By Molly K. Hooper - 07/04/09 11:14 AM EDT
After meeting with officials in Moscow over recess, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), a self-described “ultimate cold warrior,” believes that the former U.S. enemies –- lawmakers and citizens -- want to hear Obama “make amends” when he gives a major speech in Russia next week.
“That will go a long way towards opening up the door for policy compromises that could help cement a new relationship,” said Rohrabacher, a former speech-writer for then-President Ronald Reagan.
Obama is set to leave on Sunday for the former Soviet Union with the intention of “resetting” relations between the two countries, according to White House officials.
The president’s visit comes on the heels of Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Howard Berman’s (D-Calif.) codel to Russia; in addition to Rohrabacher, Reps. William Delahunt (D-Mass.), David Scott (D-Ga.), Brad Miller (D-N.C.), Howard Coble (R-N.C.) and Albio Sires (D-N.J.) made the trip.
The bipartisan group spent two days in extensive discussion sessions with their counterparts in the Russian Duma – the legislative arm of Russia’s government. They also met with U.S. Ambassador John Beyrle, Rohrabacher said.
Members were anxious to discuss the situation in Iran following the weeks-long rioting over disputed election results but Rohrabacher said that they “touched on” the issue but did “not get into what the Russian position would be on that.”
Russia and Iran have close ties. Russia has spent 14 years building a nuclear reactor for Iran despite U.S. concerns that doing so could help the Iranians further their weaponized nuclear ambitions. The plant has yet to open, and has been delayed on numerous occasions.
“We did express the importance that Russia not think that a nuclear powered Iran was not going to be a threat to them,” he said. “A regime run by a mullah maniac was going to be at least as great a threat to Russia as it is to the United States and other countries.”
Iran is at the top of Obama’s list of issues to discuss with leaders and members of the business community when he is in Russia.
And it is a long list.
Before leaving for recess, Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.), vice-chariman of the foreign affairs’ panel on terrorism, nonproliferation and trade, exhausted himself while ticking off the items that House members were to address with their Russian counterparts.
Scott explained that the group was to talk about “disarmament, the nuclear nonproliferation issue, missile defense, Iran and North Korea.”
And President Obama is ready to address all of those issues when he discusses the “more substantive relationship” between the U.S. and Russia with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, President Dmitri A. Medvedev among others.
He will also spend time with Russian business leaders before delivering a major speech to reach out to Russian society, as he did in Cairo when he addressed the Muslim world.
White House aides explained that Obama wants to make clear that “the U.S. actually wants to do real business with the Russians on things that matter to our national security and our prosperity.”
And based on his conversations with the Russians last Sunday and Monday, Rohrabacher says that Obama can do it.