The Cold War is over, yet remnants of the military and political tensions of that time remain, the Russian ambassador to the United States said Thursday.
“I hope we can call each other friendly countries, partners in many areas, but we are still locked in mutually assured destruction,” Sergey Kislyak said during a forum at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Kislyak and former U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska discussed the state of U.S.-Russia relations in front of about 100 students from the University of Nebraska's Omaha, Lincoln and Kearney campuses and Creighton University. The two also spoke at a community forum Thursday evening.
The United States and Russia are working together to address the situation in Afghanistan, the Iranian nuclear situation and disputes in the Middle East, and are trying to strengthen economic ties, Kislyak said.
Russian companies, he said, run steel mills and manufacture pipe for the oil industry here, and American automaker Ford has the most popular car in Russia with the Ford Focus. Yet trade between the two countries is limited.
Part of what's impeding the trade, Hagel said, is what's known as the Jackson-Vanik Amendment .
The measure was passed by Congress in 1974 to restrict trade with the then-Soviet Union in an effort to pressure it to let Jews leave the country. The matter has been a nonissue for many years, Hagel said, yet the law remains on the books.
“The amendment is a dangerous undermining of a relationship that should be very much based on trade, as the ambassador noted,” Hagel said.
Congress needs to revoke it, he said, but in an election year, such action is unlikely.
“The potential of trade with Russia is almost unlimited,” Hagel said. “Trade is always an enhancement of growth and prosperity. ... It's a shame and, I think, a real setback for our relationship to promote that trade further, that we have not taken the course of action on Jackson-Vanik that we need to take.”
Kislyak said the biggest threat to Russia's security is terrorism, mostly from “radical religious elements.”
He said the United States and Russia are cooperating to fight terrorism, but people don't hear about the successes they have had. The flow of narcotics into Russia from Afghanistan is a major concern, he said, as is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terrorists' access to such weapons.
Hagel and Kislyak also discussed the possibility of an Israeli airstrike on an Iranian nuclear facility. Israel has not ruled out such a move if economic sanctions don't keep Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
Kislyak said any military attempt to resolve the matter “will be irresponsible and counterproductive.” Iran, he said, has no nuclear weapon capability. The infrastructure there, he said, is similar to what's in place in such countries as Japan.
The concerns about a weapons program, he said, are based on Iran's history rather than evidence of a military nuclear program.
Hagel, who is co-chairman of President Obama's Intelligence Advisory Board, said the Russians and Americans were cooperating to gather and share intelligence about Iran's efforts.
“Our country has gotten in a lot of trouble based on bad intelligence,” the former Republican senator said. “If there's anything we've learned — again, the hard way — over the last 11 or 12 years in the United States is that we better have some facts before we rush off and start something that we can't finish, or will be quite uncertain as to the finish.”
Kislyak also visited UNO in October, when he took part in a panel discussion with three former U.S. ambassadors to Russia and John Beyrle, the U.S. ambassador to Russia until January of this year.
Friday, Kislyak was to address the Kiwanis Club of Omaha and a group associated with the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.
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