Adoptions, Copyrights His Focus: Coble: Russia Trip Enlightening
Congressman Howard Coble found a strikingly Westernized Russia on his official visit to the nation's former adversary.
Coble, a Greensboro Republican who represents Moore County, was the only member of the delegation not on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, chaired by Congressman Howard Berman, a California Democrat.
Coble was one of two Republicans in the seven-member delegation.
"It was a worthwhile trip," Coble said in a telephone interview from his Washington office. "We were received favorably. I came away with the sense that it was not a wasted trip."
Coble was assigned two areas of concern: piracy of intellectual properties and humanitarian issues, in particular international adoptions.
As a longtime member and former chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts and Intellectual Property, Coble was in a prime position to take on the issue of illegal Internet piracy and copyright violations. Coble said that Russians have been one of the primary violators of such laws.
"I was assured by some members of the Duma (the Russian parliament) that the appropriate statutes have been strengthened and that the prosecutorial officials will more aggressively pursue violators," Coble said. "Unfortunately, the bad news is that they're doing it at their own pace, according to the American ambassador."
Nevertheless, Coble said he is confident that the congressional delegation's efforts will result in diminished piracy of intellectual property.
If anything, the subject of adoptions turned out to be an even stickier matter.
In the past 10 years, about 45,000 Russian children have been adopted by American parents. Of that total, about 15 children have died because of apparent parental negligence, and this has become a sensitive issue with Russians.
Coble said that some members of the Duma are in favor of discontinuing the practice of allowing Americans to adopt orphans from Russia.
He said he encouraged them not to take such a drastic step and pointed out that the 15 deaths represent a relatively small percentage of the total number of adoptions.
"There are thousands of orphans there crying for permanent homes in the United States or anywhere," Coble said. "I urged them not to shut that bridge down because we have many couples anxious to provide permanent and loving homes in the United States. This is a very vital connection between our countries."
The discussion on adoptions was carried out with the Duma's Committee for Families, Women and Children.
Although his assigned focus was on adoptions and piracy of intellectual property, Coble took time to promote trade with the United States and any number of humanitarian issues.
Coble said that Russia appears to be largely in agreement with the United States on the missile problem with North Korea and increasingly on a similar issue in Iran.
"It appears clear that Russia is aligning itself with us on the Iranian situation," he said. "Russia doesn't want Iran to have its hands on nuclear weapons any more than we do."
The delegation's visit was scheduled about a week before President Obama traveled to Russia, where he conferred with both President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Coble was hopeful that Obama was able to make inroads on the issues of disarmament as well as the problems with Iran and North Korea.
Coble said that he made a vigorous pitch for trade with the United States and especially with North Carolina. He told the Russian officials that he hails from a district once known as the furniture/textile capital of the nation.
Observing that Russians appear to enjoy smoking, he advised them that North Carolina is a tobacco-producing state.
In addition to meeting with members of the Duma, Coble and the other delegation members had a lengthy audience with one of the highest-ranking officials in Russia. His equivalent in the United States is Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"We had a good chat with him, about an hour," Coble said.
During their four days in Russia, the seven members of Congress also met with American Ambassador John Beyrle and were treated to a special tour of the Kremlin. They also visited Red Square and Lenin's tomb.
Coble said he was surprised to find large crowds gathered in Moscow to mourn the death of American pop star Michael Jackson, whose unexpected death occurred while they were in Russia.
His one regret was the lack of time to visit St. Petersburg, a city that Coble said has been described as "stunningly beautiful." But the purpose of their visit was official diplomatic business on behalf of the United States, not sightseeing.
Their meals were largely American style but were very good, he said. Coble observed the influence of Western culture in the number of modern restaurants and hotels and general atmosphere everywhere he went.
One rumor he learned is true.
"They won't let a vodka glass stay empty. It's no exaggeration," he said and, under prodding, added that he was able to stay on his feet despite that tradition.
The delegation returned to the States on July 1. Because the Russian government charges U.S. military aircraft air navigation fees that this country regards as discriminatory, the group traveled by commercial airlines.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at 693-2479 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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