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Obama urges Russia to wrap up WTO bid by year end

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Wednesday urged Russia to resolve issues blocking its entry into the World Trade Organization by the end of the year, the White House said.

Russia is the largest economy still outside of the WTO and could become the 154th member at the group's next ministerial meeting in December.

In a phone call with Russian President Dimitry Medvedev, "President Obama stressed the need for Russia to work with other WTO members to close out the last remaining issues and bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion by the end of the year," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

Medvedev called Obama to wish him a happy 50th birthday and the two leaders also noted the "significant progress" that Russia has made on its WTO accession bid since the two leaders talked a few weeks ago, Carney said.

Last week, WTO Director General Pascal Lamy told Reuters that he believed the end of Russia's 18-year-old bid to join the world trade body "is in sight."

But a big issue still to be resolved is foreign automaker objections to Russia's requirement that they commit to major Russia-based production if they want to take advantage of lower import tariffs for car parts.

Meanwhile, Obama faces a political challenge in Congress to win approval of "permanent normal trade relations" with Russia by removing it from the so-called Jackson-Vanik amendment, which tied normal trade relations with the former Soviet Union to the rights of Jews to emigrate freely.

If Congress does not lift the Cold War-era provision, Moscow could deny U.S. companies the tariff cuts and other concessions it made to join the WTO.

U.S. trade officials have said they want Congress to approve permanent normal trade relations for Russia before it becomes a WTO member. However, there has been no activity on that front yet.

(Reporting by Doug Palmer, David Morgan and Alister Bull; editing by Vicki Allen)

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