BERLIN, Germany — On the sideline of a four-day meeting of more than 300 lawmakers from 57 countries, Rep. Chris Smith led a meeting today, July 7 with lawmakers from the Russian parliament to discuss what Smith called “highly contested human rights issues.”

The Americans “reached out and sought dialogue” with the Russians in the “hope of changing, or at least beginning to mitigate a totally unacceptable status quo,” said Smith (R-4th District), who heads the 13-member U.S. delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and co-chairs the U.S. Helsinki Commission.

Pyotr Tolstoy, head of the Russian delegation, stated that the “Russian Federation is open to dialogue that is open and candid, just like in the 1980/90s” and highlighted the fact that a direct communication channel is needed between the two legislative bodies. Smith agreed and recalled past meetings he attended in Moscow including during the time of perestroika before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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The Smith-led bilateral meeting comes eight days before President Donald Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, and some of the issues discussed today are likely to be on the table at the summit.

The lawmakers agreed on the importance of the presidential meeting, and that the many problems and differences between the two countries cannot be solved solely by presidents in one meeting but that it is the beginning of all important dialogue between the two super powers.

A number of issues were discussed at the bilateral meeting, including Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, election interference, fake news, visas, adoption, trafficking, cyberattacks, terrorism, social media, and the shooting death of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

Smith said he pressed the Russians “for peace in Syria, unfettered safe access for humanitarian aid workers and accountability — prosecution of those who have committed war crimes.”

On Ukraine, Smith said the “unlawful annexation of Crimea coupled with Russian military expansion into other parts of Ukraine had led to enormous suffering and death. A durable cease-fire — agreed in the Minsk Agreement — and deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping mission to the region will save lives.”

As the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s special representative for trafficking issues, Smith raised the issue of sex trafficking in Russia, which received a Tier 3 rating the lowest grade — in the latest U.S. annual Trafficking in Persons Report. He commented that “Russian women are suffering across the globe, including in the U.S.,” and that the U.S. Congress “wants to work with you in a transparent way to help Russian women.”

Smith, whose district includes Belmar and Lake Como, authored the first resolution on combating human trafficking passed by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1999 and in 2000 wrote America’s landmark law, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

The successful meeting concluded with the two leaders of the delegations agreeing on the importance of dialogue. Smith stated “This was a fruitful conversation and dialogue” and Tolstoy concurred, “We're convinced that democracy is dialogue and trust is the result of this dialogue despite the fake news and clichés, let’s keep moving forward.”

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