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White House Wages Rescue Effort for ‘Reset’ Rhetoric

Asked if today's icy Putin-Obama meeting was important for the Russians, a Russian diplomat said, "Yes, but even more for the Americans."

by
Bridget Johnson

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June 18, 2012 - 5:31 pm
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Russia’s Interfax news agency reported that two Russian naval ships, each capable of carrying up to 300 marines and a dozen tanks, were heading to Syria to “protect our citizens.” Russia is the top arms supplier to Syria, selling more than $1 billion in arms to the regime in 2011 alone.

And as if putting a cherry on a melting sundae, the State Department then sent out a fact sheet on “The United States and Russia: A Multifaceted Relationship,” highlighting seven areas of cooperation between the two countries that linked to more fact sheets ranging from cultural exchanges to energy and healthcare.

The robotic pleasantries exchanged in public between the leaders belied the anger that Russia is feeling toward Washington as lawmakers try to get tough on the Kremlin where the reset-minded White House has barely tread.

A bipartisan group of senators has made nixing the Jackson-Vanik amendment that stands in the way of Russia’s WTO membership conditional upon the enactment of human-rights sanctions on Russian officials implicated in the November 2009 prison death of Sergei Magnitsky, who had uncovered wide-scale corruption in the Russian government.

“Visiting the United States and having access to our financial system, including U.S. dollars, are privileges that should not be extended to those who violate basic human rights and the rule of law,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) when the House Foreign Affairs Committee took up the bipartisan bill earlier this month. “…Once enacted, the bill named in his honor will provide powerful tools to combat the serious human rights violations that continue to occur on a daily basis in Russia and throughout the world.”

Last July, the Obama administration imposed a visa ban on 11 Russian officials accused of playing a role in the lawyer’s death. In retaliation, Russia barred 11 U.S. officials that it says were involved with Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib abuses.

Putin, who preceded the summit with a lengthy article in Mexico’s El Universal daily on how to meet global economic challenges, will hold his own press conference tomorrow afternoon in a convention center at the G-20.

Things won’t get any easier for Obama when he returns to Washington: On Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will delve into implementation of the New START treaty that Obama arm-twisted through the upper chamber in 2010 with promises of modernizing the U.S. nuclear weapons complex even as he focuses on his “global zero” disarmament doctrine.

Both the House and the Senate have been pushing ways to get the president to keep his promise, as the promised modernization funds weren’t in his FY 2013 budget.

In April, Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) called on Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) to hold the oversight hearing “to determine whether the administration has fully lived up to the expectations raised and commitments made in order to garner support” for the treaty.

Even before today’s meeting, the White House was trying to lay the groundwork for a reset rescue.

Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters on a conference call Friday that the relationship with Russia wouldn’t be based “overly on personalities,” acknowledging the “good and close personal rapport” Obama had with Medvedev and the fact that Putin “clearly is somebody who can articulate where he has differences with the United States.”

“First of all, we don’t attribute that progress that’s been made over the course of the last several years just to that personal rapport. It’s a lot of hard, technical work that was done, in many respects, to get the New START Treaty done or to get the Northern Distribution Network set up,” Rhodes said.

“Secondly, Prime Minister Putin, as Prime Minister, was certainly an influential figure within Russia during the time of the reset,” he added. ”So given his influence within Russia and its system, even as President Medvedev was of course the leader of the government, our assessment is that Prime Minister Putin was supportive of the reset as it unfolded over the course of the last several years.”

At the first plenary session, Putin and Obama were seated next to each other, according to the White House pool report, but weren’t seen greeting each other or even looking at one another.

After today’s bilateral meeting, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said on CNN that the two leaders, particularly on Syria, gave the “kind of statement that you usually hear when there’s no concrete agreement.”

“Also, it’s a little weird, Orwellian, to consider their statement about Kofi Annan — supporting Kofi Annan’s initiative,” McCain said. “…To somehow say that they are dependent on what has been a failed course of action is a little bit unrealistic, to say the least.”

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Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
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