A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers is urging President Bush to discuss a broad range of issues beyond missile defense and security concerns when he meets this coming week with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Republican Congressman Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, drafted the recommendations contained in a report called "A New Time, a New Beginning."
In the report, Mr. Weldon says the focus of the relationship between the United States and Russia is too often on defense and security, issues on which he says the two sides frequently collide.
So the congressman is arguing for a new approach as the two countries seek to recast their long antagonistic relationship for the 21st century. It is an approach that takes into account many of the concerns of both countries, including energy and economic development, health care, the environment, and science, and technology. "Our initiative with Russia is bold," he said. "It is exciting, it is refreshing, and it takes us away from our relationship based on mistrust and based on the kind of cold war mentality to a new relationship that is based upon friendship."
Speaking at a recent news conference on Capitol Hill, Congressman Weldon said he briefed Russian officials on his ideas when he led a Congressional delegation to Moscow in September. He said he had a receptive audience. "The response was exciting," he added, "it was enthusiastic."
Mr. Weldon also has the support of many in the U.S. Congress. More than 80 lawmakers, including Republican House leaders and foreign policy experts in the Senate, have signed the proposals.
The recommendations include calls for greater cooperation in gas and oil exploration, expanding physician exchange programs, furthering cooperation between health and medical research facilities. The report also suggests expanding cultural ties outside major cities, and providing for more Russian language and cultural studies in American schools.
Many of the proposals are not new. But by presenting them in a report to the President, Mr. Weldon and his fellow lawmakers are seeking to have a say in bilateral talks over future U-S Russian ties. "Our goal is to make this a bipartisan effort," he explained, "so we provide a foundation from the Congress on which President Bush and President Putin can meet and build a new solid partnership with the Russian people and the Russian government."
Congressman Weldon argues that if the United States and Russia are cooperating on a broad range of issues, Moscow will be more likely to work closely with Washington on the critical issues of national security, including the fight against terrorism.
During his recent trip to Moscow, Mr. Weldon met with members of the Russian Duma to seek their support on the anti-terrorism front. "We presented to them a piece of legislation that we drafted and translated into Russian prior to the trip, to have the Russians consider enacting a bill identical to a bill we are introducing in the House and Senate," he said. "That bill calls for a joint legislative task force on terrorism between the Russian side and the American side. With no hesitation, the Russians agreed to our request."
Congressman Weldon has briefed Bush administration officials about his trip, and he discussed his proposals for a new U.S. Russian relationship with the president during a flight on Air Force One in July.