Romney backs Russia trade bill only with human rights added
* Business groups hope for vote soon on Russia trade bill
* Still no date for action in U.S. House, Senate
* Russian president criticizes Romney as "mistaken"
By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON, Sept 6 (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would support legislation to upgrade U.S. trade relations with Russia only if Congress also passes a measure to go after Russian human right violators, his campaign said on Thursday.
"Gov. Romney believes that permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) should only be granted to Russia on the condition that the Magnitsky human rights bill be passed," Lanhee Chen, policy director for the Romney campaign, said in a statement.
Chen was referring to legislation being considered in Congress that would require the U.S. government to impose sanctions on people believed responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky, an anti-corruption lawyer who died in a Russian prison, and other human rights violators.
Chen also accused the Obama administration of trying to "scuttle" the bill. U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told lawmakers in June the administration would prefer a "clean" PNTR bill without the Magnitsky legislation attached.
Romney, who faces President Barack Obama in the Nov. 6 election, has taken a tough line on Russia, which he has called the "No. 1 geopolitical foe" of the United States.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in an interview aired on Thursday, took aim at Romney, calling his criticism of Russia "mistaken" campaign rhetoric and suggesting a Romney presidency would widen the rift over the anti-missile shield the United States is deploying in Europe.
Putin also condemned U.S. and British efforts to bar Russians linked to Magnitsky's death. He said Russia would respond in kind if the United States adopts a law requiring the government to deny visas and freeze assets to Russians linked to Magnitsky's death.
Chen's remarks came ahead of a scheduled rally by a U.S. business group later on Thursday to urge Congress to pass PNTR in the relatively few days legislative days left on the calendar before lawmakers return home to campaign for re-election.
House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Republican, said last month the House would take up the PNTR bill after it returned next week from a month-long break, and that the Magnitsky bill would be attached to the measure.
House Republicans want to pass the combined legislation on the so-called "suspension" calendar, meaning it could not be amended and would require the support of two-thirds of the House instead of a simple majority.
While business leaders have said they expect the House to vote on Sept. 12, Republican aides said on Thursday that no date has been set yet and they are waiting to see if Democrats can round up their share of the votes needed to win approval.
There is also no word on whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, will schedule a vote on the legislation. Both the House and Senate must pass the legislation in order for Obama to sign it into law.
Congress is under pressure to approve PNTR because of Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization last month.
To do that, it must lift a 1974 provision known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment that tied normal tariff treatment for goods from the former Soviet Union to the rights of Jews to emigrate.
Russia has been deemed in compliance for nearly two decades. But the provision remains on the books, at odds with WTO rules requiring members to provide normal trade relations to one another on an unconditional basis.
U.S. business groups have expressed concern that they would lose sales in Russia to competitors from Europe and Asia if PNTR is not approved.
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this