Russian trade, human rights bill heads to Obama
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, stressed that the legislation can only be a plus. "We change no U.S. tariffs and no U.S. trade laws. This is a one-sided deal in favor of American exporters."
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue called it a "rare bill that will create American jobs without costing the taxpayer a dime." He said bipartisan cooperation on trade matters, including completion of free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama and reauthorization of the U.S. Export-Import Bank, have been among the "top achievements" of the current Congress.
But it could have ramifications on overall U.S.-Russian relations. That's because the bill includes a provision to sanction Russian human rights violators by withholding visas and freezing financial assets. The measure, named for Russian lawyer and whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky who died in a Russian prison three years ago after allegedly being tortured, was included in the trade bill as lawmakers balked at normalizing trade without holding Russia accountable for its poor human rights record.
"Jackson-Vanik served its purpose with respect to Russia and should be revoked, but in its place we should respond to Russia's continued corruption and human rights violations," said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the top Republican on Baucus' committee.
After the Senate vote, Alexei Pushkov, head of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of Russia's parliament, said the State Duma may respond by imposing similar sanctions on U.S. officials accused of violating the rights of Russian citizens abroad. An alternative would be to target U.S. officials accused of rights violations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and other nations, Pushkov was quoted as telling the ITAR-Tass news agency.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he voted against the bill because the Magnitsky provision, as written by the House, applies only to Russian human rights violators. The original Senate proposal would have applied those sanctions worldwide.
"Why would we deny visas only to Russian human rights violators?" Levin asked in a statement. "Why diminish the universality of the values the Magnitsky bill seeks to uphold?"
Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.
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