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Get closer to Moscow, panel urges

Cites US need to collaborate, avoid 'slide to hostility'

Gary Hart (right) shared a report with Russian President Medvedev (left). John Beyerle and Chuck Hagel watched. Gary Hart (right) shared a report with Russian President Medvedev (left). John Beyerle and Chuck Hagel watched. (RIA Novosti/ Pool/ Reuters)
By Brian Knowlton
International Herald Tribune / March 17, 2009
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WASHINGTON - A high-level bipartisan commission recommended yesterday that the Obama administration reach out to Russia in a number of ways, putting NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine on hold and taking "a new look" at the planned missile shield in eastern Europe, possibly even collaborating with Moscow on it.

The recommendations were made as the administration has said it wants to "reset" the critically important but strained relationship. The report also came weeks before President Obama is to meet his Russian counterpart, Dmitri A. Medvedev, at the Group of 20 summit meeting in London on April 2.

For now, the bipartisan panel concluded in a 30-page report, Moscow is not hostile to the United States, "at least not yet." Even if relations break down, it said, a Russia weakened by the drop in oil prices lacks the will and resources for a new Cold War-style confrontation.

Still, commission members said they were "deeply concerned by the gap between the current US-Russian relationship and the level of cooperation that the United States needs with Russia in order to advance vital American interests." It said both governments were to blame for a cooling of relations.

The fall in oil prices should make Russia more open to Western entreaties for cooperation, the report said. It urged efforts to improve collaboration on Iran, Afghanistan and the global economy, using as enticements a push to drop trade barriers and support Russian membership in the World Trade Organization.

"The risk in making the effort is far smaller than the costs of a slide into hostility," the commission said.

The panel was headed by Gary Hart, a former Democratic senator from Colorado, and Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska. Its members include two former national security advisers, Brent Scowcroft and Robert C. McFarlane; Sam Nunn, a former Georgia senator experienced in US-Russia issues; and Lee H. Hamilton, a former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The recommendation on Georgia and Ukraine would represent a shift. At a NATO meeting last year, the Bush administration procured a vague promise that the two would someday become members. And especially after Russia's conflict with Georgia, the Bush White House wanted to signal to Moscow that it held no veto over NATO membership.

The commission report said that the new administration should "accept that neither Ukraine nor Georgia is ready for NATO membership" but that it should also work with NATO allies to find other ways "to demonstrate a commitment to their sovereignty."

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