MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia is closer than ever to its long-running goal of joining the World Trade Organisation (WTO), after more than 17 years of talks, a senior U.S. official said in an interview published on Monday.
Russia applied to join the WTO's predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade or GATT, in June 1993 but remains the biggest economy outside the trade body and has previously accused the United States of holding up its bid.
"I think that Russia is closer than ever before to entry into the WTO," William Burns, U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, said in an interview with the Interfax news agency that was published in full on Monday.
President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, agreed at a summit in Washington this June to resolve all issues blocking Russia's WTO bid by the end of September.
But the comment from Burns, the State Department's third-ranking official and its top career diplomat, is the strongest signal yet that Russia and the United States are close to a deal.
"Russia has made good progress," Burns said. The interview was published in Russian and the U.S. embassy could not immediately provide an English transcript.
Obama has sought to "reset" ties with Russia to get Moscow's help on U.S. foreign policy priorities such as dealing with Iran over its nuclear programme and the war in Afghanistan.
U.S. diplomats say privately that helping Russia's WTO is currently the main focus of the so called reset in relations, though some officials say the ambitious timetable set by Obama and Medvedev may not be achieved by the end of September.
Diplomats hope there can be a deal within months, paving the way for Russia to join the 153-member Geneva-based trade body.
Russian officials say talks on WTO are continuing but that they are still waiting for the United States to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment, a Cold War-era provision that tied U.S. trade relations to emigration rights for religious minorities.
Russia's powerful prime minister, Vladimir Putin, said in December that Jackson-Vanik was an anachronism which should be scrapped.
Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin, writing Guy Faulconbridge, editing by Ralph Boulton