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Russian WTO Bid Remains Stalled


Russian and U.S. trade negotiators have failed to reach agreement on Russia's accession into the World Trade Organization, but presidents Putin and Bush say they remain committed to the goal of Russia's eventual membership. At the same time, the two leaders did forge an agreement to fight nuclear terrorism and held constructive discussions on Russia's road to democracy.

Russia's long-held desire to become a member of the World Trade Organization remains just a dream as U.S. and Russian negotiators failed to narrow differences that would have allowed
Russia's membership.

It had been hoped that intensive efforts by negotiators in the days leading up to the summit would break the logjam and allow a formal announcement of Russia's entry into the world body that sets global trade rules.

In a joint press conference with the Russian president Saturday, President Bush sought to downplay concerns that the lack of an agreement had anything to do with Russia's politics on issues like Iran, Iraq or North Korea.

"We want Russian accession into the WTO, that's what we want, but there's more work to be done. But you've just got to understand, the intention to reach an agreement is there," said Mr. Bush.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was noticeably more muted on the topic, calling the negotiations lengthy and complicated. But he says Russia will continue to stand up for and pursue, what he called, our national interest.

Mr. Putin also said Russia would determine for itself the best course and manner in which to pursue its stated commitments to democracy. Here are his comments as spoken through a translator:

"It is true that we assume that nobody knows better than us how we can strengthen our own nation, but we know for sure that we cannot strengthen our nation without developing democratic institutions," he said. "And this is the path we will certainly take, but certainly we will do this by ourselves."

At the same time, President Putin said he welcomes such discussions as useful. As he put it,democracy-building proves difficult for all nations, and is a universal problem, not just for
Russia.

In the run-up to the Summit, there were widespread calls by Russian civil society and some high-level bipartisan critics in the United States that Mr. Putin should be taken to task for what some see as his roll-back on Russian democracy. There were even calls for a Bush boycott of the G-8.

But President Bush says he prefers to remain engaged with the man he calls, "my friend Vladimir." A White House statement says the two sides were able to agree on a global initiative to fight nuclear terrorism.

However, the lack of an agreement on Russia's accession to the WTO took some experts by surprise. They predict the failure to reach agreement will likely stall the Doha round of global trade talks.

But a senior U.S. administration official, briefing on background, says a lot of progress was made in the past couple of days. The official says negotiators virtually closed agreement on one of the key sticking points, industrial tariffs. Remaining issues are said to include U.S. access to Russian markets for beef and pork.

Both sides predict a deal could come in the next three months.

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