Obama asked to bring up journalist slayings with Medvedev

Two press-freedom organizations sent President Obama off to Russia with letters asking that he address the troubling murders of journalists with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Reporters Without Borders sent a letter, dated last week, to both Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, noting that Russia is 141st out of 173 countries ranked on the group's press-freedom index and stressing that attacks on journalists and harassment against the free media have increased in the past year.

"We understand that relations between the United States and Russia are not limited to the issues of human rights and the rule of law. But it would be wrong to ignore them," the letter states. "Russia is an inescapable presence on the international stage and if it wants to be seen as a reliable partner and factor for stability, it must pledge to do more to respect human rights and freedoms."

Citing the deaths of at least 20 journalists killed in connection with their work since Vladimir Putin became president in 2000, the press-freedom group noted that the fifth anniversary of the murder of Forbes editor and U.S. citizen Paul Khlebnikov is on July 9.

Khlebnikov, who had penned a list of Russia's 100 wealthiest people shortly before his death, was shot four times on a Moscow street. There have been no convictions in the slaying.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which places the number of journalists slain in connection with their work at 17 since 2000, also asked Obama in a letter dated June 25 to remind Medvedev "of the commitment he made upon taking office on May 7, 2008 — to ensure that the lives and safety of all citizens are protected, to fight corruption, and to strengthen the rule of law."

"We ask you to engage President Medvedev in a dialogue and urge that his government demonstrate its commitment to reversing this very troubling record of impunity in attacks on the press," the CPJ letter states.

In a joint press conference after meeting Monday, Obama and Medvedev said they talked about foreign policy challenges, terrorism, arms, nuclear security and repairing the "sense of drift," according to Obama, in the U.S.-Russia relationship.

Obama announced the creation of a "U.S.-Russian bilateral presidential commission" to foster cooperation with working groups on "development and the economy, energy and the environment, nuclear energy and security, arms control and international security, defense, foreign policy and counterterrorism, preventing and handling emergencies, civil society, science and technology, space, health, education and culture."