Posted: 29 Dec 2010 06:03 PM PST
In his first comments on New START since the US Senate approved it last week, Putin lauded President Dmitry Medvedev for forging the treaty with President Barack Obama — a signal of approval for the agreement from Russia's paramount leader.
Putin told reporters the pact was an "unconditional success for President Medvedev in foreign policy." The Russian parliament, which is dominated by Putin's United Russia party, is now set to ratify the treaty.
Putin, described in secret US diplomatic cables released early this month by WikiLeaks as an "alpha-dog" ruler who presides over a corrupt elite, added that his trust in US partners was now strengthening but "was not fully there yet."
The treaty is the main product of Obama's effort to "reset" long-strained ties between Washington and Moscow, a drive that Medvedev has embraced enthusiastically. Russia's entry into the WTO is seen as the next major step of the "reset" policy.
Putin, whose focus as prime minister is on domestic issues, has rarely commented on the New START treaty and at one point during year-long negotiations made remarks that cast doubt on the chances of agreement.
Yesterday, Putin suggested the treaty would bolster international security but also help Russia to develop its economy by improving the investment climate.
"I would like to congratulate Dmitry Anatolyevich (Medvedev) on the completion of work on the START treaty," Putin said at a government meeting attended by the president.
"For us it is important because it creates favourable external conditions for realisation of social and economic initiatives inside this country," he added.
Signed by Medvedev and Obama in April, the pact commits the United States and Russia to reducing their arsenals of deployed strategic nuclear weapons and establishes monitoring rules officials say will improve trust between the Cold War foes.
Putin steered Medvedev into the presidency as his successor in 2008 and has hinted he will either return to the Kremlin or leave his protege in place in the 2012 election.
Analysts say Medvedev was given a mandate to improve relations with the West, which deteriorated during Putin's presidency and hit a low during Moscow's August 2008 war with pro-Western Georgia, in the hope of strengthening Russia's economy.
At the meeting yesterday, Medvedev lamented a lack of progress in attracting investment, saying "there is very little improvement" in the investment climate. "We need to work on it."
CAN BE EXPECTED
Putin said questions remain over Russia's campaign for membership of the WTO, which has been helped by Obama's public backing. The eventual membership is also expected to boost foreign investment.
"There is no final result yet but we have agreed the main parameters with our main partners," Putin said.
Russia "can be expected" to join the WTO in 2011, he told reporters, in line with predictions by other officials.
The government has raised a number of export duties as part of Putin's new economic policy aimed at the revival of Russia's industrial might. Putin indicated that Russia could implement protectionist measures even after WTO accession.
Putin said he was especially concerned with the post-accession future of the auto industry which saw massive state support and foreign investment. He said levels of protection in the United States, Western Europe and China were higher than in Russia.
"If we see that our car industry is not treated on equal terms we will find such protection mechanisms," Putin said. He later specified that the measures would be applicable under the WTO rules and will relate to technical regulation.
Putin's remarks were likely to raise concerns among WTO members over Russia's behaviour in the global trade body and complicate talks currently underway in Geneva. — Reuters
Posted: 29 Dec 2010 05:29 PM PST
World powers and African neighbours want Gbagbo to cede power in the world's top cocoa grower to his rival Alassane Ouattara, internationally recognised as the election winner.
"They are going back on the 3rd of January and when they come back from this second visit the outcome will determine the next action," Nigeria's president Goodluck Jonathan, who is also the chairman of the ECOWAS regional grouping, told reporters.
He was speaking after a briefing with the envoys, who were in Ivory Coast this week delivering the ECOWAS ultimatum to Gbagbo. The grouping has threatened to use "legitimate force" if Gbagbo does not step aside.
The November 28 election was meant to reunite Ivory Coast after a 2002-03 civil war split it in two, but the dispute over the results has triggered clashes that have killed more than 170 people and threatens to restart open conflict.
Provisional election commission results showed Ouattara with an 8-point victory, but the figures were quickly overturned by the country's top court — run by a Gbagbo ally — over allegations of fraud.
The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions on Gbagbo and his inner circle, while the World Bank and the West African regional central bank have cut his financing in an attempt to weaken his grip on power.
The presidents of Benin, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde were sent by ECOWAS to Ivory Coast earlier this week to tell Gbagbo to step down or face force. The envoys agreed to give Gbagbo a week to consider the message, officials in Cape Verde told Reuters yesterday.
Jonathan said he was hopeful intervention would not be needed. "Whenever there is a disagreement it is dialogue that resolves it. Dialogue is on," he said.
ECOWAS member state Gambia said yesterday it did not agree with the threat of force.
"The Gambia Government does not subscribe to the use of force (...) to solve disputed election results as that is interfering in the internal affairs of a member state which is illegal under both the ECOWAS and AU Charters," a statement read over state television said.
The turmoil has pushed cocoa futures to four-month highs amid fears it could eventually disrupt exports. Ivory Coast's Eurobond, meanwhile, hit a record low last week on concern that the country would not meet a nearly $30 million (RM94 million) bond payment due on December 31.
Gbagbo has shown no sign of giving in to the pressure and has accused former colonial power France of orchestrating an international plot alongside the United States to get him out. The French government dismissed the allegations as groundless.
In an attempt to raise pressure on Gbagbo, European Union countries have agreed to recognise only ambassadors appointed by Ouattara, the French foreign ministry said yesterday.
"The European Union adopted last week a concerted approach. Only the ambassadors named by President Ouattara will be recognised by the European Union and the member states," ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.
Gbagbo's government had said on Tuesday it would cut diplomatic ties with countries which recognise ambassadors named by Ouattara.
Diplomatic efforts to resolve the standoff have eased tensions on the streets of Ivory Coast's main city Abidjan in recent days, with both Ouattara and Gbagbo supporters remaining mostly calm.
A planned mass rally yesterday by the powerful pro-Gbagbo "Young Patriot" movement, led by firebrand Charles Ble Goude who is also youth minister in the Gbagbo government, was suspended to allow for negotiations.
Ivory Coast cocoa output, which makes up about a third of world supply, has been running near even with last year in a sign the political upheaval has not significantly affected growing or trucking operations.
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