Russia's President Tours U.S. Looking For Business

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is visiting the United States this week, and meets President Obama at the White House Thursday. Medvedev's tour is primarily aimed at reassuring the U.S. that Russia is a reliable partner both politically and economically. Medvedev visited Silicon Valley Wednesday.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Obama administration is having better luck resetting political relationships in another part of the world. The administration says its efforts to transform relations with Russia are paying off.

Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev will be at the White House today, to talk about ways to cooperate on a range of foreign policy issues.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Before coming to Washington, President Medvedev toured California's Silicon Valley. He tweeted a picture of his visit to Twitter, toured Apple and Cisco Systems, and spoke through an interpreter to students at Stanford University.

President DMITRY MEDVEDEV (Russia): (Through Translator) Russia is trying to become an open country, open for partnership with any partner that is ready to work with. Open for investments, for trade, for joint projects in any sector of public life.

KELEMEN: Medvedev has been promoting the idea of developing a high-tech area outside Moscow. Many Russia watchers in Washington, though, are skeptical about this, including David Kramer, a former State Department official now at the German Marshall Fund.

Dr. DAVID Kramer (Senior Transatlantic Fellow, German Marshall Fund): Russia is trying to do this from the top down, and has put an oligarch in charge. It seems rather artificial to me. And I also, frankly, question why, as a government, the U.S. would be interested in helping Russia modernize, when it is not modernizing its political system?

KELEMEN: But political reforms will be a part of today's talks at the White House, according to President Obama's top advisor on Russia. Mike McFaul told reporters, in a conference call this week, that the U.S. wants to support innovation in business and governance in Russia.

Dr. MIKE MCFAUL (Senior Director, Russian Affairs, White House): We will spend a good deal of time talking about President Medvedev's agenda for innovation. We see this as a win-win.

KELEMEN: McFaul says the Obama administration has reset relations with Russia and thats paying dividends - Russia voted for U.N. sanctions on Iran, negotiated a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the U.S., and is cooperating with the U.S., in Kyrgyzstan, to respond to ethnic violence there.

Dr. MCFAUL: We seek common diplomatic and humanitarian actions rather than competitive ones.

KELEMEN: But analyst David Kramer says the U.S. and Russia still have differences over an airbase that the U.S. uses in Kyrgyzstan to re-supply troops in Afghanistan. Moscow and Washington are still at odds over another former Soviet republic, Georgia. And while Russia did support a U.N. sanctions resolution on Iran, Kramer says Russia voted for three previous resolutions, and this time the U.S. had to pay a price.

Dr. KRAMER: The Obama administration lifted sanctions against four Russian enterprises before the vote. These were enterprises that were sanctioned for violating U.S. law, for engaging in activities with Iran and Syria. The U.S. lifted those sanctions.

KELEMEN: Kramer says the U.S. needs to look at Russia with eyes wide open, and remember that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin - who's been far more critical of the U.S. - could eventually return to the Kremlin.

For now, the White House is focusing on relations with Dmitry Medvedev. Deputy National Security Advisor for Communications, Ben Rhodes, says it comes in handy that Presidents Obama and Medvedev have backgrounds in law, because theyve been on the phone a lot, finalizing deals.

Mr. BEN RHODES (Deputy National Security Advisor, Strategic Communications): Oftentimes when presidents interact, everything is already keyed(ph) up and finished. With these guys, theyve actually rolled up sleeves together and hammered out the details of some of these things.

KELEMEN: Including, he says, the new START treaty and Iran sanctions.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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