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Lawmakers Seek Russia Initiatives

10 November 2001 , 14:28370
A large bipartisan group of lawmakers is urging President Bush to ensure that his talks next week with Russian President Vladimir Putin cover a range of issues well beyond missile defense and security concerns.

Nearly 85 lawmakers, including many of the top Republican leaders in the House and foreign policy experts in the Senate, have proposed that Bush take up initiatives with Putin involving agriculture, energy, economic development, health care, the environment and joint space ventures.

Many of the proposals have been considered by the current and past administrations and by private think tanks and groups. But by pulling them together in one large document for the president, these lawmakers are trying to intervene in bilateral discussions over future U.S.-Russian ties at a time when the two countries are dramatically recasting their long antagonistic relations.

"Too often, the focus of our bilateral relations has been on defense and security -- precisely the issue on which our interests often collide," said Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and the chief author of the plan. "It would be useful, as we move forward with a Russian policy for the 21st century to take a more holistic approach -- one that takes into account Russia's myriad concerns as well as our own."

Titled "A New Time, A New Beginning," the plan details proposals in 11 areas. In the area of improving health care in Russia, the lawmakers are proposing increased emphasis on cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, development of more extensive physician exchange programs and augmenting existing cooperation between the National Institutes of Health and Russian research institutes.

In the area of energy and natural resources, the plans would foster cooperative pilot projects, starting with oil and gas exploration in Timan Pechora.

Weldon, an expert on U.S.-Russian relations who has traveled extensively in Russia, has spent months pulling together the proposals and lining up key support on Capitol Hill. He said he conferred with Bush on his proposal in July during a trip on Air Force One and then briefed Russian leaders when he led a congressional delegation to Moscow in late September.

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