WASHINGTON – In their first official public meeting Tuesday,members of the U.S. and Russian congresses spent three hours tossing platitudes and sarcasm at each other.
Members of the two countries' foreign affairs committees presented their countries' positions concerning controversial foreign affairs issues such as Kosovo,Iran's nuclear program,the U.S. missile defense plan and unresolved conflicts of the post-Soviet era.
They had so much to say,in fact,that the meeting lasted more than the two hours scheduled,and the two sides managed to discuss only two issues from four that had been planned. They didn't agree on any issue during the meeting.
About an hour into the meeting,Leonid E. Slutskiy,the first deputy chairman of the Russian committee,who was yawning through the meeting,asked for constructive talk.
“Let's talk about what matters,” he said.
Konstantin I. Kosachev,chairman of the Committee on International Affairs of the Russian Duma,agreed that the countries have common interests. He and other representatives highlighted that the Russian side didn't like it when U.S. officials were making comments on both the domestic and foreign policy of Russia.
“We thankfully perceive constructive critics where it is appropriate,” Kosachev said.
“But usually I don't recognize Russia that is told here. Here it is usually told about Russia that doesn't exist.”
He and the other Russian delegates spoke in Russian.
The Russian delegation of six people seemed prepared for all the comments of their American colleagues on Russian domestic issues. Kosachev had all the statistics and polls of Russian agencies about the problem of media freedom and democracy in Russia. He had comments for the remarks of Rep. Tom Lantos,D-Calif.,chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee,on the recent dispersal of demonstrations opposed to Russian government policies.
“We came here to tell U.S. people about our Russia that we know and love,” Kosachev said.
Lantos said in an interview after the meeting that it was worthwhile.
“The value of these dialogs is to listen to each other's points of view. There are disagreements. We bring them out to the open. And it is an attribute to the new Russia for which I have not only great respect,but great friendship and affection,” he said.
“The zero-sum game is over. Russia and the United States overwhelmingly have common goals and common objectives,as two great civilizations fighting global terrorism and attempting to create prosperous,peaceful,forward-looking civilizations,” Lantos said in his welcoming speech.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi highlighted the importance of communication between legislative branches of the two countries at the begging of the meeting. Pelosi said she hoped to have such public meetings as tradition between the two countries.
Sometimes the presentation of the Russians' position was interrupted by questions and remarks from Lantos. Both sides sometimes used sarcasm in their speeches.
After their public discussions,the American and Russian committee heads expected to have a constructive dialog in a closed meeting.
It was the third meeting of the foreign affairs committees in the last two years.
This event had special importance,as it happened shortly before the meeting of President George W. Bush and President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin on July 1 at the Bush family's vacation home in Kennebunkport,Maine. Few world leaders have been invited to the Maine home of Bush's parents.
Bush and Putin's relationship has become less friendly over the past few years.
Dmitri Trenin,senior associate and deputy director of the Carnegie Moscow Center,said,”Russia is not a priority country for the United States now. And here it is not especially thought about. The USA has its own problems that concern it more. And in Russia they don't understand it completely,” Trenin said.
He added that Russia has “a bad reputation” in Western countries that made it difficult for the country to have a dialog with the U.S.
“Every official that tries to work on Russia becomes ‘an advocate' of Putin's regime. And it is believed that this regime killed its people and democracy values,” Trenin said.