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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 17, 1997
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY
                              MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

4:34 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: Uh-oh, this is not going to work. I can tell already. I got my old gang out here. You are all going to go away mightily disappointed because you just got more from Foreign Minister Primakov than you're going to get from me.

Let me do a couple -- the President just had in the Yellow Room of the White House, the second floor of the President's residence, a very textured and detailed conversation with the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation. They met for approximately an hour and really went through in a very detailed way those issues that are on the agenda for the two Presidents when they meet in Helsinki. That was, by the way, roughly twice as long as the meeting had been expected to go.

It started with a lot of pleasantries because the President had to explain half the jokes that were said at the Gridiron to the Foreign Minister -- (laughter) -- no. The President --

Q That took up 45 minutes. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. The President teased the Foreign Minister a little bit about being Madeleine's date at the Gridiron Dinner, and said he hoped they had had fun. Foreign Minister Primakov said that he was pleased and that President Yeltsin is pleased that President Clinton is going ahead with the summit later in the week.

And then they just reviewed those areas -- I mean, those continuing issues in the three large areas I told you about last week, in the area of European security; second, the future of arms control; third, the economic engagement that the West has with the Russian Federation. They reviewed some of the issues that are still outstanding that the two Presidents will have to address.

I'd really say it was an effort to take those differences that are on the agenda as we head to Helsinki and really bring them under the magnifying glass, look at them in greater detail. I'm sure the Foreign Minister will report back to President Yeltsin on President Clinton's strong thinking on some of the issues that we've presented. And we'll see what arises in Helsinki.

Q Did the Russian Foreign Minister link the dispute over NATO expansion to the lagging effort to get the START Treaty resolved or to other arms control measures? Did he suggest that this was having a negative impact on arms control generally?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think it's known that they have some views about how issues intersect and relate, but our thinking is quite clear: we consider ratification of START II important. It is vital to the future of arms reduction and continuing arms control efforts, and we certainly have made that clear in our discussions.

Q Mike, I know you're probably sick of this, but the issue of legally binding character of the final charter, did that come up again with Primakov? Primakov suggested on the lawn just here that if the United States would change its position, he would be happy, implying that we hadn't. But have they changed their position on the necessary character of a legally binding charter?

MR. MCCURRY: They really, on that issue, did not spend time because that's an issue that has been well-rehearsed now by the discussions that have occurred prior to the meeting here today, and our view is pretty well-known on that.

Q Well, what did you mean then when you said earlier -- I think you said it would be politically binding? You mean just a statement of promises?

MR. MCCURRY: Politically binding means it's a commitment that the United States is going to carry out along with its ally partners.

Q Mike, is there any progress on any issue?

MR. MCCURRY: By the way, for those of you in the White House Press Corps, the State Department Press Corps is treating me with the deference deserved a White House Press Secretary because --

Q We knew you then.

MR. MCCURRY: -- they would not have let me get away with this in my place of prior employment.

Q Yeltsin's comments earlier today were rather tough in tone. Did Primakov have similar tone, or was he more conciliatory?

MR. MCCURRY: No, this is a working meeting and the Foreign Minister properly was grateful for the opportunity to see the President of the United States. They had a good review of the areas in which they'll have discussion in Helsinki, to be sure, and talked about that. They really talked about those issues that the two Presidents will need to address in addition to reviewing the work that's been done by the delegations at various levels to prepare for the summit.

Q Mike, have you heard anything new in Russian position today?

MR. MCCURRY: We've heard a lot of good commitment to addressing those issues that are clearly outstanding and clearly where there's some disagreements. There will likely continue to be disagreements after the summit in Helsinki. I can't imagine that we will resolve all the issues that are pending, but there will be a relationship here that is productive, that is moving forward, and that will aim this relationship to the 21st century, which is what the President's objective is in the first place.

Q Would you consider the issue of military infrastructure and how both sides define that as one of those issues on which you spent a lot of time over the weekend?

MR. MCCURRY: Not today, but my understanding is a substantial portion of time was spent on that issue as the Foreign Minister met with Secretary Cohen. I believe they might have even spent some time on issues like that in some of the sessions with Secretary Albright.

Q Are the two sides any closer together on this one issue?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate whether they're closer together or farther together, but I think there is still work to be done.

Q When the two Presidents meet, will they discuss the lag time between the first set of admissions to an expanded NATO any subsequent ones?

MR. MCCURRY: I suspect that timing sequences and issues like that will be something that will be discussed right up through the summit.

Q What was discussed on that today?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that there was any detailed discussion of that point today, but I think that there will probably be a future discussion.

Q Are you saying that Russia had some kind of say over the timing sequence?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm just saying that's an issue that I think the Presidents will have to address.

Q Last week you characterized the meeting as perhaps more ordinary than extraordinary. Is that what you're going with still, now?

MR. MCCURRY: Even less extraordinary than might otherwise have indicated. I think they've got work to do and there will continue to be work to do. And the President, at the end of the meeting today, really made the point that I think is fundamental, that will certainly be a part of our presentation -- that the United States and Russia are in this relationship for the long haul. They have the capacity together to do extraordinary things as we think about the 21st century and think about Europe and the 21st century and an undivided democratic Europe in the 21st century, but there is a substantial amount of work that needs to be done to clear away the residue of the Cold War period. And that's a large part of the work that this summit will be about that and that type of work will likely continue for coming years.

Q You've got another day now before Helsinki. Is this the end of Primakov meetings here?

MR. MCCURRY: The Foreign Minister, my understanding is, was flying back and planned to meet almost immediately upon his return with President Yeltsin.

Q Mike, did you make any progress or was there any progress either on CFE or any discussion at all about the outlines of a START III?

MR. MCCURRY: The President mentioned the conventional forces in Europe discussions that have occurred in Geneva and elsewhere and the position advanced by the U.S. side, and talked about the importance of that and said that he hoped the Foreign Minister would relay that to President Yeltsin. And of course, a large part of these discussions over the last several days have been about the ratification of START II and the future of strategic arms reductions beyond that.

Q But did the President talk in broad outlines about what the United States would like to see or could imagine inside a START III agreement?

MR. MCCURRY: He didn't talk in detail about that, but he referenced some of the detailed discussions that have occurred over the weekend about that.

Q Mike, is it the administration's position that the NATO summit and expansion will proceed regardless of whether there is any agreement on any of these other issues, such as -- demarcation or any of these other issues?

MR. MCCURRY: The North Atlantic Alliance is committed to a course of action on expansion that is well-known and that is proceeding and will proceed. But we do think it's fundamentally important to address some of these other issues and resolve some of these issues as well, and importantly, to address in a very specific way the relationship the United States would like to see evolve between NATO and the Russian Federation, which is a large part of this summit is about helping to guide those discussions, very important discussions, that are occurring between Secretary General Solana on behalf of the Alliance and the Russian Federation.

Q Is it necessary to have this charter worked out before NATO expands?

MR. MCCURRY: Necessary is kind of a fungible concept. I mean, it's important to move that forward, and it has to move forward consistent with the unanimous view of 16 members of the Alliance and the agreements and commitment of the Russian Federation. We obviously are trying to advance those discussions, and that will be a purpose in the talks between the two Presidents.

Q What is our position now on the 10-year moratorium for the second -- of countries to join NATO?

MR. MCCURRY: We haven't changed our view that this is not -- the members that will be considered for entry into NATO in Madrid will certainly not be the last of members that will be considered, that this will be an inclusive process that will continue. And we would address only in the context of agreement at 16 what we would say about timing and sequencing of additional membership.

Q Is it still the Russian position of 10 years?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to attempt to explain the nuances of their position.

Q Continuing a theme from the previous briefing, this is the first meeting that the President's had since he injured his knee. Did it make any difference? Was it a factor at all?

MR. MCCURRY: No. He's actually moving around a little more than I think the doctors wanted him to, because I saw Dr. Mariano frowning at one point as she paced around in the hallway.

Q Moving around in a chair?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. He did his briefing with his foreign policy advisors in one room and received Foreign Minister Primakov in the Yellow Room, and he's been dragging up and down the hall on the crutches, and the doctor probably would like him to take it a little easier.

Q Did he just sit -- was he in a wheelchair? I mean, could you --

MR. MCCURRY: Have we released the pictures? I think we are going to release the picture -- they sat in two chairs, side by side. The President had his leg slightly elevated on a little footstool that was available for him. The Vice President held the crutches for him. (Laughter.)

Q Did he pull them at any point? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: And the President was able to lift his leg, cross his leg a couple of times. So he's starting to move it around a little bit.

Q FIrst, can you rule out the other side used any knee-jerk position?

MR. MCCURRY: No, they were -- (laughter) --

Q On ABM, TMD, the Russians care a lot about --

MR. MCCURRY: And we do, too. Resolving those demarkation issues are critical to us.

Q Do you have any sense they're sort of willing to think more about the world as it is now as opposed to the world as it may be 20 years from now?

MR. MCCURRY: I think there is a great deal of thinking. That's about all I can say at this point -- a great deal of thinking going into their position, and I think the Foreign Minister presented their thinking quite well. But it's clearly an issue that will require further exchanges even perhaps between the two Presidents.

Q So lots of work still to do on this issue, too?

MR. MCCURRY: Right. When I hinted last week that we were not anticipating major breakthroughs or resolving some of these outstanding efforts, I was not simply lowering expectations.

Q But is there any area where they reached agreement today? Primakov said out on the lawn that in some cases we have success. I'm not quite sure --

MR. MCCURRY: They've made very productive progress in their discussions. And remember, there are three areas here -- the are a basket of economic issues are those that I think are in some ways most compelling to the President when he thinks about the future of this relationship. How we engage economically with Russia and how Russia really begins to seize the economic opportunities that it has and how that begins to affect the equation is really in the long-term I think what the President thinks is far more important to the future of this relationship. So they have made some progress related to those issues; hopefully we'll have some more to say about that. But they at the same time have got a number of pieces of work left on the security and arms control portions of the dialogue, and we'll have to see where we end up.

Q Mike, are you saying that the U.S. is ready to accept or sponsor the expansion of G-7 to the G-8 -- for the AP's interest as well as to the Wall Street Journal's interests.

Q Because that's what we think you're saying.

MR. MCCURRY: On both of those, I have nothing useful I can contribute at the moment. But that's the kind of thing that you imagine that would be part of the discussions.

Q But, Mike, given the size of the Russian economy, is it reasonable to imagine Russia being admitted to the G-7 this year?

MR. MCCURRY: If you would hear the President describe the future of this relationship and the enormous economic potential that exists, and to think of his view that this is a meeting that really ought to be about how we envision the Russia-U.S. relationship as we think ahead to the 21st century, there might be a somewhat more nuanced answer to the question.

Q So you're saying G-8 in the 21st century, not in the 20th century?

MR. MCCURRY: If I said that here now, I'd probably be looking for work and Mr. Johnson could take over for me.

Q Are you looking for other work?

Q What was the Primakov reaction to the investment incentives that the United States --

MR. MCCURRY: They didn't cover those in any great detail. Department Secretary Summers was there and there was a reference to the good work that he's done going into that. I think Larry has just returned from Moscow, is that not correct? You guys probably know better. He's been there, and they've worked through a lot of those issues and there was some reference to that. And frankly, some of that was a little over my head. But I think there is a desire to address those questions of incentives and a great desire for the United States to make clear the commitment we have to enhancing economic progress in Russia that will translate into real changes in the lives of the Russian people.

Q Martin Walker, in the interview in The Guardian today with the President indicating he was reading the last speech of FDR, the one he was supposed to give before he died. And it was kind of his vision -- he saw his vision of what he wanted to do with this U.S.-Russian relationship in the context of that. Do you have any key to this vision thing or on FDR's last speech?

MR. MCCURRY: I know the President's discussion of that with Martin, and there was -- he did find compelling, and has said in the past, that that -- and he said it at the press conference not too long ago -- that question of how Russia defines its greatness as we think of the 21st century is the key issue that defines the global agenda as we look ahead to the 21st century and think about what role the United States will play -- how we intersect and interrelate to a Russia that really needs to cope with the question of its future, especially with respect to Europe is one of the defining central foreign policy challenges we face for the next four years and beyond -- as you've heard the President and others here say.

And, yes, the President is mindful of the fact that those questions take on historic significance equal to and important as the confrontation that defined the climate at the conclusion of World War II and that established thus the architecture of the Cold War era.

Q My lord. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Man, this sure beats talking about contributions. I'll tell you that. (Laughter.)

Q -- for Russia and Russia's attitude on NATO expansion?

MR. MCCURRY: No, no, these are -- I mean, our interest in a healthy, growing, strong Russian economy relates to our security interests because we think that's an environment in which the Russian people are confident in the commitment to democracy and to market economics that enhances peace and security on the continent. They're related in a sense, but we're not suggesting that they are directly related as a linkage or a quid pro quo in these discussions.

Q Are you aware that the CIA has now issued a statement saying that they're investigating how the CIA was dragged into this involvement in the NSC to get this Roger Tamraz meeting here over the objections of the NSC?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I would be very surprised if that statement said precisely that. But I imagine it says that they're looking into the matter, and that's probably well and good.

Q Why is that? Do you think that the CIA was politicized by the Democratic National Committee?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to suggest anything until we have greater access to facts. But I know that there's one resident of this place that would have found that pretty appalling if, in fact, that is the case. But we need facts before we can render opinions.

Q But is that what the CIA is now investigating, whether it was --

MR. MCCURRY: You should ask them, Wolf. I can't speak for them.

Okay. It's a good time to quit. See you all later on.

Q Mike does that one resident happen to be on crutches at the moment?

MR. MCCURRY: You can imagine.

END 4:53 P.M. EST