By Doug Palmer
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Trade Representative Ron Kirk on Monday told a top Russian official he was confident that Russia would be able resolve remaining issues in order to join the World Trade Organization this year.
"We had a very productive conversation about Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization. Russia has made great progress on its accession bid," Kirk said in a statement.
His office provided further details of the meeting with First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, who is lead negotiator on Russia's bid to join the WTO.
"I look forward to continuing to work with Minister Shuvalov and others in Russia as the process moves toward its successful conclusion," Kirk added.
The final talks have focused on issues ranging from Russia's meat import quotas to U.S. and European concerns about rules government investment in Russia's auto sector.
"Ambassador Kirk expressed confidence that remaining issues, including satisfactory resolution of bilateral discussions between Russia and Georgia, would be addressed constructively and in a manner enabling Russia to meet its objective of concluding the WTO negotiations by the end of the year," Kirk's office said.
Political concerns raised by Georgia, which fought a brief war with Russia in August 2008, have been a major stumbling block to a final deal.
Last month, Georgia's ambassador in Geneva wrote other WTO members to inform them there had been no breakthrough in talks between the two countries on the issue of border controls.
Since the WTO makes decisions by consensus, Georgia has an effective veto over Russia's membership bid. It has blocked "formal" meetings of the WTO working party, requiring talks to proceeded on an informal basis.
Russia's entry into the WTO would require the U.S. Congress to vote to establish "permanent normal trade relations" with Russia by removing a Cold War-era human rights provision known as the Jackson-Vanik amendment that is inconsistent with WTO rules.
Failure to approve the change could put U.S. exporters at a disadvantage to other members of the WTO as Russia opens its market to more foreign trade. It must be approved by the Senate and the House of Representatives.
A senior administration official, speaking on condition that he not be identified, said the White House was focused first on winning approval of three free trade deals with South Korea, Colombia and Panama before turning its attention to congressional consideration of Russian trade.
Shuvalov's office in Moscow said he also met with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, other senior White House officials, and two key Republican lawmakers -- House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp and House Foreign Affair Committee Chairman Illeana Ros-Lehtinen.
Camp and Ros-Lehtinen will be important voices during the congressional debate on permanent normal trade relations.
(Additional reporting by Gleb Bryanski in Moscow; Editing by Eric Walsh and Sandra Maler)