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Office of the Vice President

For Immediate Release October 19, 1995

                               Washington D.C.
                              October 19, 1995

Let me start by thanking the two groups who have provided me with this podium here today.

When most Americans hear the name George Kennan, they think about the architect of the policy of containment. But we of course know that the venerable Kennan Institute is in fact named for his cousin, the 19th century explorer and renowned American interpreter of Russian life. His writings in the 1880's painted a vivid portrait of the Siberian frontier. He wrote eloquently of Russia's geographic grandeur, and passionately about the Russian people's long and bitter struggle for political freedom.

However, initially, the elder Kennan's interest in Russia was not scholarly or political, but financial. As a twenty-year-old telegraphic engineer, he participated in one of the first great American business ventures in Russia. Launched in 1865, the Russian-American Telegraph Expedition was a remarkable adventure story. If the venture had not run out of money, it would have established telegraph service between the continental United States and Russia by running submarine cable across the Bering Strait. And if he were alive today, I am certain that George Kennan the elder would be a founding member of the U.S.-Russia Business Council.

The elder Kennan was also, at heart, a great American idealist. He was the leading American critic of the Russian governments of the time, both Czarist and Bolshevik -- and up until the time of his death in 1924, he remained convinced that the United States should support political reform in Russia in any way we could.

Today, the economic opportunities we face in Russia are far more promising than the ones Kennan pursued over a century ago. And the need to nurture political reform in Russia is equally pressing.

This Monday, when President Clinton welcomes President Yeltsin to Franklin Roosevelt's home in Hyde Park, New York, they will resume their dialogue on issues of critical importance to the Russian-American relationship, including the course of Russian reform; the challenge of building a more integrated and secure Europe; and our common search for peace in the former Yugoslavia.

And in just a few days, Congress will meet to make important decisions about the future of American assistance to promote democratic reforms in Russia. At issue is nothing less than the central question of whether America will have the resources and the courage to lead in the post-Cold War era.

It's for these reasons that I thought it appropriate to offer the American people a clear-eyed assessment of what's at stake in Russia, and to describe where America's interests should lead us.

This is the third and in a series of three speeches that I have delivered on this subject over the past week: On Friday in San Francisco, I discussed the great new frontiers of economic and technological opportunities for Americans in Russia's rapidly emerging market. At West Point on Tuesday, I reviewed the new security challenges facing both our countries as we seek to overcome the divisions of the Cold War period.

And today, I thought it would be appropriate to conclude this trilogy with a summons to the political courage that is essential if we Americans are to forge a truly bipartisan consensus on our nations policies toward Russia at this critical point in time.

Make no mistake: the stirrings in Congress and elsewhere of a new isolationism are very real.

These new isolationists -- some outspoken, some soft-spoken -- seek nothing less than to impede President Clinton's ability to defend American interests and values. If left unchallenged, their efforts, in the end, may well led to our nation's surrender of world leadership. If they succeed, the abandonment of the cause of reform throughout the former Soviet Union will be only one among many destructive and costly consequences.

If these isolationists have their way, the Nunn-Lugar program that is helping Russia dismantle the former Soviet nuclear arsenal could be cut by up to 20%. How self-defeating. How blind. How absurd.

All of these votes were scheduled for a meeting of the Conference Committee this week which has now been postponed until next Tuesday.

So there is yet time for us to come to our senses and rise above petty partisanship and narrow isolationism. We Americans made tremendous investments and sacrifices to win the Cold War. Now we must support the programs necessary to build a lasting peace. The risks are simply too high, and the potential opportunities too great, to allow misguided politicians to block our nation's path to peace and prosperity and destroy Americas ability to provide leadership in the world.

And if we make the right choice, we can succeed. After all, the challenges facing Russia today are vast, but we must not overlook the remarkable speed of its transformation from ideological foe to fledgling market democracy.

Only a handful of years ago, Russia's economic landscape lacked free enterprise, the spirit of entrepreneurship, and the rudiments of private ownership. The state's role was supreme. The great oil fields of Siberia, and the smallest shop in Suzdal answered to faceless bureaucracies in Moscow with no sense of the bottom line. And while the state produced much in the way of useless goods, it produced nothing in the way of basic human freedoms. Political activism was limited to the sphere of whispers, often silenced in the cells of Lubyanka and the gulag of Siberia. Environmental degradation, human degradation, the utter moral bankruptcy of communist culture, and the physical decay it wrought, are the sum total of the Soviet legacy.

When the Soviet experiment did collapse in ash and dust after the brave and heroic democratic revolution of 1991, Russians awoke to the promise of a new day, but their euphoria was short lived. Because before them was an immense organizational and spiritual void of unmet social needs. Of uncertainty about tomorrow. Of fear and privation.

Russia's new leaders spoke of a rapid transition to the rule of law, the market, and political pluralism. But these institutions could not be simply willed into existence. Nor could Russia's new reformers build them overnight. The legal infrastructure to support a market economy did not yet exist. Communist officials from the old days still held sway in factories and local governments all across the country. And all the while, the threat of economic disaster eclipsed hope with frustration and often turned optimism to despair.

In their place, the real risk emerged of Russia's collapse, or its return to some form of tyranny or chaos. And with the specter of more than 10 thousand nuclear weapons remaining on their soil, the risks of missteps were very great indeed.

When President Clinton took the oath of office on the Capitol steps in January 1993, he saw the enormity of the challenges that lay ahead not only for Russia and the Russian people, he recognized the need to galvanize a vigorous international response.

Mindful of the immense stakes for American interests, our President acted, decisively, quickly, and firmly.

He realized that America's best traditions and vital interests would be best served by deepening our engagement with Russia.

He set out briskly to recalibrate our policy toward the Former Soviet Union, and to adapt the old Cold War-era machinery of government to meet our new global requirements.

And through robust diplomacy, and focused personal leadership, President Clinton marshaled Congress and our friends around the world to embrace a new policy framework toward Russia based on three interrelated goals:

One -- to support political and economic reform throughout the Russian federation with targeted, prudent American assistance and investment;

Two -- to promote the integration of Russia into Global economic and political structures from which the Soviet Union had been excluded, so as to give Russia and her people a voice and a stake in contributing positively in the international system;

Three -- to stanch the threat posed by Soviet-era nuclear warheads and expertise, Soviet-style reactors, and loosely secured weapons-grade materials.

From the outset, we knew that the task ahead was daunting. The scale of Russia's enormous challenges greatly outstripped the resources Americans could bring to bear. That's why we aggressively sought out our friends and allies to ensure that they too did their fair share to bolster Russian reform. And that's why the Administration's assistance programs have been crafted with the greatest possible care and oversight to ensure that American taxpayers receive the greatest possible return for their investment.

In essence, this approach was a bet on Russia's ability to turn things around. And this bet is beginning to payoff.

Though we should never minimize the great difficulties that many Russians had to endure during these first years of their transition, we can now say firmly the picture for many is looking better. Many of the basic building blocks of democracy -- a national constitution, political parties, independent newspapers and television stations and free and fair elections are now slowly falling into place. The Russian people made a fundamental choice to embrace democracy, and it is they who deserve the lion's share of the credit of course. But we Americans are also doing our share to bolster their efforts, through practical assistance and advice.

Russia's economic situation is also improving. Inflation is at its lowest point since the creation of the federation-- down to 5% last month. The ruble is relatively stable, having gained against most major currencies. After years of sharp economic decline, real economic growth could begin next year.

Liberalization of the Russian economy is also moving ahead at a gallop. A fifteen minute drive from the center of Moscow used to be a listless affair of drab, crumbling apartment blocks and grim government buildings. Today, the more vivid colors of new homes and businesses are testimony to a massive construction boom that is remaking the once gray face of Russia. In Moscow and throughout Russia, the streets are lined with new shops to meet pent-up consumer demand. Today, some 60% of Russia's income comes from the private sector... Nearly all prices are free from state controls. People are working harder and with more fulfillment and they are more optimistic about their future as Russians.

Of course, much is left to be done. Many Russians, especially the elderly, feel the pain of transition. Private property and contracts need legal sanctity. The metastasizing cancer of organized crime and corruption needs to be excised. Legal institutions and regulations, and liberal political institutions needs to be more firmly established if Russia is to continue successfully on its historic march to democracy.

That is why American programs have been targeted very carefully at helping Russians to put in place these basic building blocks of liberty and the free market. Our efforts have helped Russians to create tens of thousands of new small businesses, new grass-roots organizations, free and objective media outlets -- the very lifeblood of the democratic experience.

The point is simply this: American assistance is not a hand-out. It is a long-term investment in the security and prosperity of not only Russia, but the United States.

Many of you know that Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin asked that Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and I work closely together to ensure that our bilateral relationship develops in responsible and mutually-beneficial ways. I am proud of the efforts that we have underway, and of the mechanisms that we have developed to resolve our differences in a calm and efficient manner.

There is no doubt in my mind that the solidity of our relationship, and the extent to which it has matured over the past few years is clearly borneout by the remarkable successes that we have achieved through our Joint Commission.

Our work is focused on three principal strategic areas: trade and investment, space and science, and health and environment.

I would like to review each briefly.

In trade and investment, we're working to establish a predictable and fair business environment and to reform taxes and tariffs which discourage foreign investment. In the past year alone, we've been able to seal multi-billion dollar American deals in a variety of fields, from energy to telecommunications to transportation.

We're working to help Russians convert parts of its vast defense sector to peaceful civilian market-oriented purposes.

Already, we've purchased bomb-grade uranium from dismantled Russian warheads in order to power our own factories, and schools and cities. At the same time, we are rolling up our sleeves to study alternative energies sources and joint investments in Russia's vast energy sector.

In the area of space cooperation, American and Russian scientists are working together to build an on an international space station more quickly, more cheaply, and more effectively than had we attempted to so on our own. This is not foreign aid. We have a contract with the Russians to jointly build a viable product that one day will yield invaluable insights into the new frontiers of space, and perhaps even profits to boot.

But this is just one of many firsts in space; Russian cosmonauts training in the United States and flying on the Shuttle; U.S. astronauts serving as part of the crew on the Russian MIR space station; and the historic docking of the Atlantis shuttle with the Russian MIR space station, are each historic mileposts in our new tradition of cooperation.

The Gore-Chernomyrdin Health Committee has identified a number of areas in which US-Russian cooperation can have a direct impact on public health in Russia. These include public education campaigns, maternal and pediatric health care, prevention and control of infectious diseases, such as diphtheria, and diabetes treatment. These programs are designed to channel knowledge and leverage limited resources to achieve the greatest possible positive impact on the ground.

The Environment Committee is working to develop a regional strategy for protecting the shared environment of the Arctic. It has also supervised implementation of numerous technical assistance projects in areas as diverse as supporting the sustainable management and development of timber resources in the Russian far east, while sustaining important biological diversity. And joint work is underway with the Russian Navy to safely store used reactor fuel from submarines in Murmansk.

Any one of these achievements would have been front page news just a decade ago. Now our successes are becoming just business as usual. And that is precisely our intention. For example, we have just created a new Agriculture Committee whose work is now getting underway.

What is important is not only the initiatives we have launched, but the enduring and practical mechanisms we have established to resolve our differences. The goal on both sides is to capitalize on the increasingly normal relationship we now enjoy. Russia, despite all its current problems, is striving to become a normal country with a foreign policy rooted in clearly defined national interests. As a result, the United States can now hope to deal with Russia as we would with any other great power.

We now have a common commitment to strengthening democracy and free markets, and to building bridges to promote security across what had once been a divided Europe.

Russia deserves credit for its efforts to promote good relations with its European neighbors. On August 31 of last year, after years of patient but firm American diplomacy, the last active duty Russian troops withdrew from Germany and from the Baltics. And similarly, the Russian and Ukrainian governments have worked together to manage a number of difficult issues, such as economic cooperation and the implementation of START I.

For our part, the United States has worked with our NATO allies to realize our vision for an integrated Europe that includes an important role for Russia. This structure includes an enlarged NATO, a strengthened Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an enhanced Partnership for Peace, and a closer better defined relationship between Russia and NATO. While we understand full well that many Russians question the wisdom of NATO enlargement, we are making the case to Russia's leaders that Russia's own interests and continued integration would be best served by remaining open to broad cooperation with all European institutions, including NATO and the Partnership for Peace.

Part of our strategy for building this new Europe involves taking immediate, very practical steps. With a peace settlement for the former Yugoslavia now possibly before us, we have an opportunity to make cooperation between NATO and Russia concrete, productive, and meaningful. Agreement on a formula for Russian participation in a Bosnia peace implementation force would serve both the cause of peace and our common goal of a more stable, integrated Europe.

We are taking similar, level-headed approaches to other security issues. For instance, one of the most important items on the two Presidents' agenda at Hyde Park will be the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, which calls for dramatic reductions in military equipment levels all across the continent.

The Russians are now pressing for modifications to the Treaty's flank limits because they feel Russia's security needs have shifted since the breakup of the former Soviet Union. The United States and our NATO allies acknowledge that the world has indeed changed since the CFE Treaty was signed in 1990 and that Russia is meeting its overall destruction requirements. We and our NATO allies have developed a proposal which takes Russia's legitimate needs into account while preserving the central elements of the Treaty and protecting the interests of countries along Russia's northern and southern borders. We are looking to the Russians to work with us and other CFE parties to achieve an early resolution of this problem.

Another area where practical cooperation is vital is nuclear safety and non-proliferation. Today, Russian missiles are no longer targeted at America's cities or homes. Due to sustained U.S. and Russian leadership, the danger that the Soviet Union would give way to four nuclear-weapons states is well on its way to being resolved.

And with the foresight of Senators Nunn and Lugar, we have the resources to help the Russians dismantle the vast former Soviet arsenal of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.

Americans and Russians are now working side by side to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the hands of would-be terrorists and smugglers. By accepting reasonable limits on sales of arms and technology abroad, Russia has set the stage for its membership in the Missile Technology Control Regime and for its role as a founding member of the New Forum, the organization succeeding COCOM that is now charged with keeping sensitive technologies out of the hands of rogue states. Generally, Russia is a firm partner in combating nuclear proliferation. We do, however, have a disagreement over their proposal to sell reactor technology to Iran. We are working hard to resolve this disagreement. But may I say that the best way to ensure that that sale goes forward would be to formally threaten the end of all U.S. bilateral programs in Russia unless they accede to our demands, as some in Congress are attempting.

No doubt there will be hand-wringers and nay-sayers who dispute the wisdom of our policy, and those who would diminish the importance of our achievements. Some even would accuse us of romanticizing our relationship with the new Russia. In their eyes, they see a Russia that can never unshackle itself from its past; where history is always destiny, and past always prologue.

These fears are not new. They have echoed throughout the annals of history. Alexis De Tocqueville made this same point in 1835, when he described a Russia that seeks to conquer new frontiers only "by the sword" -- a Russia predestined to "center all the authority of society in a single arm".

Well Russia's future is far from clear. And, of course, it will ultimately will be the Russian people themselves who will determine their place and role in the world.

No one, least of all our President, is naive about the very real risk that the progress Russia is making could yet falter. The uses of history are indeed many and profound. But to deny Russia and the Russian people the possibility of progress is to reject the notion that societies can evolve, that free people can choose a new and brighter future for themselves and their children. We need only look at recent history to know that with the proper tools and resources, and most of all with the will, nations in transition can put down durable democratic roots.

Still others may assert that we have focused too heavily on certain personalities in Moscow, rather than on the new generation of Russian leaders emerging across the country.

These critics obviously have neglected to look at our record and the core principles underpinning our approach to Russia. We have long recognized that a new Russia is emerging that is far less centralized. We have carefully calibrated our policies and practical efforts to Russia's new political realities, as well as to the new regional and economic factors that are now shaping Russia's future.

Our outlook has never been determined by any one President, any one Prime Minister, or any one Foreign Minister. We are guided by our nation's best interests -- by our responsibility to work closely with all of Russia's democratically elected leaders, whoever or wherever they may be.

To their lasting credit, the vast majority of men and women in Congress have stood with us. They have joined us in making the tough choices about our nation's destiny. Bold, bipartisan leadership from Members like Speaker Gingrich, Senators Nunn and Lugar, Congressman Gephardt, Congressman Lee Hamilton and others have helped us to put in place the infrastructure for America's engagement in Russia.

We cannot and we must not allow the shrill voices of isolation to prevail in the halls of Congress, or on the campaign trails of our nation's upcoming political season. Nor can we allow our future to be guided by those who yearn for a return to the days of Cold War, and pay obsequious homage to that era's outdated rhetoric.

The President and I will not stand idly by while the prosperity and security of our nation is put in jeopardy.

Americans -- and Russians -- have worked too hard to turn back now.

So let us not be chained to our old perceptions of a Soviet foe that no longer exists, but help give clarity and hue to Russia's new reality. Let us seize this rare moment and summon the courage to engage and to lead.

For better or for worse, our nation's fate is linked to the destiny of the Russian people. Like most Americans, I believe in my heart that Russians want to know the peace of prosperity. Let us help to build that peace. Let us sow the harvest of that prosperity. Let all Americans rise to this great and noble challenge.

President Clinton has charted a steady course for our nation by the fixed stars of America's enduring interests. So I would like today to call on all members of Congress also to choose to join with the President in supporting a bipartisan foreign policy toward Russia and more broadly toward the world. To choose to join with us as we promote America's interests by building a durable peace in the Former Yugoslavia. As we work with those who seek a new day of understanding in the Middle East. As we stand shoulder to shoulder with brave South Africans who are building a new nation out of the rubble of racial hatred. As we strive to heal the wounds of tyranny and oppression nearby in Haiti. To end the long nightmare of fear and violence in Northern Ireland. To open new markets and create new opportunities for American products and workers, and lift the lives of our communities, our families, and our children.

These are the choices by which our generation will be judged. This is the legacy that we will leave. For the sake of our future, for the sake of peace, and for the sake of America's prosperity, I know we shall choose nothing less.

      Thank you.