U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday backed Russia's WTO bid, but suggested it will hinge on its human rights record.
During a meeting with human rights activists in Moscow on Thursday, Biden said democracy, fair elections and commitment to human rights were essential for Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization.
Svetlana Gannushkina, co-head of the country's largest rights group, Memorial, said Biden had reaffirmed Washington's support for a vibrant civil society in Russia.
"He said how important it is for any government to work with civil society and how civil society should have control over the ruling authorities," she said.
Biden indicated the U.S. Congress would not repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a piece of legislation from the Cold War era that imposed restrictions on trade with Russia, if the government failed to ensure free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections.
Biden said Washington had tried to talk Georgia out of blocking Russia's accession to the WTO, according to a Russian official.
Government deputy chief of staff Yury Ushakov said Biden was speaking during a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Georgia says it will not allow Russia to join the global free trade club unless it cedes control of customs in the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
"The Americans indeed spoke [to Tbilisi] saying it shouldn't hamper Russia's accession to the WTO," Ushakov told reporters.
He added however that Washington gave no guarantees.
Russia is the only major economy still outside the WTO. The European Union gave its formal backing to the country's entry bid in December after Russia agreed to trim timber export duties and rail freight tariffs.
Biden called Putin's proposal to introduce visa free travel between Russia and the United States "a good idea."
"If Russia and the United States agreed to introduce a visa-free regime before Russia makes an agreement on the matter with the European Union, it would be a historical step in the development of Russian-U.S. relations," Putin said.
The Russian authorities have long been trying to persuade Europe to drop visas for Russian citizens, but their attempts have so far yielded no significant results.
Ushakov said no practical measures to scrap visa requirements were discussed at the talks.
"Positive signals... should lead to practical steps. Then it would be easier for both countries to abandon stereotypes that have existed for long time," he said.
Trade was at the top of Biden's talks with Putin.
Biden said it was vital to deepen economic ties with Russia.
Russian-U.S. trade was worth $23.5 billion last year, accounting for just 3.8% of Russia's total foreign trade.
MOSCOW, March 10 (RIA Novosti)