THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS
The Briefing Room
10:34 A.M. EST
MR. JOHNSON: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the White House briefing room. Today we're going to have a BACKGROUND BRIEFING on the Vice President's meetings and the President's meeting with Prime Minister Chernomyrdin.
Q When is the summit, and what's Yeltsin's health?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me just give you a fast set of basic information about the meeting that's underway, and then we'll open up for questions.
This is the eighth meeting of the U.S.-Russia Binational Commission. They meet at roughly six-month intervals, alternating between Moscow and Washington. The purpose of the commission as it was laid down by Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin was to make sure that U.S.-Russian cooperation in forms of binational programs proceeded successfully to conclusions, that we would overcome legal and bureaucratic problems and actually make things happen.
That still remains its objective, and so it remains a very practical arrangement. The agenda is usually very nuts and bolts. The range that the commission now covers is much broader than at the beginning when we started. We had agreed to concentrate on joint projects relating to energy and to business development and to space. Picked energy because of its obvious strategic importance to Russia's ability to grow economically and to the stability of the world energy market, and also because the application of more advanced technologies for gas recovery and so on would help environmentally -- not just in Russia, but at the global level.
We picked space because space is an area of great Russian excellence, and we were looking for ways in which we could jointly do things that we couldn't afford to do separately or didn't even have the knowledge to do separately.
The business development committee exists for the purpose of helping to open channels for investment and primarily has been focusing with the Russians in a long dialogue on issues such as property rights, production sharing agreements for oil, tax law, transparency, customs and so on.
Since that time, by common agreement we've added an environment committee, a health committee, science and tech, defense conversion and agricultural. There's also a capital markets working group and an environmental working group.
These parts of the government are both our governments working together, cover a very broad swath. I just will give you an impression of the kinds of things that are going on. In the agribusiness committee, one of the main things going on other than scientific and technical exchange or agricultural subjects, is an effort to bring into force an agreement that will allow market information to flow to Russian farmers of the sort that flows to farmers in other kinds of countries to help them make appropriate economic decisions about what they're going to do.
The business development committee I have mentioned. Defense conversion committee has worked with the Russians to show how it is possible to convert former defense industries to civilian applications. There have been a number of pilot projects that have been successful in this regard. There is a great deal going on between the two countries through the Nunn-Lugar system, having to do with nuclear safety, dismantlement and destruction of old nuclear weapons, and so on.
The energy committee has been working in two areas -- nuclear, and gas and oil. On the nuclear side, a major focus has been the safety of existing Soviet-era reactors, the older types, and improvements in the training and orientation of the reactor crews. And a great deal of work has been done successfully and cooperatively.
We've also worked with the Russians on improving security for nuclear materials accountability, and so on, and are successfully carrying out a jointly designed program to improve the storage and accounting conditions under which these materials are stored.
The gas and oil sector of the policy committee -- energy policy committee -- has dealt primarily with Russian law for investment. The potential for American investment in the Russian energy sector has been estimated at $50 billion. It's really enormous.
The environment committee has done things on the order of joint projects for diphtheria management. Our Secretary of Health thinks that working together with the Russians we have accounted for a 60 percent drop in diphtheria in Russia. I asked her if this was a cause and effect arrangement; she said it was cause and effect because together we designed a program that increased the number of inoculations and that is what is beginning to take a bite out of the diphtheria rate. They are working on all sorts of other measures, including nutrition, mental health and so on.
The space committee -- I've just been corrected -- I've been referring to the environment committee; that's the health committee that has been working with the Russians on the diphtheria management, diabetes management and so on.
The environment committee has been working with the Russians on policy and law for the protection of the environment. There are AID programs in Russia on a fairly large scale which deal with sustainable forestry, and these are making major contributions.
The science and technology committee has been working on a variety of very specialized projects, but they've also been working in intellectual property rights so that people know to whom the fruits of joint scientific investigation will belong, and that avoids conflict in the present and in the future.
The space committee's best-known operation is the international space station, but there is a lot else going on in terms of commercial relations between U.S. space firms and Russian enterprises in that area.
That's a quick overview. I can open.
Q Is there going to be a summit in March, and where will it be, between Yeltsin and the President? And what is the state of Yeltsin's health?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're still working towards a precise agreement on this, but basically there's no reason for us to believe that there is not going to be a summit. And accounts of President Yeltsin's health from other observers indicate that he is running the show, and is on top of his brief. We are encouraged by what we've been hearing.
Q Will the summit take place in Moscow instead of the U.S.?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's conceivable, but nobody's asked us to do that.
Q You don't expect a date to be announced tomorrow?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not sure. It could be. I mean, there will be a press conference on Friday afternoon, and if by then that's been settled, we know the people would like to hear. But so far, they have not pinned it down.
Q What will it take to make a decision? Since President Clinton had long ago been counting on a chance of meeting I believe in March, what will it take to get a meeting in March?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Just final closure on precisely which date, and that of a range of possible dates, and on precisely which location out of a range of possible locations. We aren't discussing whether it will be or not be, but when and where.
Q Is this discussion involving or not involving the U.S. about sort of a sub-NATO summit with Russia before four or so major powers meeting with Russia about expansion?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Barry, the whole issue of European security is very much on the agenda of the President's meeting, and I think we all understand that. There are a number of meetings that are in the works, some already I think fixed, some of which are being proposed or thought about.
There is this meeting, there is the trip that the Secretary of State will take later in the month. There is the meeting of our two Presidents. We've all seen the press stories about the proposed idea of a so-called quint, or five-power meeting. That is something that we're not in a position to take a position on. It seems to me that we would want to be sure that it could contribute to a constructive outcome of our efforts to promote a formalized and stable Russia relationship with NATO before we make a decision on that.
Q Is there a discussion of it going on?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, it's been put out in the public domain, so the idea of is it being negotiated, I think I would say, no.
Q I didn't say negotiated, I asked if it was being discussed.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Of course, it's being discussed in the variety fora, obviously, and I think that's been put out publicly by the President of France.
Q So just to clarify, you said you're not sure it would contribute to a constructive outcome of --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I think -- I want to be very precise. We're not in a position to make a decision about this or really take a view of it, but we do have one point about it, that we certainly could not have, I think, a commitment to this meeting or other kinds of meetings unless we can be sure it is going to contribute constructively to the outcome we're seeking.
Q I was wondering if you could talk a bit about the NATO-Russia charter. It's such an amorphous and fuzzy thing, its concept upon which there's not much flesh at this point. Can you tell us what kinds of areas at least are being talked about that would be covered by such a charter?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I don't want to get into the details of the discussions. I would say that the objective here is to work with the Russian Federation to come to a formalization in some constructive way of a new relationship between NATO and Russia, and that part of that we think, as the Secretary of State proposed in Stuttgard last year, it could be a charter, a document -- there would be some way in which that is done. And there are certain elements that have been discussed that are involved in, I think, any concept of formalizing this relationship and stabilizing it.
One is what's been called a mechanism -- Secretary General Solana has been discussing this with Minister Primakov. This is a mechanism for consultation, how would Russia discuss issues of mutual concern with the Alliance. The second has to do with a variety of ideas concerning arms control, but one of the central parts of that is how will we modernize the Conventional Forces Treaty in Europe. A third has already been addressed by NATO. This is the present and future deployment of nuclear weapons. And I think you're familiar with the position that the Alliance has taken, that it has no reason, no plan and no intention to change the deployments it now has.
These are elements I think that are out there to be discussed, and the document, if you will, is a vehicle which can incorporate a variety of ideas and agreed principles that I think could help stabilize and formalize the relationship, and I think that's what we're talking about.
Q These are primarily military issues?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would say military and security issues.
Q Just mechanically, so far as these two days, you use nuts and bolts and I have no reason to question it isn't a nuts and bolts meeting -- how much of it is Gore-Chernomyrdin -- I imagine very little of it -- and how much of it is experts, technicians on both sides having extended discussion?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Actually, the experts come into play before the commission actually goes into session, so they've been at it for a couple of days now. And what will happen is that the Vice President and the Prime Minister will jointly chair the meetings of these sessions and the American and Russian cochairs will present parallel reports on what they've been doing, what they've done, what the problems are.
The kinds of issues that you've been asking about will not come up in these plenary meetings. They'll come up in a series of off-line discussions that are private between the two principals. And we have built into the schedule a number of periods when they can go away and talk about these issues and the vice chairs of the commission will take over what's going on.
Q Do you spring the President on us at some point as a surprise involvement in this, or is there no plan for the President to get involved?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President has seen the Prime Minister every time he's been here, and he's going to see him again on Friday. But that's no surprise, that's just a normal part of the process.
Q In view of the premise of the creation of NATO, does Russia have a right to be wary of an expansion of NATO which comes up probably to its borders? It was created against the Soviet Union, was it not?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was certainly created to deal with the threat from the Soviet Union, but the reality is that this is not that NATO. It is simply not structured the way that NATO was. It's not armed the way that NATO was. It doesn't prepare to think about military conflict the same way. And one of the things we hope is that people will think about the reality as opposed to a holdover from the past. I mean, if people think about NATO expansion with the old model of NATO in their minds, that may lead them to conclusions that are far different from what they would reach if they said, well, what is NATO today.
Q What is it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, first of all, it's a NATO that's much smaller.
Q -- a military arm, isn't it, in Europe?
Q No, it's a conversational device for people in Brussels to --
Q Barry, do you want to take the podium?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well --
Q What is it defending against today, for instance?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think what it does is provide the ability to organize military force to deal with very specific contingencies. The force that's in Bosnia now which includes a Russian contingent, is an example of how it is now possible to custom-tailor forces out of NATO elements and put them into operation in contingencies that nobody ever thought about during the old days.
Much of the future here is unchartered and in preparation. But this is a NATO that's gotten rid of 90 percent of its nuclear weapons, it's a NATO with a much smaller American military presence than used to be in the past. It's a NATO where the other partners have downsized their military forces. It used to be a NATO that had umpteen divisions racked up along the inter-German border, waiting for an attack.
That whole configuration is gone. It used to be a NATO where there was us and there was them. But you can walk into a NATO room now and be in a meeting with the ambassadors of what used to be the Warsaw Pact states plus Russia, and they are talking about common interests. So there is just a different reality.
Q You were talking about NATO's new mission and you cited Bosnia. Do you perceive NATO becoming more robust in peacekeeping efforts in general, and also maybe outside the European theater?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Impossible to say. The only thing that one could say is that they have been very, very successful in carrying out this particular task. But what happens next I couldn't tell you.
Q When you say that people should not think of NATO as a holdover from the past, are you talking about the current Russian leadership? Do you feel that that still is their view of NATO?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the Russian leadership is aware of the changes in NATO structure, but the question is the public perception and whether or not the people who have to accept what is going on understand the reality as opposed to many of the things that they were told for so many years about NATO.
Q What about the prospect of Russian membership in organizations like the OECD, as was mentioned in the Post this morning?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We've been talking to the Russians all along about moving into these organizations and about the conditionality -- I'm speaking very broadly, but if you take something like the World Trade Organization, about how to get into it, what it takes to get into it, we've had people working with their experts on the precise mechanical things that you have to go through in order to be able to fit into these things, so it's not a question of starting this kind of work, it's a question of intensifying it.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Can I just make an additional point? One key element to remember in this is that by joining or entering these groups, Russia historically now for over the past five years has been undertaking very significant obligations. They will have to do so when they move into the World Trade Organization, they will do so when they move to membership in OECD. We have believed that this is in our interest, that this kind of inclusiveness be promoted because in some sense it helps shape common understandings and common goals within these organizations which then Russia will share.
Q But not in NATO. I mean --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't fully understand the question.
Q -- they do have a paranoia about NATO, obviously, from the past, that they have not forgotten.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: People can overcome those kinds of things. I've been thinking about something John F. Kennedy once said when he was getting ready to try to negotiate a test ban with the Russians, that you had to get past the mythology, and that's what we both have to do on these matters.
Q Should NATO expand in July plan even if the talks with Moscow have not reached a conclusion by then, or is there a link between the two?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we have made very clear and the Alliance has made very clear repeatedly over the last several months that there is a calendar that is fixed for the Alliance. And that is not dependent on the discussions and negotiations with Russia and between Russia and NATO. We hope they will work in parallel. We think it would be a desirable thing, indeed a very positive thing if we can come to the agreement with Russia before. But that is not going to be the determining factor in what NATO does in meeting its decisions of the last couple of meetings.
Q I think I understand pretty well why countries in Central and Eastern Europe would be happy to have the NATO umbrella guaranteed. I'm a little mystified at what exactly -- I haven't heard, really, too many explanations of what our own national interests are in expanding it, considering the opposition in Russia, particularly, I think, the effect on the START II Treaty that is already in trouble. I would appreciate hearing some comment on that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If you look at the world as it became after the collapse of the Soviet Union of the Warsaw Pact, that wasn't a ready-made stable world, it was a world of loose pieces. And the question has been to create a new structure out of those loose pieces that would be durable and stable. That's a process that is bound to have controversy because any way you design that is going to be controversial in some dimension. Our approach has been to recognize the desires of some states to qualify and because members of NATO, and after a long and very careful and transparent process that the Russians can see, without surprises to them, to go ahead and expand the Alliance.
What the President is after, however, is not focused on the expansion of the Alliance alone, he's after a security system that embraces all of the key players, including the Russians, and arrangements that can last for a long time that can handle the vicissitudes that come along and then in which all the parties are comfortable for the duration. And that's what we're working on with the Russians.
Q But there are mechanisms for that. If that's your grand and beneficent view of European security, why don't you use something that isn't a military alliance? You're talking about it's not the old NATO, the nuclear weapons won't be moved near Russia, most of the nuclear weapons have gone, we're trying to work with the Russians, we want -- they have no objection to OSCE or whatever it's called today. They have no objection to using that as your security vehicle. Why must you use an alliance that was formed with the notion, real or imaginary, that Russia was about to role divisions into Germany and destroy Western life as you know it? Why use NATO, which they find humiliating, and Kozyrev says, among other people, you strengthened the hand of neo-Fascism in Russia. He says it's humiliating to Russia and it creates the Fascist -- it supports the -- bolsters Fascism and nationalism in Russia, the paranoia that Helen referred to is agitated by this, isn't it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think one needs to start with sort of first principles. The objective here is a Europe, as the President has expressed his view of it, that's not going to be a divided one, that's going to be one focused on the integration of all of its members into a community that can be secure and in which its members can feel secure.
There isn't any one magic formula to that. There are a variety of different organizations and arrangements and structures and so forth that already exist, and I would predict there are going to be others that will emerge. One of them is OSCE; one of them is the E.U.; one of them is OECD; one of them is -- you can go on and on. One of them is NATO. And I would submit that, first of all, one reason that the alliance continues is because it's members have found it to be in their interest and give them confidence, which helps stabilize and make each of them feel secure. And probably, I think, if you asked any of them -- would say makes their entire continent more secure.
Secondly, the issue is not just what Russia may wish. There are other states in Europe who have said, we wish and believe we will be better off, and the continent will be better off, if we are members of NATO. Thirdly, no one has excluded anyone from NATO and from consideration for membership. And I think this is an important point to remember.
We will do this by steps. The first stage is coming. It won't be the last one. And I think the evolution, and what's called in the jargon of Brussels the "adaptation" of NATO is in a sense making it -- it already is a different organization from what it was in 1949 or 1952. It will be a different organization in five years from what it is today. That will be affected by what it does in terms of its existing membership, what it does in terms of potential new members, what it does in terms of sort of an entirely new and almost unexplored area -- how it develops its relationship with nonmembers who are not enemies.
Q What are you going to do to soothe Russia while these new developments take place?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the point here is, it is our belief that Russia shares an interest with us in managing the issue of how we deal with the restructuring and adaptation of all of these European institutions. It is not a matter of, in a sense, only us having responsibilities in this, or interests in it. And I think that it is our conviction that there are interests in Russia that will, we hope, manage to -- persuade them that they have an interest in working their way through this with us.
MR. JOHNSON: Thank you, gentlemen.
END 11:03 A.M. EST