THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SECRETARY OF STATE WARREN CHRISTOPHER
The Briefing Room
2:50 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon again, ladies and gentlemen. Round two of brief until you drop. We've got -- I had said earlier to many of you that the upcoming trip the President will take to Asia and to the Russian Federation really is a very important opportunity for the President to advance a range of U.S. security, economic and political interests involving some of the major power relations that we manage in the world. I think it's very appropriate that we have here to brief you the Secretary of State who can really talk about a lot of the strategic objectives the President has as he thinks about the upcoming trip that he'll take to Asia and to Russia, and also to tell you a little bit more specifically about some of the things that we'll be doing in the various encounters that the President will have with the leaders he meets along the way.
The Secretary will outline that, take a few questions, and then, as you know, we will take a short break and we have a wide range of experts from our government who are going to talk to you in more detail about some of the specific elements of the President's trip.
It's a great pleasure personally to welcome the Secretary of State to the White House Briefing Room.
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Thank you, Mike, and good afternoon. On Sunday, as you know, the President will leave on an important trip to Japan, Korea and Russia. The President's focus will be to strengthen America's security and to reinforce the key alliances and relationships we need to maintain security in the 21st century.
The President will confront some of the oldest and newest challenges to the security of our nation, from the last unresolved problem of the Cold War -- stability on the Korean Peninsula -- to one of the most urgent new threats we face -- nuclear smuggling.
The President will also advance our strategy of creating jobs for Americans at home by opening markets in East Asia, which is, as we've said so many times, the most dynamic trading area in the world. These challenges can be met only if the United States continues its leadership role.
There's no more important challenge than sustaining our alliances and our stabilizing presence in East Asia. Certainly, recent events have made that dramatically clear. From the beginning of this administration, the President has made our continuing role in Asia a high priority, and we can, I think, say with some confidence because of the actions we've taken over the last three years, our alliances with Japan, Korea, and the other East Asian partners are in very healthy shape, excellent shape.
The President will begin this trip with a meeting in Cheju Island, off the coast of South Korea. He'll be meeting there with President Kim Yong-sam of South Korea. The President will reaffirm America's strong commitment to the security of South Korea and to the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
Recent events in the DMZ underscore the importance of our relationship with the Republic of Korea. Let me add that we expect North Korea to honor its commitments under the Armistice Agreement.
The Presidents, that is, Presidents Clinton and Kim, will discuss the progress that's being made in implementing the nuclear aspects of the agreed framework between the United States and North Korea. They will also explore ways to make progress in a critical area which has been, so far, missing, and that is dialogue between North and South.
The President's state visit to Japan will underscore the purpose and strength of the relationship that the United States and Japan have forged, one that has been so effective over the last century and one that continues to bring benefits to all of our people. Some people have said that with the end of the Cold War this relationship could not or would not be sustained. But, on the contrary, I believe the President's very skillful management of all aspects of this relationship -- security, political, economic -- have proven them wrong and the relationship is now stronger than ever.
The President and Prime Minister Hashimoto will sign a security declaration reaffirming the enduring value and vitality of the U.S.-Japan security alliance in this post-Cold War period. The security declaration is the outcome of an intensive year-and-a-half-long review undertaken jointly by the State and Defense Departments of both the United States and Japan in what has been called two-plus-two meetings -- that is, beginning with meetings with the defense and foreign ministers of the two countries and, of course, culminating in this summit meeting.
This declaration will reaffirm our determination to maintain our forward-deployed presence and our existing force levels in the region, and certainly will underscore our effective defense cooperation with Japan. Japan will reaffirm in other ways its commitment to support our presence there, financially and in other important ways.
The President and Prime Minister Hashimoto will also reinforce our diplomatic cooperation in the region, as well as in many other areas where Japan has become more and more active in a very beneficial way, such as Former Yugoslavia and the Middle East.
We will also advance our global agenda, which is called "Common Agenda." This is an aspect of our relationship which, in my judgment, has received too little attention and has been one of remarkable successes of the relationship. Since the inception of the Common Agenda in 1993, we have advanced our shared interests in such diverse areas as protecting the environment, expanding the frontiers of science and technology, and fighting disease, including our successful efforts to eradicate polio around the world.
One of the successes of the relationship is the progress that we've made in opening markets for the benefit of America. Over the last three years, we've reached 20 market opening agreements that are significantly widening access to key sectors of the Japanese economy, for example, autos and agriculture. Our exports to Japan have grown over 85 percent in the last three years and our trade deficit has fallen by almost 10 percent of the 1994 level.
Of course, we're determined that all 20 of these agreements are fully carried out. At the same time, we are continuing to work on such outstanding trade issues as insurance, semiconductors, and film. I think it's worthwhile noting that in a financial relationship as wide and varied as that between the United States and Japan, there will always be some areas of friction; not at all surprising that we have negotiations going forward on three important areas.
Turning to the Russian aspect of the trip: In Moscow the President will join with our G-7 and Russian partners to take significant steps on nuclear safety and security that will benefit all the people of our two countries and the world as a whole. President Kuchma of Ukraine will participate for the first time with the other P-8 leaders, reflecting the importance we attach to cooperation with Ukraine.
At the summit we'll agree on a concrete program to prevent illicit trafficking in nuclear materials and to adopt a process of cooperation to dispose of large amounts of plutonium no longer needed for defense purposes. This meeting will give us an opportunity to recognize and applaud Ukraine's courageous decision to close the Chernobyl reactor, and we expect to agree on tangible steps to improve the safety of other similar aging reactors.
We hope at this meeting to make progress toward a zero-yield comprehensive test ban treaty this year. President Clinton will also reaffirm our commitment to the ABM Treaty and urge Russian ratification of START II.
The President will be, the day after the summit meeting, holding a bilateral meeting with President Yeltsin, which he has done in virtually every other situation where they both attended a major multilateral meeting. Indeed, this will be the 10th meeting in what has become a close and productive relationship between the two Presidents. The President will reinforce the cooperation that began with Russia and the other countries at Sharm el-Sheik, our joint efforts to achieve and sustain the peace in Bosnia, as well as our joint efforts on arms control.
The shared goals are a reminder that on issues that matter most to our security, the two countries are working closely and constructively together. The President will also express our interest in the process of continuing political and economic reform in Russia, and our offer -- offer our strong support for a free and fair presidential election this June.
The President plans to meet with a broad spectrum of Russian political leaders. With respect to Chechnya, the President will convey our deep concern and disappointment about the continuing war in Chechnya and express the hope that President Yeltsin's peace plan there will lead to a true cessation of hostilities and finally a negotiated solution.
On the way to Moscow, the President is going to be stopping for a few hours or part of a day in St. Petersburg. At that time I'll go on to The Hague to meet with Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Qian Qichen of China. That will be my sixth meeting with Foreign Minister Qian Qichen in the last year. It reflects our commitment to a comprehensive long-term engagement with China to discuss our shared interests, which are many, and also to help manage the places where we have differences.
I will reaffirm at that time the United States' welcoming of reduced tensions in the Taiwan Straits. Let me say that I certainly hope the positive statements that we've been hearing from both Beijing and Taipei will lead to a resumed dialogue and to a peaceful resolution of the differences between Taiwan and China.
I'll conclude my trip with a stop in Luxembourg on April 22nd. That's the day after President Clinton finishes in Moscow. I'll be there to attend a ministerial meeting hosted by the European Union to follow up on the Sharm el-Sheikh terrorism summit. The goal of this process will be to produce a specific set of recommendations to carry out the summit statement at Sharm el-Sheikh and to assist all those in the region whose security is imperiled by terror.
Going back, in conclusion to the President's trip, the President's trip will have the purpose of reinforcing the progress we've made in strengthening the security and prosperity of every American, demonstrating once again that American leadership is absolutely indispensable to both regional and global security.
Now I'll be glad to take a few questions.
Q Mr. Secretary, the situation in the Middle East, the U.S. and Russia played a key role in trying to get a peace going. The latest events in the Middle East, the Israeli bombardment of positions near Beirut, how do you see that situation?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, as I've been saying for a long time, I'll say again on this occasion, the fundamental problem is the attack by Hezbollah with Katyusha rockets into Northern Israel. The most recent event has been an attack by between 20 and 30 Katyusha rockets fired from Northern Lebanon* into the Israeli areas where civilian populations are.
The key to ending this matter is the stopping of those Katyusha attacks into Northern Israel. I think we all desire a return to peace and calm in the area, but the most constructive step that could be taken would be the ceasing of those dangerous attacks resulting in the injuries and deaths in Northern Israel.
Q I have a follow-up, sir. Are you talking to other governments in the region -- Syria or anybody else?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: We're in touch with all the parties, and I think they had a good understanding of our point of view.
Q Mr. Secretary, will the U.S.-Japan security declaration include an agreement to reduce U.S. forces on Okinawa and return some land to the Okinawans?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, that subject has been under active discussion between our two governments. Secretary Perry will be leaving, I think, tomorrow morning to go out and continue those discussions, and I don't want to try to anticipate exactly how they'll come out.
But let me say this: I think the depth and importance of the relationship we have with Japan on security matters has been strongly indicated and importantly reflected by the way we've worked closely together on the problems in Okinawa. I think it's been a very positive aspect of our relationship that we've been able to deal together so constructively with the problems that arose there on Okinawa. And as I say, Secretary Perry will be pursuing that when he arrives in Japan somewhat before we get there.
Q Mr. Secretary, in your catalogue of topics for the Clinton-Yeltsin meeting, you didn't mention NATO enlargement question, the pace or the mode which countries might be admitted in some form to NATO. Does that mean it won't be discussed?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: You know, with such a long list of points of discussion between our two countries, I certainly did not intend to have a full catalogue. I'm sure that the NATO enlargement will be discussed between the two leaders, or if not between the two leaders, certainly between myself and Primakov. We seldom have a meeting that that's not discussed. The fact is that our two positions are well-known on that subject and, as I said in my speech in Prague, we're proceeding on a deliberate course of enlargement there. But it's one that is following the pace and following the pattern than has been set some time ago.
Q Concerning China, in your meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister, will you be letting him know your decision on the sanctions, or not, in the case of the sale of magnet rings to Pakistan? And when will you make that decision public?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, we've been working on that for some time. As you know, there's a panoply of federal statutes that are really quite daunting to fit a very complex set of facts into those statutes. We're studying that matter intensively. We'll announce the matter when we've reached a decision. I have not yet reached a decision on my recommendation to the President, and don't want to try to predict or foreshadow the timing.
What I would emphasize is that we're working hard on what is one of the more complex both factual and statutory problems that there is a factual and statutory problem that there is around the government at the present time.
Q Will the Chinese know that ahead of time before you made it public as a courtesy?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: We -- probably as a courtesy, we would probably try to contemporaneously let them know we're going to make an announcement here. That's the way we've usually done it; I assume we do it that time as well.
Q Will you let us know how the situation is in Liberia? Apparently some of the evacuation procedures have been changed. And do you think you can get out all the Americans who need to be evacuated?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Ann, let me say I think our military as usual is doing a superb job here. It's a complex situation with fighting in many sectors of the city. Initially, we were picking up people who wanted to leave only from our embassy. One of the changed procedures today is that we're picking up people at other places around the city. Our first goal, of course, and our first responsibility is to evacuate the Americans, and I think we're probably somewhat up over 100 of the Americans that have been evacuated. Beyond that, we'll try to assist those whom ought to leave who are perhaps representative of some of our allies or foreign countries.
My present information is, as I say, the military is doing a superb job and we expect to evacuate those who want to leave. But I want to underscore, it's a dangerous situation and it's a far from tranquil there in Monrovia; just the opposite.
Q Can I follow up with one more on Liberia?
MR. MCCURRY: No, let's -- Cragg and Judd, and anyone who's got a question about the trip. Most of the news questions I think the Secretary dealt with --
Q Mr. Secretary, the earlier trips of the President to Asia, including Japan, have been marked primarily by trade and economic concerns, and now we're going to have this security trip. What occasioned that change?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I guess I have to have some question about your premise. I've been with the President on all of his trips out there and they've all had all dimensions to them, and this one will as well.
We've made very considerable progress on the economic front with Japan. Some of my colleagues who will follow can give you more statistics on that, but there's really been a marked increase in the access to that market, as well as improvement in the trade surplus situation. But it's a good time to emphasize the security and political aspects of our relationship, to show that all the legs of the stool are of great importance. And I think that you will find our taking steps here in the security area that are very welcome at the present time. There have been some events that have caused us to focus on that relationship, but those events have only underscored how deep and important the relationship is that we have with Japan.
As you look around the world and see the problems we confront around the world, I must say the close and effective working relationship that we have with Japan becomes ever more important.
Q Mr. Secretary, as to the first stop, what are the North Koreans doing in the DMZ in your opinion?
SECRETARY CHRISTOPHER: Well, first, they're violating the armistice, and we expect them to abide by the armistice. There are many theories as to why they've done -- that is, why they made the three incursions, improper incursions, into the DMZ. They now seemed to have stopped. It may have been related to this trip. It may have been an attempt to try to remind us that they want to have a direct set of negotiations with the United States.
But we've not changed our position on that. We think the negotiations should be between North Korea and the Republic of Korea. The United States will be ready to try to facilitate those in any way that it can.
But it's -- with a country that opaque, it's very hard to speculate on exactly what their intention was. Let me emphasize that we expect them to abide by the armistice, to follow the armistice, and that will be the United States' position.
Thank you very much.
END 3:07 P.M. EDT