U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signaled Saturday that Congress could move to repeal Cold War-era legislation governing trade relations with Russia as soon as this month.
Clinton's comments regarding the so-called Jackson-Vanik amendment came as she addressed business leaders in the Russian city of Vladivostok, where she is standing in for President Barack Obama at the head of the U.S. delegation to the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting.
"To make sure our companies get to compete here in Russia, we are working closely with the United States Congress to terminate the application to Jackson-Vanik to Russia and grant Russian Permanent Normalized Trade Relations," she said.
"We hope that the Congress will pass on this important piece of legislation this month."
The Jackson-Vanik amendment was passed in 1974 as a way of pressuring Russia to allow Soviet Jews to emigrate. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, that was no longer an issue, but legislators kept the amendment on the books to pressure Russia on other issues.
The United States has waived it every year since 1994, but it still violates World Trade Organization rules requiring members of the body to give one another permanent normal trade relations.
Russia finally entered the WTO this summer, raising the stakes for the United States to end a measure that critics warn could end up costing it business.
Clinton discussed the Jackson-Vanik amendment with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov over a working breakfast, Nuland said.
"She said that the Congress was going to start voting and that we have strongly pushed and been supportive, and we think that it's time for Jackson-Vanik to be repealed," Nuland said of Clinton.
The Secretary of State shares the concerns of many in Congress about the human rights situation in Russia "and we're continuing to talk to them about those issues," Nuland added.
Clinton and Lavrov also debated the ongoing situations in Syria and Iran, Nuland said.
On Syria, the themes were similar to discussions held in St. Petersburg in June, Nuland said.
"We remain extremely concerned that if the UN Security Council doesn't take a stronger stand in support of peace and security, that it is abrogating its responsibility, that we need to do it in a way where there are consequences for noncompliance, which the Russians have not been supportive of in the past and which we really think are necessary if it's going to actually advance the ball," Nuland said.
Clinton also made clear to Lavrov that U.S. concerns extended to the "extremely negative effect" of the ongoing conflict in Syria on stability in the wider region, Nuland said.
Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin held one-on-one talks before dinner Saturday evening, when the question of Syria came up again.
They also discussed Iran, missile defense and the need for increased bilateral trade and investment in the 15-minute meeting, before turning to wild life conservation and other matters over dinner.
Clinton spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda too, on issues including a hotly disputed set of small islands in the East China Sea. The question of sovereignty over the islands has led to renewed diplomatic tensions between Beijing and Tokyo in recent weeks.
In the course of their meeting Saturday morning, Clinton and Lavrov signed a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the Antarctic and another on strengthening U.S.-Russian interregional cooperation.
Clinton said the agreements would stimulate economic growth and deepen the two nations' scientific cooperation in Antarctica.
"Scientists from both our countries will work together to explore Antarctica's terrain, study the effects of climate change, and cooperate on a range of issues to better understand and protect our shared environment," she said.
The Obama administration had previously indicated its desire to lift the Jackson-Vanik amendment as part of its "reset" of U.S. relations with Moscow.
And in an editorial in The Wall Street Journal in June, Clinton argued that leaving the amendment in place could hurt U.S. interests.
Ending Jackson-Vanik is not "a gift to Russia," Clinton wrote. "It is a smart, strategic investment in one of the fastest growing markets for U.S. goods and services."
Clinton's visit to Russia is the last stop on a week-and-a-half-long trip to the Asia Pacific region.
She became the first U.S. secretary of state Thursday to visit East Timor since the developing Southeast Asian nation gained full independence from Indonesia 10 years ago, meeting with President Taur Matan Ruak and Prime Minister Kay Rala Xanana Gusmao. She also stopped by Brunei.