U.S. House Speaker John Boehner on Tuesday pressed the Obama administration to tie Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) with the resolution of its border dispute with Georgia.
"The administration should resolve this stalemate in a manner that respects the territorial integrity of Georgia," the top U.S. lawmaker told an audience at The Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington.
"Then -- and only then -- will movement on the WTO question be worth considering," he said.
Russia seeks WTO membership by year's end, but its negotiations with Georgia have turned out to be a stumbling block. Georgia conditions its agreement on Russia's consent to such conditions as transparency of trade across borders to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two regions that pronounced independence after the August 2008 armed conflict between Georgia and Russia.
Georgia claims sovereignty and territorial integrity over the two regions.
In 2009, the Obama administration announced a reset of relations with Russia. Since then, the reset has become a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy, and has been embodied in the negotiation and ratification of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 2010.
"I think it's only appropriate to ask whether the Obama administration will now reconsider its policy towards Russia," Boehner said. "Let me be clear: I'm not here to argue for open conflict, or against productive engagement."
He added: "The United States should insist Russia 'reset' its own policies. If those appeals require teeth, the House stands ready to provide them."
Russia is the largest economy outside the WTO, and the Obama administration has voiced support for the country's bid to join the world trade governing body, saying accession will enable Russia to deepen its trade relations with the United States and the world, and give American companies greater and more predictable access to Russia's growing markets, expanding both U.S. exports and employment.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said in March that once Russia does what is required to join the WTO, the Obama administration will work with the Congress to terminate the application to Russia of the Jackson-Vanik amendment -- a Cold War-era law that ties trade relations with Russia to Jewish emigration and denies Russia unconditional most-favored-nation trade status.
Russia began its accession talks as early as 1993, and needs to negotiate agreements with individual WTO member states.