MOSCOW (AP) _ After cheering the success of one of their early projects _ a space linkup _ Al Gore and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin opened a new round of wide-ranging talks Thursday.

However, the meeting of the Gore-Chernomyrdin commission convened against a background of political turmoil in Russia.

Chernomyrdin and the American vice president applauded, laughed and shook hands after watching a big-screen broadcast of the docking of the Atlantis space shuttle at Russia's Mir space station. Gore called the linkup ``a great metaphor'' for the commission's work.

``It was very satisfying to work so hard on this at our first meeting and to now watch this milestone be set,'' Gore said after the docking.

The commission, founded in 1993, has been one of the steadiest links in U.S.-Russian relations. In five rounds of talks, high-level delegations have tried to hammer out agreements on economics, the environment, nuclear issues, space and other topics.

Topping the agenda now are disagreements over Russia's proposed sale of two light-water nuclear reactors to Iran, and a 3-year-old, $12 billion uranium deal.

Chernomyrdin said Thursday that Russians hoped to increase trade and investment, especially by opening U.S. markets to Russian products. Gore cited defense conversion and health-care exchanges among the commission's successes.

Among agreements to be signed Friday is a long-awaited deal to drill for oil and gas off Russia's Sakhalin Island, officials said. The deal, known as Sakhalin-1, has been in negotiations on and off since the 1970s.

Gore also met Thursday with American businessmen, who told him that corruption and legal confusion over taxes and intellectual property rights were among the biggest impediments faced by U.S. investors in Russia.

Chernomyrdin delayed opening the session by several hours Thursday so he could attend a meeting of President Boris Yeltsin's Security Council, where Defense Minister Pavel Grachev and the heads of Russia's internal security ministries offered to resign.

Yeltsin has not decided whether to accept the resignations, demanded by parliament after a hostage crisis earlier this month. Lawmakers are to hold a key confidence vote in his government Saturday.

Grachev canceled a meeting Wednesday with Secretary of Defense William J. Perry. Gore was to meet Yeltsin on Friday.

Chernomyrdin thanked the vice president for coming ``during this complicated time for Russia's government'' and expressed hope that the successful work of their panel would boost domestic support for Yeltsin's government.