THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Helsinki, Finland) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release March 20, 1997
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Press Pool Van
9:15 P.M. (L)
MR. MCCURRY: The meeting was very successful, the dinner held by the two Presidents -- the three Presidents, because Ahtisaari was there, too. Let's get the names of the rooms right and I'll tell you what happened here.
Q They gave us a piece of paper with the names of who was there and the --
Q And they announced a read-out on his meeting with the Finnish President, if that's what you're going to --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Well, they started with a receiving line. First, the three Presidents met together very briefly and chatted. Both Yeltsin and Clinton thanked Ahtisaari for hosting the meeting. And they then walked into the Gothic Hall here, where they formed a receiving line. People went through the receiving line and saw President Ahtisaari, then Yeltsin and then Clinton, who was sitting in his wheelchair -- the other two were standing.
And Clinton was, you know, as he always does, kibitzing and telling stories about each of the people who went through. Yeltsin was pretending that he understood the stories. (Laughter.)
They then went to the little photo op that you guys presumably saw in the State Hall.
Q The tree of them or the duo?
MR. MCCURRY: No, the two of them were sitting together in that big, ornate State Hall. And they were kibitzing back and forth and talking about the Palace while they were waiting for you to come and go.
They then proceeded to the Banquet Hall and had the dinner that has been -- you've gotten the menu for the dinner?
Q Yes. Baby reindeer and --
MR. MCCURRY: Baby reindeer is right.
Q Just the saddle. (Laughter.)
Q Reindeer faun. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Saddle of reindeer faun.
Q We found out what a "cep" is.
MR. MCCURRY: It's mushroom, mushroom cap.
Q That's easy for you, you were eating it. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: You know how I figured out that's what it was -- because I said, what on earth is a "cep"? And I finally figured out by looking at the Russian menu, because it was -- they said something, it was flavored with -- the word for mushroom. So I finally figured out it had to be a mushroom.
Q Yes? (Laughter.)
Q Nothing to drink?
MR. MCCURRY: They had three good wines, which it looked to me like Yeltsin and Clinton touched barely a drop of theirs -- not much consumption, it was very interesting.
Q But they ate well, didn't they?
MR. MCCURRY: They ate and talked.
Q Why was it interesting that neither President touched their wine?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because in the past they did.
Q What, are you implying about their drinking problems? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: No. In the past they did -- they did in the past.
Q Especially wine.
Q Well, they're both recuperating.
MR. MCCURRY: The two of them sat side-by-side with their translator behind them, and then President Ahtisaari sat across the table. And then all the other members of the delegations were intermixed around a very long, rectangular table.
Q Everybody was at the same table?
MR. MCCURRY: Everyone at the same table.
Q Big table.
MR. MCCURRY: Big table. Crowded table. Not much elbow room.
Now, substantively, they really did not attempt to get into any of the serious work going on. There were some interesting side conversations. Secretary Albright and Foreign Minister Primakov had a little side conversation. General Shalikashvili, who is here, and his counterpart, General Samsonov, who is, I think his title is the Chief of Staff for the Russian -- well, he's the Chief of Defense, what they call the CHOD in NATO terms. I think he's Chief of Staff, what is their equivalent of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. They were engaged in a fairly extensive conversation.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, combination social, combination military-to-military issues.
Q So there are issues -- Albright dealing with NATO and Shali probably with nukes.
MR. MCCURRY: They did not -- the President and Yeltsin clearly were striking a tone for the meeting, which seems to be very positive. There was a lot of banter back and forth and the President was engaging Yeltsin, telling stories about some of their previous meetings. The President was teasing Yeltsin at one point about a meeting in which Yeltsin, I guess, had the lead. I can't remember what meeting it was, but it was some issue of protocol, who was going to speak, and Yeltsin had decided to let everyone speak. And Clinton joked, he said, that's probably the way I would have handled it, too. And there was a laugh about that.
Q Did Albright and Primakov nail the language on the charter?
MR. MCCURRY: They were still working -- they've got several draft communiques in various areas that they've been negotiating, and language on two or three of them that's still not together yet.
MR. MCCURRY: They're working -- they've done well in discussing those issues. You know, remember, I keep saying there will likely be some things that we will clearly just agree that we will continue to discuss.
Q So no major agreements, this is more social and to kind of set the tone and get ready for tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: More social and set the tone. They're having coffee now and the President intended to go over a little bit at the coffee -- I asked him, I said, well, what's your sense of Yeltsin after having had dinner with him. He said, I think he really came here to do business.
Q Can we quote him?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, you can quote that.
Q "I think he really came here" --
MR. MCCURRY: "I think he really came here to do business."
Q Now, Albright and Primakov have been working?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. They had a bilateral at the hotel and they were going to have one or two -- I mean, they were talking about one or two points here. And members of our delegation are going to be working on some of the technical issues. As they often do, they'll probably work overnight. And tomorrow we'll say, "ta-daa." And we'll say, well, we'll continue to work these issues and there will be a lot of progress, some very good relationships, strong enough to --
Q I'm tired. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: -- strong enough to agree these moments when we disagree.
Q So this is still a very un-precooked summit?
MR. MCCURRY: It is, because they're doing -- I mean, they're doing -- I mean, they're doing some of the most sensitive issues in the bilateral relationship.
Q Nothing is nailed yet.
MR. MCCURRY: They may not be nailed down even tomorrow. They may have to continue to be discussed. We shall see.
Q And tomorrow we have two meetings and then -- and do they have specific topics for each?
MR. MCCURRY: One of the things they were going to talk about tonight was how to structure the conversation tomorrow. And my guess is they probably moved into the NATO-related issues pretty early. But let's see, they start -- according to this they start, they'll have another little meeting with Ahtisaari to start with and then Clinton and Yeltsin will probably start about, just before 10:00 a.m.
Q Mike, in the photo op, the last one just between Clinton and Yeltsin, Yeltsin looked very stiff and almost waxen. What was the physical --
Q Embalmed was the term that came to my mind.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he looks more -- he looks trimmer than I've ever seen him, obviously.
MR. MCCURRY: He looks trimmer. I think he is a little ashen-faced. But he was certainly engaged in the conversation with Clinton and commenting and very focused on things. I would say not as vibrant as I've seen him in the past, but certainly fully engaged with Clinton.
Q But not what you all expected before -- he looked pretty bad a couple months ago. I assume he looked pretty good at least earlier today.
MR. MCCURRY: He looks like he's recovering from surgery. And, you know, Clinton obviously looks like he's recovering from surgery.
Q The Healing Summit. The Infirm Summit. (Laughter.) Sorry.
MR. MCCURRY: They've worked through the realities of -- you know, been very gracious and accommodating. I think everyone at the summit was just as interested in how the President is dealing with crutches and wheelchairs as all of you are. So they kind of asked him a lot of questions -- how was it, how are you getting around.
Q Mike, between your previous incarnation and this one, have you been at every single Clinton-Yeltsin get-together?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I missed the very first in Vancouver. I wasn't on board yet.
Q Because you're telling us, you know, how you think he's looked compared to other times.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, the previous times that I've seen him.
Q So you've been to almost every one of them.
MR. MCCURRY: I think I've probably been to just about all of them. I've seen him a few times when it was just with Christopher.
Q And also at that same photo op Gene was talking about, the President was holding his hurt knee. Is he in any discomfort or is that just sort of a reflexive type thing or what?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, when he sits for a long time it gets stiff, and he sort of massages it a little bit and I think probably stretches it just a little bit. You know, he's got some mobility now in the knee. And part of his physical therapy is to stretch it a little bit. And I think he likes to rub it a little bit and stretch it, just because it gets cramped. It's not causing him any pain, it just is stiff more than anything else.
Q We're at a little disadvantage because we weren't at your whole briefing, but did he feel awkward at all about the way he was brought down on that truck and all that?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I mean, it's just the way it was.
Q He hasn't seen it on the news yet.
MR. MCCURRY: That's the same way he came back to Andrews -- you know, when he came back. And the truth is the catering truck is about the only way you can get the wheelchair up and down. So there's not much we can do about it.
Q So we don't have any headlines out of this meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: Not tonight, but we didn't anticipate that tonight -- just, summit off to a start.
MR. MCCURRY: You know, Clinton and Yeltsin review agenda and prepare to get down to work. Clinton says, Boris looks like he's ready to deal -- that they were getting ready to do business -- whatever it was I quoted.
Q So we have our work cut out for us now to make something out of this? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: No, no, because I made it real clear when I briefed earlier. David, I made it abundantly clear to people that were telling them that you could go off and have dinner tonight and not worry about it because we weren't going to make any news.
END 9:30 P.M. (L)