Russia, U.S. sign child adoptions deal, agree to ease visa rules by year-end

Russia and the United States signed an agreement on child adoptions and agreed to ease bilateral visa regulations by Christmas during Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to Washington.

Child adoption

The two countries began negotiating the agreement on child adoptions in April last year, following a stream of incidents involving the mistreatment of adopted Russian children in the United States, including several episodes of beating, molestation or rape.

The signed agreement states several important points, including psychological testing of the adoptive parents as well as obliging adoptive parents to work with only accredited adoption agencies, Lavrov said during a joint news conference with Clinton on Wednesday.

Clinton said the United States will take on the responsibility of making sure both of these conditions are followed.

“We take very seriously the safety and security of children that are adopted by American parents, and this agreement provides new important safeguards to protect them,” she said.

Russia, one of the largest sources of foreign adoptions for U.S. families, suspended the adoptions last year after a Tennessee woman sent her 7-year-old adoptive son back to Russia. He was put on a plane on his own with a note from the woman saying she did not want him as he was “psychotic.”

The latest official figures show that about 60,000 children born in Russia have been adopted by families in the United States since the adoptions started more than 15 years ago. As of January, 17 Russian children adopted by U.S. parents have died as a result of child abuse.

The new agreement stipulates that all adopted Russian children will maintain dual citizenship until they become legal adults, after which they may choose their citizenship.

The agreement must be ratified by Russian lawmakers; however, does not need to be ratified by the U.S. Congress.

Visa deal

A new visa regime between Russia and the United States will be signed by Christmas, Lavrov said during the news conference.

“In regard to the timeframe, [the signing of the agreement] will be this year for sure and much earlier than Christmas,” he said.

The Russian and U.S. presidents, Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama, announced plans to liberalize visa restrictions for businessmen and tourists traveling between the two countries in May. Under the new agreement, eligible business travelers and tourists would be issued visas valid for 36 months at a unified and reciprocal fee.

Clinton said the visa regulations being prepared would improve business cooperation between the countries.

“This is a big deal for those who are doing business, and we are laying the groundwork for even more trade and travel,” Clinton said.

Lavrov said the two countries still have to agree on some separate legal issues, adding that the introduction of new, eased visa regulations should also open the path to eliminating visas altogether between Russia and the United States.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin proposed scrapping visa restrictions between the two countries during a meeting with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in Moscow in March.

Plutonium disposal

During the talks, Lavrov and Clinton also exchanged diplomatic notes on the U.S. Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement, bringing into force a protocol on the disposal of no less than 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium on each side, which Clinton and Lavrov signed last year.

The amount of plutonium to be disposed of is enough to produce some 17,000 nuclear warheads. Disposition of the plutonium is scheduled to begin in 2018.

Russia and the United States signed an agreement on eliminating excess weapon-grade plutonium from defense programs in 2000.

In April 2010, Medvedev and Obama signed the New START treaty on cutting U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. The two countries, which possess about 90% of global arsenals of nuclear weapons, agreed to reduce the number of nuclear warheads to 1,550 on each side and the number of deployed and non-deployed delivery vehicles to 800 on each side.

European missile defense

Lavrov also discussed European missile defense plans during his talks with Clinton and Obama on Wednesday.

Obama expressed his readiness to continue dialogue with Russia on the issue and promised that the talks would be transparent, Lavrov said.

Russia and NATO agreed to cooperate on the so-called European missile defense system at the Lisbon summit in November 2010.

The issue has however become a major sticking point in relations between Russia and the alliance. Russia has retained staunch opposition to the planned deployment of U.S. missile defense systems near its borders, claiming they would be a security threat. NATO and the United States insist that the shield would defend NATO members against missiles from North Korea and Iran and would not be directed at Russia.

Clinton promised on Wednesday that Washington would take Russia’s interests into consideration while developing its European missile defense plans.

“I believe we do have an opportunity to address common challenges in a way that makes Russians, Europeans and Americans safer, and we are committed to working with both Russia and our NATO allies to do so,” she said.

Other issues

Clinton reiterated on Wednesday the United States’ strong support of Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization.

“Russia’s membership would allow us to increase trade and deepen our economic ties,” she said.

Medvedev said in late June that Russia, which has been negotiating its entry into the WTO for 17 years, may join the global trade club by the end of this year.

Russia and the United States also signed an agreement intended to increase cooperation between the countries in air traffic control and navigation.

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