palestinian Authority’s ability to meet the full range of civil and security needs of the Palestinian people, both now and in a future state."
This week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is supposed to meet separately with the Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz. She is expected to hear from him how his party Kadima's joining Benjamin Netanyahu's government will contribute to negotiations for peace currently taking place with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
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