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US, Russia Sign Historic Trade Deal


The United States and Russia have signed a landmark trade agreement moving Moscow closer to membership in the World Trade Organization. VOA White House Correspondent Paula Wolfson reports the deal was announced in Hanoi as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit was drawing to a close.

Word of the agreement came as President Bush sat down for talks in Hanoi with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"This is a good agreement for the United States and equally important, it is a good agreement for Russia and it is a good agreement for the international trading community," Mr. Bush hailed the deal.

The bilateral agreement followed years of tough negotiations, and touches on virtually all aspects of the trade relationship between the United States and Russia. The 800-page document was signed in Hanoi by trade ministers for the two countries who called it the last stage in a long journey.

"On my part, I would like to add that we have been in the process of difficult and elective work, five years of intense effort, which has culminated today with the signing of the protocol on Moscow's accession to the World Trade Organization which has been a successful outcome of this effort," agreed President Putin.

The deal is seen as a U.S. vote of confidence in Russia's economy. It covers everything from tariff reductions on cars, to protections for intellectual property rights.

Russia is the largest economy still outside the 149-member World Trade Organization. And the deal was necessary to get the final approval from the United States needed to bring Russia into the WTO system.

Russia must now sign a multi-lateral trade agreement with the entire World Trade Organization, a process that Moscow says may take until the middle of 2007.

While trade was a top issue on the agenda for the Bush-Putin meeting in Hanoi, it was by no means the only one. President Bush is also seeking greater cooperation in dealing with the challenges posed by North Korea and Iran's nuclear ambitions.

While in Hanoi, Mr. Bush met on the sidelines of the APEC summit with leaders of the other four countries involved in the six-party talks with North Korea - Russia, China, Japan and South Korea.

The meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao occurred shortly before the final APEC session. White House officials said there was a very specific and very positive discussion on North Korea.

China is North Korea's biggest patron, and has served as the host for the multilateral disarmament talks. China's Foreign Ministry said Presidents Bush and Hu agree that Pyongyang must realize the extent of international opposition to its nuclear program.

After completing his bilateral meetings in Hanoi, President Bush left the Vietnamese capital for Ho Chi Minh City. He will meet with business leaders here on Monday and visit a medical research center before traveling on to Jakarta for talks with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

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