Biden meets U.S., Russia business leaders in Moscow

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 3:09 PM

By Steve Gutterman

MOSCOW (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met business leaders in Russia on Wednesday on a visit aimed at keeping warm its links with Moscow and boosting commercial ties.

After two years of a warming relationship, crowned by the New START nuclear arms pact's entry into force last month, elections approach in both countries and, analysts say, opportunities for further milestones will diminish.

Biden's visit will also include what U.S. officials have described as "serious discussions" about the unrest in Libya and the Arab world as well as talks on Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization and cooperation on missile defense.

As the United States and NATO weigh potential military options against Libya, including a no-fly zone, Russia has warned it opposes military intervention.

A permanent U.N. Security Council member, Russia would be able to veto any proposal taken to the council, and can use that clout to influence Western policy as it has done with Iran.

Biden highlighted the push for closer commercial ties by meeting U.S. and Russian business leaders before talks with President Dmitry Medvedev.

Russian-U.S. trade totaled $23.5 billion in 2010, just 3.8 percent of Russia's total external trade.

The business gathering will be at Skolkovo, a site outside Moscow where the Kremlin plans a high-tech hub using tax breaks and other incentives to lure investment and nurture innovation.

The Skolkovo project is key to Medvedev's uphill battle to modernize Russia's energy-reliant economy.

Biden was expected to preside over the signing of a deal between U.S. planemaker Boeing Co and Russia's Aeroflot.

He was due to meet Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Thursday as well as opposition leaders and activists, sending a message that the United States is not ignoring critics who accuse Russia's leaders of curtailing democracy and human rights.

(Writing by Steve Gutterman and Alissa de Carbonnel)