As chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, it is my extraordinary pleasure to welcome our counterparts from the foreign affairs committee of the Russian Duma. I am delighted to have our colleagues here. This is a historic event because although we have been meeting on a regular basis with our friends from the Duma foreign affairs committee, this is the first time our meeting is an open meeting, and we very much hope that we are establishing a historic tradition and our next meeting in Moscow will similarly be open to the public and to the media.
The timing could not be more appropriate: President Bush and President Putin holding a historic meeting on July 1st in Kennebunkport, Maine, and this of course will be the most recent of their many meetings going back a good number of years. We are anxious to have this meeting be a preparatory event, hopefully underscoring the enormous arena of common goals and common objectives our friends in the Russian Federation and we in the United States share. The meeting will be characterized by feelings of friendship and openness, candor and cordiality, and it will set the tone for the encounter between Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin.
I am personally delighted to welcome both my distinguished colleague, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Duma, my friend Konstantin Kosachev and all of his colleagues, and in a minute I will ask him to introduce members of the Russian delegation.
As my Russian friends know, I have a long history with Russia. Had it not been for the heroism of the Russian military in their historic struggle to defeat Nazi Germany, I would not be here. So in a very profound sense, I owe my life to the heroism of the Russian military at the moment when they liberated my native city of Budapest.
I have a long history of admiration for Russian culture, civilization, music, ballet, literature – it is one of the great civilizations on the face of this planet, and I very much hope that the 21st Century will reap us an increasingly warm and cooperative relationship between our Russian friends and ourselves.
Having respect for Russian culture and civilization has never prevented me from expressing my views candidly concerning Russian behavior where I thought it was warranted. But I am delighted to say that while we have our disagreements, and disagreements obviously will be apparent during the course of today’s public session, we have come a long ways. We have come a long ways in a positive direction.
Twenty years ago, Moscow and Washington were capitals of two competing superpowers in every arena. Fortunately, our competition never degenerated into military conflict. But we looked upon each other as competitors, whether those were the Olympics – where if we got 82 medals, the Russians wanted to get 83, or the other way around, Konstantin. And when we attempted to get the support of some countries, the Russians eagerly participated in that competition.
The zero-sum game is over. Russia and the United States overwhelmingly have common goals and common objectives, as two great civilizations fighting global terrorism and attempting to create a prosperous, peaceful, forward-looking civilization.
We had enormous expectations when President Yeltsin came to power. For the first time in Russia’s 1000-year-old history, a Russian president was elected democratically. And while he clearly had shortcomings as we all do, his commitment to a free and open and democratic society was unquestioned. The grip of communism was dissipated and our high hopes really had no bounds. Since Mr. Yeltsin’s departure as president of Russia, we have had a number of very severe problems in our relations with Russia. No one would argue that we have seen a return to the Cold War, and we hope to God we never shall. But the fact that we have had some disagreements along many lines will be obvious during the course of this morning.
While the United States will reserve its right to speak out against disturbing developments from our point of view, we must never forget the big picture: the Post Cold-War era puts us on a path toward common aims in the interest of peace. The signposts along this path tell us that our interests, in fact, are aligned on many international issues.
For instance, just this morning our chief negotiator with respect to North Korea’s nuclear program, Chris Hill, is in Pyongyang bringing, hopefully, to a close the period during which disputes of a financial nature have prevented us and our colleagues, including Russia from moving ahead in building a denuclearized Korean peninsula. And we are grateful and appreciative of our Russian friends’ help in dealing with North Korea. And the Six-Party Talks between Russia, the United States, China, Japan, South and North Korea are pointing in a positive direction, and I want to publicly acknowledge the contributions of our Russian friends to bringing about what so far is a very positive and hopeful outlook.
Similarly, we both have a profound interest in halting Iran’s headlong rush towards acquiring nuclear weapons. Russia and the United States must cooperate to put the vice grips on the Ahmadinejad regime. And hopefully we are united in this singularly important global endeavor to have a regime which threatens other member-nations of the United Nations with extinction, and that the United States and Russia will present a united front.
I will suspend my opening remarks to welcome with extraordinary pleasure our distinguished Speaker, who is not only the first lady to occupy the position of Speaker in the history of the United States, the first Californian, but also probably the first whose overwhelming interest all her adult life has been foreign affairs, and bringing peace to a troubled world. We are honored and delighted to have the distinguished Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, formally open the first open session of the meeting of the foreign affairs committee of the Duma of the Russian Federation and the House Foreign Affairs Committee of the United States Congress. Madame Speaker, we are honored and delighted to have you.
Before our Speaker honored us with our presence, I indicated the importance of Russian-American cooperation on halting Iran’s headlong rush toward acquiring nuclear arms. Russia and the United States must cooperate in preventing the Ahmadinejad regime from achieving its nuclear ambitions.
We may not see it now amid occasional barbs, but there are many complicated issues that seem to split us apart and could, in fact, put us on the same path. I believe we can come to consensus on hot-button issues such as missile defense, independence for Kosova, and energy policy, and it’s very import that neither side would allow its rhetoric to reach a fever pitch which would make cooperation all the more difficult.
Both countries’ interests on the key issues we face globally can be incorporated into future agreements. That is the reason we sit here today: to have rational, reasoned, realistic and collegial discussion about all of the issues our relationship encompasses.
Our discussion has an additional historical significance because, after 200 years of Russian-U.S. relations, we are holding our first, unprecedented open forum among our two foreign affairs committees of the respective parliaments – the first of what I hope will be an endless number of similar meetings in the future.
This public session is a far cry from the days when American policymakers and intelligence experts and Russian policymakers and intelligence experts sat separately in smoke-filled backrooms in their respective countries, plotting against one another. We now share one international stage, and one broad path to a more civilized and peaceful future.
Fifteen years after the Cold War ended, our relationship has reached a point where the path could lead us to a promising future or back to a disturbing past. Indeed, before our two nations stretch two very different roads: one is reminiscent of the unlamented past, and it is flanked by mistrust and conflict.
The other road entails real reform – a hopeful cooperation looking to our joint future. I am convinced that just as the American Congress, the Russian Duma will want to take this hopeful and positive road so we can achieve our joint goals of containing Iran, de-nuclearizing the Korean peninsula, working on global energy security. This second road is so clearly preferable road, it is a smoother road for us, for our Russian friends and for the entire world, and I have no doubt that is the road both the Russian Federation and the United States will take.
It gives me a great deal of pleasure to recognized in the audience many of the distinguished representatives of the diplomatic corps – we are delighted at your attendance. And it is my great pleasure to turn the microphone over to my friend, the distinguished chairman of the Duma’s foreign affairs committee, Konstantin Kosachev.