The Wall Street Journal
June 12, 2012

Senators Seek to Boost U.S. Trade With Russia

A bipartisan group of senators launched an effort to lift long-standing restrictions on trade with Russia, beginning a political fight that could inflame tensions with Moscow over its human-rights record and support for the Syrian government.

The senators on Tuesday introduced a bill aimed at approving permanent, normal trade relations before the August recess, in a bid to ease the path for U.S. corporations to operate in Russia after the country enters the World Trade Organization, which is expected in August.

Criticism of Russia by some lawmakers could impede passage. Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.) said it would be tough to fit the bill into the agenda. He added that any debate on legislation affecting U.S.-Russia relations would likely touch on Moscow's support of Syria's Bashar al-Assad regime, which the Obama administration says must step down.

Efforts to get the bill enacted also won't be easy in an election year. Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney recently called Russia "our No. 1 geopolitical foe."

But the administration is also seeking Moscow's help in pressing the Syrian regime to abandon its military crackdown on its opposition, and in pressing Iran to compromise on its nuclear program.

Obama administration officials have said establishing trade relations with Russia is a priority, to keep U.S. companies from losing out to competitors who can take advantage of Russia's WTO entry.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D., Mont.), who introduced the legislation, said that once the Senate passes the trade bill, he would work with the House to ensure any final version includes the full text of a separate human-rights bill named for Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in a Russian prison in 2009 after accusing government officials of fraud.

The White House said it shares concerns about humanrights in Russia but prefers a trade bill without the added legislation. Spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said the administration would continue to work with lawmakers to address concerns about Mr. Magnitsky's case.

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