THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS CONFERENCE BY VICE PRESIDENT GORE AND PRIME MINISTER CHERNOMYRDIN OF RUSSIA Old Executive Office Building Room 450
3:43 P.M. EST
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Good afternoon and welcome. Mr. Prime Minister; to our colleagues in President Clinton's Cabinet and President Yeltsin's Cabinet, to all of the officials in the Russian government and the U.S. government who have participated in the meetings of our Commission; to our two ambassadors, and to all the distinguished guests present, and ladies and gentlemen: Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and I have just left a meeting with President Clinton. We apologize for arriving here for this ceremony somewhat late, but it was because of the in-depth conversations between the Prime Minister and President Clinton.
We reported on the results of our Commission's two days of discussions. President Clinton made it clear that the United States will continue to support reform in Russia and that we will continue to work closely with Russia to advance our common interests.
That is precisely the mandate that Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and I were handed by Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin almost three years ago when we formed our Joint Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation. Few then could have imagined the remarkable achievements that have resulted from our engagement. Allow me to review for you some of the important steps we've been able to take during our two days of meetings for this, our sixth full commission session.
Perhaps no aspect of our work together is more important than our efforts to create a healthy and open climate for trade and investment in Russia. That is why I am very pleased by the innovative steps that we have taken through the Commission to resolve outstanding tax, intellectual property protection, product standards and market access issues with our Russian counterparts.
These often are highly complex, painstaking and technical questions. Seldom do they make headlines. But because our governments have found the wisdom to sit down with each other and patiently work through many of these issues in a calm, focused, deliberative and business-like manner, the prospects for prosperity, for Russians and Americans alike, are greatly improved.
Already because of the groundwork that we have laid together, American business is on the march in Russia. The Export-Import Bank has been able to release the first part of some $1 billion in financing to fuel commercial cooperation in Russia's oil and gas sector. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation approved nearly $2 billion in financing and insurance for 59 American ventures. And the U.S. Trade and Development Agency provided last year alone some $15 million to find attractive investment opportunities for Americans in Russia's booming markets.
These are not handouts, they are investments -- investments in the future of reform and democracy in Russia, and investments in the future vitality of America, a future for us both that can mean new jobs, new hope and new security.
In our private discussions, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and I discussed a broad range of issues concerning commercial matters and other matters, and we will continue those discussions as we travel to New York City tomorrow for a joint historic visit to the New York Stock Exchange.
As a result of our talks so far, I'm happy to announce that we agreed with Russia to amend our existing Commercial Space Launch Agreement to increase Russia's participation in the international space launch market. Our agreement helps Russia put its technical capacity to work in the space sector. It will also benefit the U.S. economy through new investments by joint ventures and by diversifying the supply of launch services available to America's satellite industry, allowing that industry to maintain its world leadership position.
All these measures promote Russia's integration with the global marketplace. By opening its doors to trade and investment, Russia gains greater access to technology and resources that help its economy grow. And the world gets a new partner in commerce and a new catalyst for global peace and cooperation.
Indeed, as we build and nurture a more open market in Russia, we also are tearing down old and weary monuments to the Cold War that helped keep our nations locked in nuclear competition for two generations. Today, not a single American or Russian warhead is aimed at children in either of our two nations. Scientists and engineers are harvesting Russia's bomb-grade uranium and converting it into safe energy to light factories and schools. And the benefits of this program flow directly back to Russia in real terms and real dollars.
With the assistance of the visionary Nunn-Lugar program, our Commission is retraining Russian defense workers to become active members of the new and free Russian economy. We also are exploring new ways for Russian military science to be put to work in peaceful commercial applications that will be of benefit to both our nations.
So, slowly but surely, the nuclear shadow that has hung over our nations for 50 years is giving way to a bright, new era of cooperation and peace. In this regard, I particularly welcome the recent vote of the United States Senate to approve the START II Treaty, and I encourage the government of Russia to proceed with its own ratification process beginning with securing the approval of the Duma.
START II eliminates the most destabilizing types of nuclear weapons, the multiple-warhead ICBM. It offers all of us the opportunity to take a major step back from the nuclear precipice and will make every Russian, every American and all people all over the world more secure. But our efforts do not end with reducing nuclear forces, they also focus on dismantling warheads and ensuring that the nuclear materials removed from them will never, ever fall into the hands of terrorists or criminals.
The Nuclear Summit, which will convene in Moscow in April, will provide Russia, the United States and our so-called P-8 partners an important opportunity to coordinate and expand our efforts to enhance nuclear security. And I know President Clinton looks forward to giving these efforts a major boost and his close personal attention.
This new era of cooperation we're forging extends well beyond the scope of our nuclear future. Through our Commission, we also are taking concrete action to ensure a sustainable future for our environment and shared ecosystems. Together, we're forging new solutions to such problems as drinking water quality in Moscow, air quality in Southwestern Siberia and Volgograd, pollution from heavy industry in the Urals, land use and resource management in the Lake Baikal region, and sustainable forestry and biodiversity in the Russian Far East.
I'm also very pleased to announce today that a special environmental initiative undertaken by our commission has shown remarkable results. In our last meeting in Moscow, we agreed to look for innovative ways to use information that was once the secret province of our national security agencies and use it in service of our environment. For example, both Russia and the United States possess enormous archives of images collected by our military space programs. In fact, we have better pictures of Russia than they do, and they have better pictures of the United States than we do.
These military satellite photos give us a virtual time machine record of the earth over the last 35 years. Just a moment ago, you saw the Prime Minister and I exchange environmental analyses performed from this previously secret military data and intelligence data on both sides; in this case at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and Yeysk Air Force Base in Southern Russia.
Looking at each other's military sites is not something new for either of us, but using that information for environmental purposes and exchanging it is very new and very exciting. This is just the beginning of what we can accomplish together. Already, our navies are working on an exchange of hundreds of ship-years worth of oceanographic data. This summer, we will begin the very first Russian-American joint navy oceanographic survey. We also are exploring cyperspace to illuminate new knowledge about our shared human space.
Soon, our scientists will be digitizing decades of precious data about the Arctic Ocean, critical information that can be used by countless generations of scientists to help us understand better the enigma of global climate change. The possibilities of our partnership are profound, and because of our work together, our farmers are also learning new agricultural techniques from each other. Our aeronautical and space engineers are putting the best of their training and knowledge to work in space through our historic joint space station initiative. Our physicians are joining forces to combat disease, such as diphtheria and diabetes. Our students and budding inventors and investors are now being linked together through the miracles of the Internet.
We are building free markets and free minds, nurturing the bedrock of freedom, integrating the customs of the old into the structures of the new, and creating the foundations of a new era of prosperity and security for all our citizens.
So, Mr. Prime Minister, I'm very excited by the tremendous progress that we have made together as friends and as partners. President Clinton and I are committed to stand with Russia and the Russian people as they continue their great march toward reform and freedom.
We will not be deterred by those who counsel a retreat from our new cooperation. Together, all of our citizens -- from Vladivostok to Rostok, from San Diego to Sea Island, shall reap the blessings that open societies offer to free peoples everywhere: freedom, security, and prosperity. I look forward to our next meeting in Moscow in June, and it is my great pleasure to turn the stage over now to the one person who deserves more credit than any other single person for the success of our joint commission, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin.
PRIME MINISTER CHERNOMYRDIN: (Spoken in Russian.) (Applause.)
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: We would like to alternate questions between the American press and the Russian press. I will call on a member of the American press and then ask the Prime Minister to choose a member of the Russian press.
Q Mr. Prime Minister, did you have an occasion during your visit to explain some of the social corrections, as you call it, that have not been announced yet by President Yeltsin? And, Mr. Vice President, does the United States support the extension of a $9-billion credit line by the IMF now under consideration? Are you satisfied enough that these measures will not reverse the downward trend of inflation?
PRIME MINISTER CHERNOMYRDIN: (Spoken in Russian.)
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: For my part of the question, the short answer is, yes, we support the efforts of Russia to obtain an extension from the International Monetary Fund, and the principal reason we do is that Russia's commitment to continued reform is obvious from the record of this past year. The performance during the previous 12 months has been extraordinary, given the circumstances and given the challenges faced by Russia.
The commitment to a fiscal policy that is based on investments in a bright future for the Russian people, the commitment to moving toward a market economy with safeguards for the Russian people -- all of this is very impressive. My own view is that the old saying in the United States, "two steps forward, one step back," has applied consistently to Russia for the last several years.
And I remember very well, given the concern about recent personnel changes and statements and so forth, I remember very well when Gaydar left the government and many supporters of reform wrote that the sky was falling in and that reform was over; but in fact, in the aftermath of that departure, the impetus toward reform continued. And the public, repeated, and vigorous commitment to reform on the part of President Yeltsin and on the part of Prime Minister Chernomyrdin is a much more reliable indicator than the reading of tea leaves by the Western press.
Q (Spoken in Russian.)
PRIME MINISTER CHERNOMYRDIN: (Spoken in Russian.)
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: If I could respond to the same question, with regard to your second question about highly enriched uranium, we have had a large number of extremely useful exchanges of data and a steady building of confidence on both sides so that Russia has a higher level of confidence in its information about our stockpiles and our fissile material, and likewise, we gain a higher level of confidence in the information they provide to us about the Russian stockpile and fissile material.
With regard to your first question; of course, as you know, the United States opposes all nuclear cooperation with Iran, as do all of our G-7 partners. As instructed by our two Presidents, the Prime Minister and I are holding private discussions on this matter, and we continue to do so, and I endorse the comments made earlier by the Prime Minister on that question.
Q I'd like to ask the Prime Minister whether he brought a communication from President Yeltsin to President Clinton on the subject of NATO expansion, and also whether the Russian government would prefer that any action on this question be delayed until after the June elections in Moscow.
PRIME MINISTER CHERNOMYRDIN: (Answers in Russian.) (Laughter.)
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: This is a little cross-cultural problem, Mr. Prime Minister. (Laughter.) Just kidding. Go ahead.
Q Mr. Vice President, the Prime Minister referred to Mr. Yeltsin as the guarantor of reform in Russia. U.S. officials have used similar language in the past. Do you still consider President Yeltsin to be the symbol and guarantor of reform in Russia, and do you support him in the forthcoming presidential elections?
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Of course we do not support any candidate in the Russian elections, nor do we see any individual as the sole guarantor of reform in Russia. The guarantor of reform in Russia are the Russian people who support reform. We do support those individuals in the Russian government and among the Russian people who support and work for reform. And we have been very impressed by the amount of progress that has been made on reform, and we support President Yeltsin's continued efforts toward reform.
But we stay completely removed from the Russian election. We never base our policy on a single personality or a single group of people; but rather on a set of principles that we believe to be crucial, not just for our vision of the world's future, but based upon what we believe is the Russian people's view of what is best for them in their future. We support the reform process.
PRIME MINISTER CHERNOMYRDIN: (Speaks in Russian.)
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Mr. Prime Minister, do you want to call on a Russian reporter?
Q Mr. Vice President -- (laughter) --
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: A Russian reporter. You sound suspiciously American. (Laughter.)
Q (Question asked in Russian.)
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: If I may go first, Mr. Prime Minister, I'm very pleased you asked that question, because earlier this afternoon, before the Prime Minister and I took part in this ceremony, we had a signing ceremony in which our respective ministers signed a whole series of agreements. As you may know, each session of our commission has produced a large number of agreements, one of them, that was signed in this instance by Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, who is the U.S. Vice Chair of our Commission, establishes a brand new, cooperative relationship affecting small businesses and small business investment.
We have found in a great many of the trade missions to Russia that a large percentage of the investment opportunities and joint venture opportunities are small business opportunities, below the threshold that is of interest to some of the big companies that have been so prominent in the U.S.-Russia trade. And so, with SBA had Phil Lader, who was present here today and was instrumental in working out this agreement, and will play a key role along with Secretary Brown in pursuing it on our side, we laid the foundation today for a very large increase in the amount of attention and the resources devoted to small business investment and small business link-ups between U.S. entrepreneurs and Russian entrepreneurs.
PRIME MINISTER CHERNOMYRDIN: Speaks in (Russian.)
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Yes.
Q Mr. Vice President, were you and the Prime Minister able to agree on the tariff reduction or elimination on Russian imports or aircraft, and if not, does that remain an obstacle to the Ex-Im Bank's approval of the loan guarantees for purchases of American engines?
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: We are still discussing this question, and we may have an announcement later. The Prime Minister and I have personally been discussing this matter. Stay tuned.
Another Russian reporter?
Q (Spoken in Russian.)
PRIME MINISTER CHERNOMYRDIN: (Spoken in Russian.)
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: We have to check with Tipper and Valentina first, but that's our plan.
Q Mr. Vice President, the United States and Russia have been engaged in discussions over the past couple of weeks on revisions to the International Space Station Program; and yet, in looking through these documents that you've handed out and in your statements, I see no new agreements on space station. What are the obstacles to any agreement on revising that program? And specifically, has Russia asked the United States for more money to participate in that program?
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Dan Goldin and Yuri Koptyev worked out the problems that you are referring to that surfaced in the press a couple of months ago without any problem.
What we did sign today was an agreement on an ambitious future schedule of cooperation in space. As you know, the commercial launch industry is growing by leaps and bounds, with projects like Iridium and Teledesic and Loral's project and many others. There are so many satellite launches coming up in the years just ahead. It is a booming industry.
Likewise, with both nations, both of our nations aggressively exploring the solar system, the opportunities for enhanced cooperation are many. And we both signed a full schedule of a whole series of projects in which we will be cooperating. And I'm sure that this will be made available to you.
Q Well, along those lines, then, how would you respond to some of the charges by the members of the Florida congressional delegation and U.S. aerospace companies that agreements like the commercial space launch accord and revision to is on top of previous agreements with Ukraine and China are doing irreparable damage to the U.S. commercial launch industry?
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: No, we disagree with that very strongly, as do most in the industry. There is always a tension involved in cooperation. This is true on the Russian side; it's true on the American side. If one of their industries or one of our industries, wants 100 percent of the pie, and does not want to see cooperation of the kind that would be more efficient for the business customers of that particular service, then there is always the temptation for some to say, no, we don't want to see this cooperation. But, by and large, our industry there has been very supportive. This is definitely in the best interest of both the countries.
Q Russian speakers.
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: Let me answer that. (Laughter.) The Prime Minister has been incredibly persistent. I'm not sure we've had very many conversations where this hasn't been brought up.
President Clinton again gave Russia the certification that it is in full compliance with all of these requirements. We support movement in the Congress to permanently classify Russia as having graduated from that regime. The Congress has not yet gotten to the point where it is willing to do that.
I believe, however, we are making progress with the Congress. I believe the facts speak for themselves in Russia, and I think that we may not be that far from the time when this change can take place. Certainly, we believe it is justified, and the administration supports it.
Congressman Vannick, incidentally, is a very strong supporter of this change. And the late Scoop Jackson, I dare say, would certainly be proud, as Congressman Vannick is, of the great success that their amendment has produced. But the time has come to lift it, in my opinion. We deal with, just to draw an analogy, we deal with South Africa in the post-apartheid regime, and we are still attempting to get many city councils around the United States to lift bans on trade with South Africa because of apartheid, even though Nelson Mandela is the head of the government.
It's not a totally fair analogy, but I think that the time has come to make this change, and we hope that we'll be able to get it done in the future.
Q If I could, a question for each gentleman. For Mr. Chernomyrdin, some of the tea leaves Mr. Gore referred to read by the Western press are Mr. Yeltsin's own recent spending decrees. And do you -- are you willing to live within the legal spending limits passed in the 1996 Russian budget by the previous Duma?
And for Mr. Gore, if I could, the current IMF loan has monthly check-offs to make sure Russian economy is in compliance. Do you believe this new three-year loan should have similar firebreaks, or should it be on a different basis now?
PRIME MINISTER CHERNOMYRDIN: (Question answered in Russian.)
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: In response to my part of the question, I'd like to say two things. First of all, the specific question you asked is not one that I feel is appropriate for me to answer. This is the level of detail that ought to be left to the negotiators and our representative at the IMF will be involved in the discussions along with the others, and we'll let the facts determine the outcome there.
But I wanted to make a broader comment because you picked up on the metaphor of "reading the tea leaves." Of course, the personnel changes and some of the statements, and the election in the Duma itself, constitute more than simply reading tea leaves. But the ultimate test will be in the performance of the Russian government and the Russian economy, and that is what should be observed.
In every nation that has gone through a transition away from a command economy that doesn't work toward a market economy that eventually does work, in every case there has been a time lag between the imposition of market disciplines and constraints that are unfamiliar, and then, the payoff -- the economic growth, the improvement in the standard of living.
Russia has been in this period now, with very impressive commitments to reform, without outstanding leadership from Viktor Stepanovich Chernomyrdin in implementing these reforms in the best interests of the Russian people. And now we are beginning to see the resulting benefits in the economy.
But during that transition period, in every nation there are social pressures, and there are political tensions, and the whole point is to get through that transition period to the point where the benefits flow to the people.
That's where we are right now. And what we have is a President of Russia, and a Prime Minister of Russia, and a government of Russia, that is committed to reform, but is sensitive and responsive to the tensions that come in this transition period.
We support that reform process, and we believe that it is moving in the right direction. Thank you all very much.
END 4:10 P.M. EST