THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SANDY VERSHBOW, SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR EUROPEAN AFFAIRS AT THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL
2:08 P.M. EST
MR. VERSHBOW: This was with little warning, but let me give you a brief overview of President Chirac's visit.
As we have emphasized, it's an opportunity to strengthen the close partnership between our two countries and the very close friendship that the two presidents have established both before and since President Chirac was elected last spring. They've met now three times, and this will be their fourth formal meeting and, of course, they've been in frequent contact by phone, particularly on the Bosnian crisis last summer. And I think they've already forged a strong mutual outlook on a lot of the major problems in the world.
There's going to be a very full agenda for what will unfortunately be a short series of meetings, given the full program that President Chirac has, including his address to the Congress.
I think number one on the list for us and for President Chirac is the future evolution and adaptation of NATO. The question is how to take forward the process that's been going on for the past few years, to redefine NATO's roles and missions, to adjust its force and command structures, to deal with the kinds of real world problems that we face in the post Cold War period, and also to reach out to the new democracies in the East and prepare the way for the admission of some of them to the NATO alliance itself.
The basic course of NATO adaptation was, in its current phase, was charted at the NATO summit in Brussels in January, '94; when the Partnership for Peace was launched, the door was open to NATO enlargement and when some initiatives were adopted to strengthen the European role within the Alliance. Bosnia is, in fact, proving a lot of these initiatives value in practice, and now the task is to adjust the theory to catch up with the practice in many respects.
The new impulse for the discussion between the two presidents on this occasion is the decision by President Chirac, which we welcomed, to bring France closer to the defense bodies of the Alliance and to seek to build a stronger European defense role within the framework of NATO rather than outside it. This is something that we have supported because we feel that NATO should remain the overall framework.
Bosnia again is proving its continued importance, but that it's very important for the United States and for the American public and Congress to see that the European members of the Alliance increasingly take on a greater responsibility and that will be, I think, one of the key focal points of the discussions between the two presidents.
I don't think they're going to get too deeply into the details of command structures and how to adjust NATO strategy, but rather to set in motion a process over the next few months within the Alliance that can lead to some important decisions by foreign ministers in June.
The other dimension of the adaptation process is, of course, NATO enlargement. And I think the two presidents will want to discuss how to keep the momentum going through this year, which is the second phase of the enlargement process, while at the same time continuing to reach out to Russia and strengthen the NATO partnership with Russia.
Other items on the agenda -- I'll stop soon -- will, of course, include Bosnia. The French are key players within IFOR and have responsibility for Sarajevo which is the most potentially delicate sector looking ahead over the next few weeks when the Serb suburbs are transferred formally to Federation control. And so the two presidents will want to review how we're doing on implementation and how we're going to deal with some of these delicate political problems.
Also, to discuss the equally important of civilian side of implementation. We have worked together very well so far. There was a good result in December at the pledging conference in Brussels for the first quarter of this year, but we now have to look ahead to the longer term to keep the civilian reconstruction effort going.
President Chirac is, of course, the chairman of the G-7 this year, will host the G-7 Summit in Lyons in June, and he intends and we look forward to a discussion of a variety of G-7 issues. For our part, we want to continue to strengthen G-7 cooperation and coordination on issues like organized crime, terrorism, narcotics, want to discuss U.N. reform where the G-7 countries are trying to give greater impulse to that incremental process.
The French will be hosting a jobs conference, ministerial, in Lille in the next few months, and they'll want to talk about ways to stimulate employment. And the French have emphasized the need for the G-7 to do more in the area of economic development. There, too, we see some common ground, although I think we may see the issue of development a bit more broadly, focusing on issues like the environment, population and not just economic assistance.
Finally, I think they'll, if time permits, touch on a range of regional issues where we see eye to eye in some cases and see -- and don't see eye to eye in others -- issues like Iran, Iraq, Algeria, the Middle East peace process. We would like to increase our cooperation with the French in Africa on a variety of fronts. The French are the largest donor of assistance to Africa. So I think there's room for greater coordination and partnership there. So it is a pretty broad agenda. NATO tops the list. G-7 issues will be very important as well. I'll take your questions.
Q Did I miss a reference to nuclear testing?
MR. VERSHBOW: You did miss a reference, and it was a slip. They will certainly discuss next steps on nuclear testing. President Chirac will formally explain to the President what has been announced, namely that the French have ended for good their nuclear testing, which we have welcomed. And we look forward now to working in concert with them to bring about a CTB this year.
Q At which point in the agenda does that come? Main points --
MR. VERSHBOW: I think that will probably come up -- they're going to have two meetings. There will be a restricted session in the Oval Office with just a few key advisers, and I suspect that will come up there, along with some of the G-7 political issues and some of the more thorny issues that I mentioned. And they'll focus on the NATO issues and G-7 economic issues when all the key Cabinet advisers are present.
Q Can I follow up with two questions? I bet you won't answer this, but I've got to try. Was there a deal in the works from the beginning, when Chirac's visit was originally postponed, that the French told the Americans, okay, give us time, let us finish the nuclear tests and reschedule us for February? Did the U.S. know all the time that the French tests were complete?
Q Go ahead, say it, say it.
MR. VERSHBOW: No. We did not have any such deal. We didn't know when they were going to end the series. We were very pleased that they ended it before the visit because it adds a positive tone to the discussion. The main issue that affected the schedule was the inability to work with the Congress on a date in the fall for addressing the joint session.
Q Do you have a reaction to the congressional protest?
MR. VERSHBOW: To the congressional --
Q Protests to this joint session.
MR. VERSHBOW: Over the testing issue?
MR;. VERSHBOW: That's not for us to comment on. I mean, I think we are looking to the future here. We have welcomed the end of French testing and the very strong French affirmations of intent to pursue a CTB, and that's what we want to do.
Q Nonetheless, if Democrats boycott --
Q But it's members of the President's own party that asked that the invitation be withdrawn. Q Wait a minute. Bill, you had a question. Q It is a group of members of the President's own party
who have asked the Republicans to withdraw the invitation to address the joint session of Congress. This causes you no problems at all?
MR. VERSHBOW: Well, we think -- we hope that the address to the joint session goes forward, because I think it's an opportunity for the Congress to hear from one of our key allies, and how he views both the challenges together globally but also his views on the importance of continued American leadership and continued American engagement in Europe and in the world. So in that sense we would regret missing that opportunity, despite differences that many members may have on the nuclear testing issue.
Q But some Democrats are also going to say they're going to boycott it if nothing else. What would that do to relations with Chirac?
MR. VERSHBOW: Well, I don't think it will have any substantial impact on our bilateral relationship. It will obviously not do much for the relationship between those members and President Chirac.
Q I've got one more, since you're in the hot seat on this. There has been a lot of criticism from the allies saying that the U.S. protests were not vigorous enough. Do you think the U.S. protests of the testing were of substance?
MR. VERSHBOW: I of course think our protests were just right on the mark. And if anything -- if you ask the French, they felt they were too vigorous, and some felt they were not vigorous enough, so we felt we wanted to hew to our principled position that they should not have continued the testing, but now that they finally have ended it, we're very happy about it.
Q Does that mean the U.S. regards it as a closed book now that this episode of French nuclear testing -- in defiance of world opinion, including America's?
MR. VERSHBOW: Closed book in the sense that it's resolved between us. It obviously could have some impact on our ability to conclude a CTB and to bring some countries who have pointed to French testing as an obstacle on board the CTB. But I think --
Q Well, just following up on Connie's question, was it mere coincidence that the testing ended just a few days before Chirac arrived for the State Visit and would it have cast a "nuclear cloud," so to speak, over the talks?
Q A mushroom cloud.
MR. VERSHBOW: You'd have to ask the French about the timing. There was an announcement some weeks earlier by the Defense Minister that, if successful, the sixth test would be the last. I think this was based on the results of the program as much as on the hue and cry that the test program elicited. You'll have to ask them about which factors are --
Q Does NATO have a date for expansion -- the decision?
MR. VERSHBOW: No.
Q Could I have one more on the nuclear --
MR. VERSHBOW: I've got to shift to NATO expansion.
Q I've got one more on the nuclear --
MR. VERSHBOW: I don't work on nuclear testing. Let me -- is there a date for NATO expansion? No. What the allies agreed in December at the Foreign Minister's meeting was to begin a second phase of the process in which we begin to engage individual countries in a more intensive fashion to begin to chart out what are going to be the requirements that they need to meet to be invited to join the Alliance and what NATO would have to do to begin to prepare to extend the defense guarantee to those countries.
So we're getting down to the serious, concrete issues of a NATO enlargement, building on the principles set forth in the enlargement study next year.
What the Ministers agreed was that at their next ministerial meeting in December -- not the next one, the one after next -- they will review the progress to date and decide on the next steps. So we will be coming up to the edge of a decision on the who and the when, but I can't predict at this point whether -- exactly when that decision will be taken.
Q So nothing happens this year, then, in calendar '96, the terms of --
MR. VERSHBOW: Through most of this year. I simply wouldn't want to predict what the ministerial in December, which will be at the beginning of December, will decide as far as, what next.
Q And how do you handle not only the continued strong objections from the Russians to eastward expansion, but even the increasing vehemence of their opposition from President Yeltsin on down? The administration keeps saying you're working both tracks on eastward expansion as well forging closer strategic ties between NATO and Russia, but the Russians will have none of it. At what point do you have to reassess?
MR. VERSHBOW: Well, we're not going to reassess because we believe that we have a policy course that is the correct one that tries to balance the goal of expanding the community of democracies in the security realm just as the E.U. is doing in the economic realm, while at the same time reaching out to Russia to develop a strong strategic partnership between the Alliance and Russia.
Opposition has been vehement for a long time. We haven't heard anything to top the "Cold Peace" speech in Budapest more than a year ago. So I don't think we can say that it's become more vehement. Our response is to stay steady and deliberate and proceed on the course that we've outlined. And I think what we're seeing in Bosnia shows that it is possible, despite Russian objections of principle to NATO enlargement, that NATO can build practical cooperation. We have a Russian brigade under the command of am American general in Bosnia, which was something unthinkable a short while back. We have an American base in a former Warsaw Pact country in Hungary. So I think the policy at this point remains the correct one, and we'll continue to work it step-by-step.
Q Does the administration feel that you can get both NATO enlargement and Russian ratification of START II?
MR. VERSHBOW: We think we can. We hope the Russian ratification of START II will happen very soon, so that that will be out of the way.
Q You don't see any linkage in Moscow?
MR. VERSHBOW: Some politicians have asserted the linkage, but I don't think it's the official Russian policy.
Q Could I just take one more stab at that nuclear question? I'm kind of confused in my own mind how you regard it. Is there a rift to be mended, or is there no rift to be mended --
MR. VERSHBOW: Between us and France?
Q Yes, with the decision to limit at six; does that end it for you?
MR. VERSHBOW: I don't think "rift" is the word I would have used to characterize where we were before the end of this French test series. There was a serious difference of view as to the wisdom of continuing the testing, and as to the necessity of continuing the tests. But I think we are now prepared to draw a line under it and focus on the real goal that we share, which is to achieve a CTB, if possible this year, that will gain universal adherence.
Q Can we expect an announcement of this decision between Chirac and Clinton -- like a major announcement on NATO or on the use of nuclear French power?
MR. VERSHBOW: I wouldn't want to predict how major an announcement -- it will be seen. The aim is not to arrive at any formal agreement, because this is something that needs to be worked out within the alliance among all 16 members. What we hope is that the two leaders will provide a joint impulse to work on the basis of some of the common principles that I was describing, namely, building a stronger European defense role within the framework of NATO, while at the same time keeping on the steady course with respect to NATO's outreach to the East.
Q Would you expect a major announcement of any kind of agreement coming out of this meeting?
MR. VERSHBOW: There is no formal agreements or treaties or anything being finalized for signature during this visit, so it is more a meeting of very close allies and partners who have maintained a continuing interaction on a broad range of issues, and trying to give an impulse to a number of them.
Q What is going to be the role of Russia at the G-7? Will it ever be G-8, or is --
MR. VERSHBOW: Well, that will be something, I'm sure, the two presidents will discuss. The French, I believe, are a bit more forward leaning on the early transition from the G-7 plus 1 to a full-fledged G-8. But that --
Q And how do we feel?
MR. VERSHBOW: We certainly share the goal, but I think we are a little more cautious on the timetable. But I don't think the issue is being posed for decision by President Chirac with respect to the Lyons Summit. So it is more of a medium-term issue.
Q Do you know if Chirac is coming into this session with any particular concerns on his agenda?
MR. VERSHBOW: Well, I think he has some well known concerns about legislation that is pending in the Congress that would apply extraterritorially to some French firms who cooperate with Libya or Iran. I am sure we will hear his complaints on that score.
And I think he has expressed concern, going back to the first meeting with the President last June, about the decline in U.S. foreign assistance spending. I think that will be a theme in his address to the Congress and in his meeting with the President, as well, particularly funding for the International Development Association, IDA.
Q Could you expand a bit on that pending legislation in Congress; what is that exactly?
MR. VERSHBOW: There is a D'Amato bill that is pending which would impose sanctions against firms that invest in the energy sector in Iran and Libya, and Senator Kennedy has an amendment that would apply sanctions against firms cooperating with Libya. So these are of concern, not only to the French, but to other foreign countries that have oil companies.
Q They have considerable properties along those lines --
MR. VERSHBOW: Yes, I couldn't give you the facts and figures, but yes.
END 2:30 P.M. EST