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Senators push Russia trade restriction replacement

Friday - 3/16/2012, 7:57pm  ET

By DESMOND BUTLER
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - Four senators say they will back an Obama administration push to repeal restrictions on trade with Russia, but only if the restrictions are replaced by legislation sanctioning Russian officials for human rights violations.

The lawmakers from both major parties outlined their position on abolishing the 1974 Jackson-Vanik law in a letter Friday.

The Obama administration is seeking the repeal urgently so that U.S. companies will not lose out after Russia joins the World Trade Organization this year. It has opposed linking repeal to legislation targeting Russian officials.

But the support of senators from both parties would boost prospects for the Senate to repeal the law.

The letter was signed by Sens. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., John McCain, R-Ariz., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss. The inclusion of McCain, a strident critic of Russia's record on human rights and the rule of law, signals an opening for the administration, if it is willing to accept the sanctions legislation.

Cardin is the author of the sanctions bill, called the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act. McCain also is a sponsor. It would subject Russian officials to travel bans and bar them from financial transactions in the United States.

Jackson-Vanik denies normal trading relations with communist countries that restrict emigration or punish those trying to leave the country. The amendment was introduced to pressure the Soviet Union to allow Jews to emigrate.

The United States has waived its application since 1994 and proponents of repeal argue that keeping it would only punish U.S. companies that want to operate in Russia. But others argue that the U.S. should maintain a linkage between trade with Russia and human rights issues.

Passage of the Magnitsky bill would open a new irritant in U.S. relations with Russia, a point acknowledged by the four senators.

"While some in the Russian government may be upset if the United States adopts the Magnitsky bill, we believe most Russians will be happy to see us deny the most abusive and corrupt individuals in their country the ability to travel and move their ill-gotten wealth overseas," the senators wrote.

The letter was written to Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who chairs the finance committee and is shepherding the bill through the committee.

The Magnitsky bill is named for Sergey Magnitsky, who died of an untreated illness in late 2009 after spending almost a year in a Russian jail. Investors working in Russia have said the lawyer's death and allegations of torture highlight corruption in the judicial system.

The prospects for repeal of Jackson-Vanik in the Senate or the House of Representatives remain unclear, either alone or in combination with the Magnitsky bill.

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Follow Butler at http://twitter.com/desmondbutler


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)