Senate supporters of a Russia human-rights bill linked to trade said Tuesday that they are pressing forward despite a warning from the Russian ambassador this week that the bill will impair relations.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), would freeze the assets of Russian officials allegedly involved in the suspicious death of Russian whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky in November 2009.
Ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) said that he is fighting to get the bill voted on, and he and Cardin dismissed the comments by Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak that it would cause a “significant” reaction in Moscow and impair relations. “I accept that he made that assessment, but I would point out that this bill arises in the course of trying to do a number of things that will assist our relations with Russia, whether in trade or diplomacy, and it appears to me that the Magnitsky issue does make a point about our regard for human rights of citizens,” Lugar said.
Cardin said that his bill is meant to benefit the Russian people and said the United States is just reaffirming international norms. “This is for the Russians, it’s not for us,” he said, citing words of support from ordinary Russians he has received. “This is not meddling.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is moving toward considering the bill.
Lugar told reporters on Tuesday that the bill is no longer on the docket for a meeting this week, but he continues to press for passage. “The chairman has decided to take the Magnitsky issue off the table,” Lugar said. He added that Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) has been in consultations with the White House in making his decision. Kerry spokeswoman Jodi Seth said the bill was never up for discussion this week, however, and that Kerry is supportive of the bill and is working toward its passage.
One of the items under discussion is finding a way to make the bill about human rights more broad rather than just about the situation in Russia, sources said. The Senate proponents of the bill are linking its passage to the extension of permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) to Russia. Passing the Russia trade bill is the top trade agenda item for the White House this year. Russia will join the World Trade Organization regardless of congressional action — if PNTR is not passed, U.S. exporters will be penalized with higher tariffs than those faced by other WTO members. PNTR supporters argue that because of this self-injuring aspect to the bill, it is not the right vehicle to press Russia on rights.
Cardin expressed confidence that he was winning the fight, however. “There is a growing consensus in Congress and on the part of the administration that it is going to be a part of PNTR,” Cardin said. “I think we have the votes on its own merits but I think it will be helpful to have it as a part of PNTR.”
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The Hill—Senate Supporters of Russia Rights Bill Press on Despite Warning— 24 April 2012