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Russia suspected of blocking Biden’s bid to host Asian summit

Neither Ardern nor the White House identified which APEC member was blocking the U.S. bid to host the meeting, but two former U.S. officials said indications point to Russia as the likely suspect.

“The word on the street is that Russia is blocking consensus unless the U.S. lifts restrictions on travel to the U.S. on sanctioned Russians,” said one former official, who asked not to be identified.

A spokesperson at the Russian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The United States has extensive sanctions on Russia, stemming from Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014, the attempted assassination of Russian opposition figure Aleksey Navalny, human rights abuses and other concerns. Those include restrictions on travel.

“APEC hosting requires the consensus of all 21 economies, and we thank members for their strong support so far,” a White House spokesperson said, adding that one economy has “not yet joined consensus.”

“We hope this impasse is resolved quickly to ensure we can continue the positive momentum on economic cooperation through APEC,” the spokesperson added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin did not raise the issue during his remarks at the summit, according to a transcript released by the Kremlin. But he did conclude by wishing next year’s APEC host, Thailand, success. “You can certainly rely on our support and assistance,” he said.

Failure to agree on Biden’s offer to host risks jeopardizing U.S. support for the organization, which brings the United States, China and 19 other economies in the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region to discuss trade and other concerns. U.S. and Russian officials are expected to meet next week to try to find a way forward.

The setback also comes as both U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo are set to make their first trips to Asia next week. Tai is visiting Japan, South Korea and India, while Raimondo is headed to Japan, Singapore and Malaysia.

In addition, former President Donald Trump’s decision in early 2017 to pull of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and Biden’s current focus on his domestic agenda have created uncertainty in Asia about how much the U.S. plans to engage economically in the region.

Unlike Chinese President Xi Jinping, Biden passed up an opportunity this week to give a speech at an accompanying business APEC event to publicly outline his vision for the future.

During the virtual APEC leaders meeting, Biden “discussed ways to unleash the economic power of the region and to deepen U.S. economic engagement throughout the Indo-Pacific,” the White House said in a statement.

He also articulated how APEC members can work together to “develop digital economy standards that will position all of our economies for the future,” the White House continued. But he stopped short of announcing plans to begin talks on a digital trade agreement in the region, as some business leaders have advocated.

At her closing press conference, Ardern said APEC countries had achieved significant results in a number of areas, including approving a long-term plan of action to promote free trade and investment, as well as increased innovation and more sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

She also touted a new agreement among APEC members not to increase their fuel subsidies and to study how to further liberalize trade in goods and services that can help fight climate change and other environmental problems.

APEC economies have also taken steps to help the global economy recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, including actions to get “vaccines moving across borders more quickly,” Ardern said.

Nahal Toosi, Phelim Kine and David Herszenhorn contributed to this report.

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