President normalizes trade with Russia

Dec. 15, 2012 at 1:41 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama signed a bill normalizing trade relations with Russia alongside a bill reprimanding Russian officials.

Russia joined the World Trade Organization this summer after 18 years of effort. Standing in its way, however, was the U.S. Jackson-Vanik bill that forestalled normal trade relations with the United States.

That bill, which was considered a Cold War relic, was intended to pressure Russia into allowing Jews to emigrate, a controversy that has come and gone. While signing a bill repealing that law, Obama also signed a new bill that takes aim at another controversy, the alleged torture and death in 2009 of Sergei Magnitsky, a whistle-blower attorney working on corruption within state-owned enterprises, who died in prison after being held 358 days without a trial.

The Magnitsky Act signed Friday freezes the assets and denies visas for Russian officials involved in the Magnitsky's death.

RIA Novosti reported Saturday that Russian Parliament had plans to pass a reciprocal bill, which aims to redress the death of Dima Yakovlev, a Russian orphan who died in July 2008 in Virginia of heatstroke due to a neglectful foster father.

"I think it stretches the imagination to see an equal and reciprocal situation here. The issue of adoption is one that we've worked very hard with the Russians -- something that we've looked at carefully, but we just reject any attempt at this sort of -- trying to make a reciprocal comparison. We just reject that," said a State Department spokesperson.

"The Magnitsky provision sends a strong message that the U.S. will not tolerate human rights transgressions," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont.

Baucus also said the trade bill was "a big win for U.S. exports and jobs," The Hill newspaper reported Saturday.

"We're gaining access to a fast-growing market, and we give up nothing in return," said House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich.

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