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Interview by Under Secretary William Burns with Gazeta.ru

Gazeta.ru: So what is your schedule, what are your meetings, with whom are you speaking?

Under Secretary Burns: We have had a series of meetings with senior government officials, business leaders, and civil society representatives to talk about our relationship. After one year in the Obama administration, I think we’ve made real progress in laying a solid foundation in our relationship, in identifying and expanding areas of common ground, in dealing with differences that we have honestly and maturely, in building a relationship which is a genuine two-way street, which can bring benefit not only to Russia and America, but to the international community in general on a range of issues.

Gazeta.ru: So it was a kind of revising of the reset process?

Under Secretary Burns: It’s an opportunity to look at what we’ve accomplished in 2009 and how we can build on that in 2010 in a wide range of areas. Certainly US-Russian leadership in the nuclear field is very important for both of us and for the rest of the world. We’ve made very good progress toward a new START agreement, which I’m optimistic can be concluded soon. But we’ve also made progress in our common efforts in Afghanistan, in trying to build stability there and in dealing with the threat posed by Al-Qaida and violent extremists. We work very well together on a range of nuclear non-proliferation challenges like North Korea and Iran. We are looking for ways we can expand our economic relationship, which already is producing a number of examples in which American and Russian businesses work together to produce some of the world’s most modern aircraft, modern automobiles, modern factories, creating jobs and opportunities for both Americans and Russians. We formed, as you know, a new bilateral Presidential commission with a number of working groups. What we want to do now in 2010 is turn that from the stage in which you organize the commission and begin discussions to the stage where you produce tangible results that serve both of our interests. So it’s a full agenda, it’s an ambitious agenda, but I think it’s one that serves the interests of both countries.

Gazeta.ru: And returning to the START negotiations, the postponing of the process of the deal [i.e. the failure to get the treaty finished -Ed.], now is always seen in Russian public opinion with disappointment. Now what are the substantive differences between the Russian and American approaches to the negotiations and to the final accord?

Under Secretary Burns: Well as I said, I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to complete this agreement soon. The negotiations in truth have only been underway for less than a year. It’s a technically very complex treaty to accomplish. But I do think we share an interest in making real reductions in our strategic arsenals, to do that in a way that is verifiable, but which is less costly and less operationally complex than the existing START agreement. There do remain a few issues, related mainly to verification, that have to be sorted through. But I believe they will be sorted through in the coming weeks.

Gazeta.ru: You know, when the Presidents met in July in Moscow, they said with 100% certainty that the treaty will be done by the end of the year. So why were the presidents so optimistic in the beginning and why is the process taking so long?

Under Secretary Burns: I don’t think it should be surprising to anyone that a technically complex treaty takes some time to complete. It’s important for both of our interests not to rush that process. Over the course of the last few months since the July summit we’ve made considerable progress. We’re on the verge of completing the agreement and like I said, I’m optimistic that we’ll complete it soon. And I think that will not only serve the interests of both of our countries, but it sends a very important signal to the rest of the world as we approach further important events, like the Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty this coming May. It’s important for the United States and Russia, who together control more than 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons, to show responsible leadership in how we reduce and manage our own remaining arsenals. So for all those reasons it’s very important that we continue to move ahead, not only to complete this agreement, but to build on it in our cooperation on a range of nuclear issues.

Gazeta.ru: Now what about the Iran issue? Can we assume that the Russian position towards the Iranian nuclear program has leaned more towards the American one? So if Russia before stated that it will not support sanctions and now under some circumstances Russia can join with Western nations in having this kind of tension towards Iran? And does Russia have any guarantees that its national economic interests, I mean the construction of the Bushehr nuclear plant and so on, will be kept intact if the sanctions will go on?

Under Secretary Burns: First, I’ll let my Russian colleagues speak with regard to Russia’s position towards Iran. What I would say is that the United States and Russia, along with our other international partners, have worked closely and effectively together on the challenge posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The United States and Russia have worked very well together in supporting a very creative proposal by the International Atomic Energy Agency for the Tehran research reactor to meet an Iranian request for fuel in a way that would make use of the stockpile of low-enriched uranium that Iran has already developed. It’s unfortunate and regrettable that Iran has not found a way to say yes to that proposal. And it’s unfortunate and regrettable that Iran has not followed through on the other tentative commitments it made when we met at the beginning of October in Geneva. The United States believes that we need to keep the door open to negotiations and engagement. But as part of our common two-track approach with regard to Iran, we will also need to begin to look at ways in which we can make clear the consequences of not responding constructively to the very creative proposals that the international community has put forward. So as I said, Russia and the United States are working together quite closely and effectively on this issue and I expect that this will continue.

Gazeta.ru: It was often said that Russia has some influence over the Iranian issue, in terms of the special relationship between Tehran and Moscow. But during the last few months, we have seen that the relationship between Russia and Iran has become more complicated. We have postponed realization of the Bushehr station, we have seized the S-300 missiles that should be shipped to Iran but have not. Also, we have the refusal to deal with Russian uranium. So does this complicate negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program?

Under Secretary Burns: What’s important is for the international community to send a strong common signal to Iran that the issue here is not Iran’s right to pursue a peaceful nuclear program; none of us are challenging that. The issue here is whether Iran lives up to its responsibilities, like any other member of the international community, to meet international standards – to demonstrate to the rest of us the exclusively peaceful nature of its program. And as I said, I think it’s important for the United States, Russia, and our other partners to send a strong common signal that we seek a diplomatic solution to this problem but at the same time we’re quite determined to ensure that Iran lives up to its international responsibilities. Russia’s role in that is important and the United States looks forward to continuing to work closely with Russia and our other partners.

Gazeta.ru: The non-proliferation issue is one of the issues that are being discussed in the format of the working groups. How do you estimate the intermediary results of the working groups of the presidential commissions?

Under Secretary Burns: I think we’ve made a good start. We’ve begun a process to form sixteen different working groups under the umbrella of the presidential commission. One of the purposes of my visit, as I said before, is to review where we stand and especially how we can work together now to translate this structure and the discussions that have begun into tangible results. Certainly in the area of our cooperation in non-proliferation we already have a lot to build on. We’ve accomplished a lot, even over the course of the last year. The United States and Russia, for example, lead an international effort to fight against the possibility of nuclear terrorism. The United States and Russia are working closely together to prepare for the nuclear security summit that will take place in the United States this spring, to try and ensure the safety and security of nuclear materials around the world. This is an area in which the United States and Russia both have unique capabilities and I think unique responsibilities for leadership. But there are many other areas, in health, in energy efficiency, in business development, in promoting exchanges in culture, in sports, and in education, in which I think we can widen the agenda for cooperation and interaction, not only between our two governments but between Russian and American societies. So I think we’ve put in place a useful structure but now the challenge before us is to turn that into practical initiatives.

Gazeta.ru: Russian opinion [is beginning to lean towards] the recent idea that maybe the Americans indeed intend to bring together Russian and American societies in terms of cooperating among opinion leaders. But [some see] the Russian [government], as using the Presidential commission as another tool for the big diplomatic game. Do you think this view is adequate or do you think it’s something else?

Under Secretary Burns: I think the Presidential commission has the potential to build stronger ties and stronger understanding, not just between our two governments but between our two societies. I offered a number of examples where I think we can promote those kinds of exchanges. As I said, the United States is going to differ with Russia on a number of issues and we are not shy about expressing our concerns. That’s true with regard to human rights issues sometimes, with regard to the cases of murdered journalists, which we like many others, have raised over the years and will continue to. We will do that in a spirit that is not lecturing, that is not patronizing, but that’s honest and that fits the kind of mature relationship that I think we’re building. So it seems to me that the structure of the Presidential commission is something that could be useful to both of us.

Gazeta.ru: Returning to the July summit of our presidents, it was said that Afghan issue, the Afghan air transit of lethal cargo, it was presented as a big result. In fact we all know that the American side used this possibility to transit its lethal cargo only once. Was this done because of the pressure from Russian bureaucrats?

Under Secretary Burns: No, we’ve used it several times already and I think you’ll see us making increasing use of what is a very helpful transit agreement in the coming months as the United States follows through on the increase in the military and civilian presence that President Obama has recently announced. Afghanistan is an area in which the United States and Russia and our other international partners share a strategic objective, and that is to defeat Al-Qaida and the violent extremists connected to it and to help Afghans build a stable state. That is a big challenge, but it’s one that both of us have an interest in and I believe the transit agreement will contribute to that increasingly in the coming months.

Gazeta.ru: The last question: NATO. NATO retains its focus on the enlargement to the east and Ukraine and Georgia are still on the list, maybe not in the next few years but in the next decade. What can you say to the Russian public to remove this very critical issue from the agenda?

Under Secretary Burns: Well first I would say, as the NATO Secretary-General has said and as President Obama has said, that NATO views Russia as a partner, not as an adversary. I think the clearest example of that is what I mentioned before, our common interest in Afghanistan and the ways in which we are working together to stop the flow of narcotics out of that country and to promote stability in Afghanistan. It’s true that the possibility of further enlargement of NATO remains on the table. The door is open, as all of NATO’s members have made clear, to enlargement in the future. But I would simply stress, first, that there are high standards that have to be met for membership that any new prospective member would need to meet. Second, that any prospective new member has to make the choice to pursue membership. And third, that a membership decision has to be accepted by all of the members of NATO.


Joint Statement by President Dmitriy Medvedev of the Russian Federation and President Barack Obama of the United States of America

Reaffirming that the era when our countries viewed each other as enemies is long over, and recognizing our many common interests, we today established a substantive agenda for Russia and the United States to be developed over the coming months and years.  We are resolved to work together to strengthen strategic stability, international security, and jointly meet contemporary global challenges, while also addressing disagreements openly and honestly in a spirit of mutual respect and acknowledgement of each other’s perspective.  We discussed measures to overcome the effects of the global economic crisis, strengthen the international monetary and financial system, restore economic growth, and advance regulatory efforts to ensure that such a crisis does not happen again. We also discussed nuclear arms control and reduction.  As leaders of the two largest nuclear weapons states, we agreed to work together to fulfill our obligations under Article VI of the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and demonstrate leadership in reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the world.  We committed our two countries to achieving a nuclear free world, while recognizing that this long-term goal will require a new emphasis on arms control and conflict resolution measures, and their full implementation by all concerned nations.  We agreed to pursue new and verifiable reductions in our strategic offensive arsenals in a step-by-step process, beginning by replacing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with a new, legally-binding treaty. We are instructing our negotiators to start talks immediately on this new treaty and to report on results achieved in working out the new agreement by July. While acknowledging that differences remain over the purposes of deployment of missile defense assets in Europe, we discussed new possibilities for mutual international cooperation in the field of missile defense, taking into account joint assessments of missile challenges and threats,  aimed at enhancing the security of our countries, and that of our allies and partners. The relationship between offensive and defensive arms will be discussed by the two governments. We intend to carry out joint efforts to strengthen the international regime for nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery. In this regard we strongly support the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), and are committed to its further strengthening. Together, we seek to secure nuclear weapons and materials, while promoting the safe use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. We support the activities of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and stress the importance of the IAEA Safeguards system. We seek universal adherence to IAEA comprehensive safeguards, as provided for in Article III of the NPT, and to the Additional Protocol and urge the ratification and implementation of these agreements. We will deepen cooperation to combat nuclear terrorism.  We will seek to further promote the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism, which now unites 75 countries. We also support international negotiations for a verifiable treaty to end the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. As a key measure of nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, we underscored the importance of the entering into force the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.  In this respect, President Obama confirmed his commitment to work for American ratification of this Treaty. We applaud the achievements made through the Nuclear Security Initiative launched in Bratislava in 2005, including to minimize the civilian use of Highly Enriched Uranium, and we seek to continue bilateral collaboration to improve and sustain nuclear security. We agreed to examine possible new initiatives to promote international cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy while strengthening the nuclear non-proliferation regime. We welcome the work of the IAEA on multilateral approaches to the nuclear fuel cycle and encourage efforts to develop mutually beneficial approaches with states considering nuclear energy or considering expansion of existing nuclear energy programs in conformity with their rights and obligations under the NPT. To facilitate cooperation in the safe use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, both sides will work to bring into force the bilateral Agreement for Cooperation in the Field of Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy. To strengthen non-proliferation efforts, we also declare our intent to give new impetus to implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1540 on preventing non-state actors from obtaining WMD-related materials and technologies. We agreed to work on a bilateral basis and at international forums to resolve regional conflicts.  We agreed that al-Qaida and other terrorist and insurgent groups operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan pose a common threat to many nations, including the United States and Russia.  We agreed to work toward and support a coordinated international response with the UN playing a key role. We also agreed that a similar coordinated and international approach should be applied to counter the flow of narcotics from Afghanistan, as well as illegal supplies of precursors to this country. Both sides agreed to work out new ways of cooperation to facilitate international efforts of stabilization, reconstruction and development in Afghanistan, including in the regional context. We support the continuation of the Six-Party Talks at an early date and agreed to continue to pursue the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in accordance with purposes and principles of the September 19, 2005 Joint Statement and subsequent consensus documents. We also expressed concern that a North Korean ballistic missile launch would be damaging to peace and stability in the region and agreed to urge the DPRK to exercise restraint and observe relevant UN Security Council resolutions. While we recognize that under the NPT Iran has the right to a civilian nuclear program, Iran needs to restore confidence in its exclusively peaceful nature.  We underline that Iran, as any other Non-Nuclear Weapons State – Party to the NPT, has assumed the obligation under Article II of that Treaty in relation to its non-nuclear weapon status.  We call on Iran to fully implement the relevant U.N. Security Council and the IAEA Board of Governors resolutions including provision of required cooperation with the IAEA. We reiterated their commitment to pursue a comprehensive diplomatic solution, including direct diplomacy and through P5+1 negotiations, and urged Iran to seize this opportunity to address the international community’s concerns. We also started a dialogue on security and stability in Europe.  Although we disagree about the causes and sequence of the military actions of last August, we agreed that we must continue efforts toward a peaceful and lasting solution to the unstable situation today. Bearing in mind that significant differences remain between us, we nonetheless stress the importance of last year’s six-point accord of August 12, the September 8 agreement, and other relevant agreements, and pursuing effective cooperation in the Geneva discussions to bring stability to the region.  We agreed that the resumption of activities of the NATO-Russia Council is a positive step.  We welcomed the participation of an American delegation at the special Conference on Afghanistan convened under the auspices of Shanghai Cooperation Organization last month. We discussed our interest in exploring a comprehensive dialogue on strengthening
Euro-Atlantic and European security, including existing commitments and President Medvedev’s June 2008 proposals on these issues. The OSCE is one of the key multilateral venues for this dialogue, as is the NATO-Russia Council. We also agreed that our future meetings must include discussions of transnational threats such as terrorism, organized crime, corruption and narcotics, with the aim of enhancing our cooperation in countering these threats and strengthening international efforts in these fields, including through joint actions and initiatives. We will strive to give rise to a new dynamic in our economic links including the launch of an intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation and the intensification of our business dialogue. Especially during these difficult economic times, our business leaders must pursue all opportunities for generating economic activity. We both pledged to instruct our governments to make efforts to finalize as soon as possible Russia’s accession into the World Trade Organization and continue working towards the creation of favorable conditions for the development of Russia-U.S. economic ties. We also pledge to promote cooperation in implementing Global Energy Security Principles, adopted at the G-8 summit in Saint Petersburg in 2006, including improving energy efficiency and the development of clean energy technologies. Today we have outlined a comprehensive and ambitious work plan for our two governments.  We both affirmed a mutual desire to organize contacts between our two governments in a more structured and regular way. Greater institutionalized interactions between our ministries and departments make success more likely in meeting the ambitious goals that we have established today. At the same time, we also discussed the desire for greater cooperation not only between our governments, but also between our societies — more scientific cooperation, more students studying in each other’s country, more cultural exchanges, and more cooperation between our nongovernmental organizations.  In our relations with each other, we also seek to be guided by the rule of law, respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights, and tolerance for different views. We, the leaders of Russia and the United States, are ready to move beyond Cold War mentalities and chart a fresh start in relations between our two countries.  In just a few months we have worked hard to establish a new tone in our relations.  Now it is time to get down to business and translate our warm words into actual achievements of benefit to Russia, the United States, and all those around the world interested in peace and prosperity.


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