Congressman Howard L. Berman (D-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today joined his Russian counterpart to emphasize that U.S.-Russian relations must reflect areas of common interest, such as reducing the spread of nuclear arms, even as Washington and Moscow may continue to disagree over the August conflict in Georgia.
"Our two countries have to address some difficult issues, especially in the wake of the Georgia conflict," Berman said after meeting with Konstantin Kosachev, Chairman of the State Duma International Affairs Committee. "But we also face many common threats that should push us to develop a stronger partnership. These include Iran's aims to develop nuclear weapons, global nuclear non-proliferation, the potential conflation between terrorism and nuclear capacity, and broader trans-national threats such as the food crisis and climate change."
In a news conference after their meeting, Kosachev pointed out that Berman is the highest-level U.S. government official to visit Russia since the conflict with Georgia. He came at Kosachev's invitation, as part of an ongoing parliamentary exchange between Russia and the United States.
"We're not only developing a political relationship between Foreign Affairs Committee chairmen, but also the start of a friendship," Berman noted.
At the request of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Berman traveled to Georgia in mid-August to meet with its leaders, deliver humanitarian aid and show solidarity with the Georgian people. He then co-sponsored legislation authorizing expanded economic assistance.
In Moscow, Berman indicated that any decision about military assistance to Georgia would be made by the next U.S. administration and Congress in 2009.
He voiced support for multilateral talks on the Caucasus region's stability that will take place in Geneva on Wednesday. The talks are being held jointly by the United Nations, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
"We clearly do not live in a unipolar world where the United States can achieve its aims alone," Berman noted. "Although there have been significant differences over some issues, there is no Cold War mindset in the United States -- nor do we expect to see that in our future.
"It's clear that after 9/11, amid the war in Iraq, and while facing challenges in the Middle East, we have not spent enough time thinking about US-Russian relations," he added. "We need to engage in better and more frequent dialogue. We have fundamental concerns in common and must work together to build a partnership that will enable us to address these challenges more effectively."
Berman's three-day visit to Moscow includes meetings with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and other authorities, as well as senior officials at Russia's Nuclear Energy State Corporation (Rosatom).