THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Helsinki, Finland) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release March 20, 1997
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
Hotel Inter-Continental Helsinki, Finland
4:43 P.M. (L)
MR. MCCURRY: Good evening, everybody. Good afternoon, good morning -- what is it? One or the other. President Clinton is upstairs here at our headquarters getting a last briefing from his -- members of his foreign policy team. He met a short while ago with Secretary Madeleine Albright, who is at the moment meeting with her counterpart Russian Federation Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov. They are clearly working through the substantive issues that we expect to arise on the agenda at the President's working sessions tomorrow.
This evening President Clinton has an opportunity to renew an old acquaintance with Boris Yeltsin. He has not seen him for quite some time. They, no doubt, will compare their respective personal situations -- President Yeltsin clearly vigorously recovering from heart surgery, and President Clinton clearly struggling to recover from knee surgery. But President Clinton continues to enjoy the realities of adjusting to summitry in a wheelchair.
Q Like what?
MR. MCCURRY: He is, in fact, enjoying -- it's kind of interesting, he's been sharing some private observations about how life is different when you are dealing with a situation, in fact, millions of Americans deal with every day who face permanent disabilities.
The President also is very interested in his bilateral meeting -- this has not been the focus of some of you -- but the President spent a good deal of time with Ambassador Shearer and talking about his upcoming meeting with the Prime Minister and with someone who, I think it's fair to say, the President has been enormously impressed with in his previous meetings. President Ahtisaari has a very keen grasp of issues ranging from the United Nations and reform of the United Nations to all the issues that are important to European integration, European security. And so the President did spend a fair amount of time preparing for that meeting with President Ahtisaari and also with Prime Minister Lipponen.
So there will be some discussions, and of course, the President intends to express the gratitude of the United States to the people of Finland for their willingness to host this summit. This is obviously an historic occasion; it wouldn't be possible if we didn't have the gracious hospitality of the Finnish people and the Finnish leadership.
So tonight, more of a social start to work on the agenda, start to review some of the important issues. The foreign ministers of the United States and the Russian Federation working through some of the issues on the agenda, and then moving tomorrow into the working session and things that we will, hopefully, report to you at the press conference tomorrow. That's where we stand.
Q Is the President becoming more sensitive to the problems that a lot of other Americans have as a result of his being in a wheelchair?
MR. MCCURRY: He is. He and the Vice President were talking about that last night, that it really is, as he adjusts to the reality of moving around the White House and seeing what it's like to be confined to a wheelchair, he does have more sympathy for those who are challenged by that situation every day.
Q What's your reaction to the seemingly conciliatory statements made by Yeltsin as he arrived and spoke of hopes for a compromise, said he wanted to leave here as friends? Do you sense a change in tone?
MR. MCCURRY: There are always prior to a meeting different degrees of public statements made. I think ours have been focused on exactly the working agenda the President brings here to Helsinki -- European security, the future of arms control, the importance of economic growth in Russia for the Russian Federation and for the people of Russia, and charting this relationship as we think of the 21st century where we want the United States and the Russian Federation to be as we think about the future of Europe, indeed, think about cleaning away all the last residues of the Cold War era.
And we have been guarded in what we've said on those subjects because there are disagreements that exist. You've heard me say that there will no doubt continue to be disagreements after the meetings tomorrow. But we remain confident that this is a partnership in which two nations can continue to work through the issues that divide them, led by two Presidents that clearly have a personal relationship sufficient to address those differences in an amicable style.
A lot of hard work, in other words. We'll see whether we can bridge some of these differences, but I don't want to speculate on whether we will or not at this point.
Q I'm sorry, but my question was do you detect a change in tone in what Mr. Yeltsin said when he arrived here, in contrast to what he's been saying the last few days?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, his concerns that he has expressed about the future of NATO our well known to us. And I think that all of those statements reflect some of the anxieties concerned, but also some of the opportunities that the Russian Federation foresees. We think about these issues in very much the same way. There are difficult issues there, but we remain confident that the expansion of NATO is the right formula for preserving an undivided, democratic, peaceful Europe as we look ahead to the 21st century.
Q Mike, in that same quote, you know, he was saying that President Bill Clinton and his team seem to be prepared to find constructive approaches and compromises. It sounds like he's predicting that the compromising is going to from you.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, he's perhaps making more difficult my effort to lower expectations at the moment. And I think, based on what I've heard from our team -- from Secretary Albright, from Deputy Secretary Talbott, from some of the members of the President's National Security team, from Sandy Berger and others -- there's a lot of very difficult work that lies ahead and some differences that are going to be difficult to bridge --whether we're talking about arms control, whether we're talking about issues related to strategic arms reduction, whether we're talking about the vital question of the future of NATO's relationship with Russia.
There are still many issues to be addressed and not clear that all of them will be resolved. But there will be a good work done on all of those in the spirit of partnerhsip that I think defines this relationship.
Q Do you think President Yeltsin will be disappointed in his hope or expectation --
MR. MCCURRY: I think he will find in his friend Bill Clinton a President, a leader willing to work through these issues and to see if we can't come to common understanding on some of the questions related to the agenda the two Presidents have defined. I think we certainly will be meeting with him in a spirit that is open and candid and realistic in dealing with some of the differences that exist. But I don't want to predict that that will lead to success or lead to more work ahead in the future.
Q Mike, are we likely to see any movement on the Russian request to extend the 2003 deadline? And if we did agree to anything along those lines, is it your understanding that that would require reratification by the Senate?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there will be a lot of discussion about where we are with START II, what the status of ratification is in the Duma, what the implications are as we look beyond START II and what the timing will be for, perhaps, a third round of strategic arms reductions. I don't want to preview that now because we clearly will be doing a lot of work on that tomorrow.
Q As far back as 1945 the United States has occasionally raised the possibility of the Russians joining NATO or becoming associate members of NATO. Do the Russians now have this option?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have always described the expansion of NATO as an inclusive, nondiscriminatory process. And we established clear criteria. We've talked about the why and the how and we're moving now into the question of the who. And we've always said that that is a process that is open and transparent and available to all. I think in reality the Russian Federation itself has chosen to define its relationship with NATO in a different fashion; thus, the concentrated effort to talk about some charter or some way in which we could find a political commitment on the part of NATO and the Russian Federation to structure a relationship in the future that is something other than membership.
But it was, no doubt, just as important to define that relationship, and we've already seen the advantages that come from cooperation. The Russians' participation in the stabilization force in Bosnia has been a hallmark of the cooperation that we foresee as we look ahead and think about the relationship that Russia will have to NATO, and that's the type of discussion that's underway. But by no means is anyone excluded. That has been the policy of the Alliance since it took the decisions necessary to open the question of expansion.
Q The Russians have been very tough and pessimistic in their statements. Do you think they really mean it, or is there some kind of -- part of the game?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to predict how their public statements affected their negotiating strategy or how they thought about the preview of this meeting. Again I'd say we've tried to be very correct in laying out what we think the agenda is, what we think the conceivable goals are for discussion, and then stick to that. And there are always different views of how the dialogue will go and sometimes expressed differently by different people in governments. But I think we've looked across the whole range of things that have been said walking up to this summit and we believe that President Yeltsin arrives here determined to work with President Bill Clinton to address all of these issues that the two governments have defined, and we think it will be done in a spirit of partnership.
Q Mike, in terms of the dynamic that you're talking about, the expansion of NATO, is the President just going to sit down and just say to Mr. Yeltsin, look, the idea that we're going to abandon this expansion is just not there, or do they do it in most of the diplomatic terms? How direct will it get?
MR. MCCURRY: By now the Russian Federation, based on the presentation the President made to Foreign Minister Primakov and what they have heard repeatedly -- not only from the United States government, but from Secretary General Solana and from other NATO governments -- the realities are quite clear. The schedule going to July in Madrid is quite clear.
What is not clear is how we do the very important work of defining Russia's role in questions related to the future of NATO, the adaptation of NATO and eventually the expansion of NATO. And that's probably the work that will be done here. And let me remind, too, this is not conclusive in and of itself here, although the United States obviously has a leadership role in the Alliance, this is a decision that is defined by 16 governments making their decisions. The expansion of NATO is, for our government and for many of our Alliance partners, a treaty amendment, so it does require action by other branches of, indeed, our government and in some cases, other parliaments. So it's a very significant decision and it's one that cannot be taken lightly and cannot be taken unilaterally.
Q I guess -- I was trying to get to the kind of level of discussions you think they are. If you think that they're going -- do you have some concern that this could get a little testy since certainly Mr. Yeltsin wants some reservations on what can be included in NATO and what the NATO expansion will mean the President, at least White House officials are saying, is not prepared to give.
MR. MCCURRY: It has not been a feature of the discussions of these two Presidents that they are testy. They have certainly had disagreements and have been very candid in dealing with issues in the past. But I think they know how to resolve those differences in an amicable way. And the tone of the conversation is most often friendly, although it's sometimes firm and determined as well.
Q How does the White House -- Russian worries about NATO -- how much are they seen for real?
MR. MCCURRY: The public pronouncements that are made? I think that we take them in the context that they're delivered. We understand that there is a vibrant political dynamic in Russia that has to be addressed sometime by the leadership of the Russian Federation. So we account for that as we measure out what various figures in the government say, and then we listen very carefully to what they say as we meet with them face to face, where we do our direct diplomacy.
Q How much do you think they differ from each other?
MR. MCCURRY: They don't differ greatly, there are just differences of tone and nuances sometimes. There's a difference between doing work side by side and then articulating publicly in a way that advances your diplomatic objectives, and perhaps maybe your domestic objectives as well. So there is a difference in tone sometimes. But there are very clear, strong feelings about some of the questions that these two Presidents have addressed, particularly on the side of the Russian Federation, and we acknowledge that and we respect that and will try to work through that.
Q Has the U.S. government assessed whether this will affect Yeltsin and other -- whether NATO expansion will affect Yeltsin and other democratic politicians in Russia if it does expand, and is the U.S. concerned about that?
MR. MCCURRY: We try to think in a sophisticated way about those who pursue reform and the agendas that they have and the difficulties they face as they advance their objectives and how external factors might impact them. We try to think about that in a serious, sophisticated way, sure.
Q But will it? Is the assessment that it will?
MR. MCCURRY: They are learned experts on that subject, many of them here to comment for many of your news organizations, and I'm sure many of them will help you on that question.
Q Mike, in conversations up until now and today and tomorrow, does the U.S. side communicate to the Russians that they take seriously their concerns and understand the basis of their concerns, while also saying that there's not a whole lot the U.S. is going to do about --
MR. MCCURRY: We do. We understand the historic context in which many average Russian citizens think of NATO because it's defined by the period of the Cold War and it's clear for many people in the Russian Federation that NATO was defined for years and years as the enemy. And making an adjustment to see the possibility of cooperation, partnership and how an expanded NATO becomes a tool that preserves the security of the Russian people is a difficult concept, perhaps, but it is one that we understand we have to articulate, articulate clearly, and we try in our public pronouncements, especially as we communicate in a way that we know will reach the Russian people to talk about the advantages, the opportunities, the importance of plotting a future for Europe that includes NATO as part of the architecture of peace and democracy.
Q The President has taken pains to acknowledge Yeltsin's contribution, the contribution of the Russian people. Does he feel that it's as important to give Yeltsin, if you will, some political cover at home as it is to get some kind of signal here that Yeltsin at least accepts the inevitability of NATO expansion?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think I just described to you how we try to think in a sophisticated way about the political dynamic that our counterpart faces and I think you can incorporate that answer as an answer to your question.
Q Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia all want to be in this first round of expansion. Is this something that's going to come up in your talks with Yeltsin or do you think you're going to limit it to the other three countries?
MR. MCCURRY: I would be -- it may tangentially arise, but that's really a discussion more for the Alliance itself, the question of who and how we think about membership as we look ahead to Madrid. That could conceivably arise here, but the focus of that work, of course, is more properly in the North Atlantic Alliance.
Q The U.S. takes the position it has for months that Russia doesn't have a realistic picture of NATO. Does the U.S. have a realistic picture of the political problems NATO expansion poses to Yeltsin?
MR. MCCURRY: I think we, as I say, try to be sophisticated in our thinking about the internal dynamic in Russia. We know that that places constraints just as it does everywhere, Barry. You know, you and I have talked over the years about the Middle East and we know how the realities of politics on the street impact the ability of leaders to make decisions. That's, by the way, true for President Bill Clinton, too, as you all know. So I think we do take that into account and we understand the realities that exist and we are, of course, encouraged by some of the steps that have just recently been taken by President Yeltsin with respect to forming a government that appears to be infused with new figures that are committed to reform. We think that's significant, and we acknowledge that and I'm sure that will be something that President Clinton takes into account as he meets with President Yeltsin.
Q You mentioned trying to get this point across to the Russian people the meaning of a new NATO, but that assumes that the opinion of the Russian people counts in that system now. -- the Russian people at this point aren't terribly politically engaged. Can you address that point that your audience -- if your audience is the Russian people for this sort of education, does it really matter?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I suspect, as with maybe even the American people, there are more immediate concerns sometimes in the lives of the average Russian -- the status of the economy, the status of reform, what types of opportunities are existing as you build a better future. Those are the realities that define the day-to-day lives of most people in this world, and they are impacted by things that happen in the realm of foreign policy, but they are sometimes not as immediate.
I imagine there are a lot of things that we're going to be doing here related to promoting economic development and growth and investment in Russia that in the long run are going to be far more important to the Russian people than the question of how we structure the security architecture of Europe for the 21st century. And I think that's a valuable part of the message that gets communicated from a summit like this as well.
Q A couple of questions trying to get you to elaborate on talking about the realities of adjusting to summitry in a wheelchair. First, how much discomfort was he in before or after the flight? And secondly, is he at any kind of PR disadvantage in sort of arriving in a catering truck? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: If he is he certainly didn't evidence any concern about it. He rested comfortably on the flight -- he actually was tired. I think a lot of us pretty well slept on the way over, and he did, too, although he did some work through his briefing book as well. But I think he now has more than several days to adjust to how you move around in his wheelchair -- he had knee surgery after he blew out his knee and he's recovering from it, and it makes life more difficult, but it makes it interesting and he's contending with it pretty well.
Q Mike, after all the talk -- and the talks in Washington last week, could you delineate where the United States, NATO and Russia agree on a charter, if you want to call it that, and where they disagree at this point?
MR. MCCURRY: I probably could, but I won't right now because that's the work that they're going to do tomorrow, and I don't want to preview that. There are areas in which I think they've had good discussions in which they've got a good concept of what that charter should be, but there, inevitably, are some areas that they're still thinking about and that's the work that Secretary Albright and the Foreign Minister are devoted to probably right now. And it's, I imagine, going to be part of the agenda tomorrow. But some understandings of how that works and what that charter is an important part of the discussion tomorrow.
Q That very same thing. Last night the Russian Press Secretary was saying that they won't be happy with oral agreements, that they want something in writing and very concrete and very specific. Is NATO prepared to do that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think from our view it's important to have a good understanding of how that relationship will be structured. There are perhaps many different ways you can establish that understanding, but the concept of a charter that really makes clear for all the members of the North Atlantic Council and for the Russian Federation what the obligations are is a useful approach in our view.
Q Mike, how do you make the case to the Russians that the new NATO is not about turning against Russia when the majority of the contenders for new membership cite as their -- high on their list of rationales for wanting to do it is they're scared of Russia? And only yesterday the Lithuanian foreign minister made this --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the best way to answer that question is to point to what we are doing already with the Russian Federation and NATO together, and that's to address the situation of ethnic conflict in the Balkans, specifically trying to stabilize Bosnia as it recovers from the aftermath of a horrible war.
We're doing very good work together with them and we see in that moment of cooperation the utility of an institution like NATO as we think of a Europe that we want to preserve in peace, even though it has historically been a continent that is rife with ethnic conflicts. So the ability to use some of the security architecture in the arrangements of NATO as we think about the identity of European security and think about the way you preserve European security is very, very important and shows what the opportunities and possibilities are for Russia.
Q Mike, what does the United States hope to accomplish in holding out the prospect of arms control concessions coming into these talks? What do you gain by dangling that possibility?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are hoping, of course, to point ahead to the future of strategic arms reductions as we alert the Duma to the possibilities that exist beyond the ratification of START II. And obviously we think about how we can make the world a safer place as we delimit the size of the strategic arsenals on both sides and how we look ahead to the future. We are, in short, taking advantage of the enormous change in history that is represented by the end of the Cold War and the reduction of tensions from both sides, and codifying that or looking to codify that in how we approach the question of structuring the nuclear arsenals of both sides.
Q So, if I could follow up, the U.S. is essentially trying to say to the Russian Parliament, look, there's a lot to be gained from going forward with this and we will offer some good faith here if you're willing to act?
MR. MCCURRY: We certainly are trying to show what the possibilities are beyond START II, but we also want to address questions that are important to us, too -- how do we -- as we think about reducing the threat of intercontinental nuclear weaponry, we need to also address what the dangers are in regional theater-type ballistic missiles and we need to think about what the implications are for treaties that we've reached in the past, specifically the ABM. So how you fit those things together in the arms control equation will be a large part of the discussion tomorrow, and there are some outstanding issues there. There are some things, in short, that we want and expect, too, in exchange for looking ahead out on the horizon with respect to arms control.
Q Even if there is no pain for the President, do the logistic difficulties argue for postponing either Mexico or even the multistop Latin American trip?
MR. MCCURRY: There may be some need to think about that. I mean, the trip to Latin America was designed to be much different from a meeting like this, which is, in a sense, a face-to-face meeting to really work through issues. The President's trip to Latin America was envisioned to be one in which we really -- the President engages more fully with the people of Latin America and travels. So we'll have to kind of look at the schedule and think about it as we think ahead. But we'll let you know if there are any changes in our plans.
Q Mike, if NATO is so important to European security, what role, if any, should NATO play with the Albania crisis? And a second question: Is Albright's meeting with Primakov specifically focused on the charter, or is she talking about the whole range of issues?
MR. MCCURRY: She is I think focused on some of those issues that were still on the table as the Foreign Minister left the White House and went to talk to President Yeltsin over the weekend, the last several days.
Q What are they specifically?
MR. MCCURRY: They are specifically the things that we'll be probably addressing and talking to you about tomorrow.
Q What about the Albania question?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, the Albania question -- there has to be some thinking of how you respond to regional conflict into crisis. This is not a moment in which I think NATO is prepared to do that, but you are well aware there have been discussions within NATO of how you create task forces that could respond when there is a need. We happen to work that question right now through a different series of interlocutors, but there is a utility if you think about the future of NATO and think about a crisis situation as it develops, particularly in the Balkans which is an area in which I think every European would want to think about ways of deescalating violence and tension.
Q A couple of questions on another subjects. Do you have a response to either the American Airlines pilots in their agreement in principle, or the progress on Mexico on the Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd like to take the two separately. I expect as we see things firm up in the American Airlines discussion, if things go as well as we think they are going, we'll probably have a statement on that later today. We're keeping a close eye on that. Long distance, Bruce Lindsey has been getting some reports back from Washington. We're very encouraged by what we hear, but as of about an hour ago I didn't hear that we had any successful outcome to welcome. But if we do, we will certainly say so.
On the second question, we've had very productive conversations in the last 24 hours with key senators who are addressing the question of Mexico's drug certification. This morning in Washington, my understanding is that caucuses on both sides of the Hill, both sides of the aisle, are turning their attention to some of that language, and we'll see what the results of those deliberations are later today.
Q If I could follow -- in answer to Cragg's question, are you talking about possibly postponing Latin America or just retooling --
MR. MCCURRY: I just said that if we get to a point where we need to rethink the schedule, we'll let you know.
Q Can I clarify something you said on Mexico? So are you encouraged by the talks? Do you have a response to what's going on?
MR. MCCURRY: We had, I guess late last evening in Washington and then today, we've had some productive discussions about how we could take account of where we are and preserve some of the concerns that the President had, and we'll see where that goes today. That issue is going to be visited by caucuses on the Hill in Washington probably concluding about now, and we might have more to say on that later.
Q Are you optimistic? Are you encouraged --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we were encouraged by the conversations we had, sure.
Q Do you have a comment on this CBS report quoting Rick Nuccio as saying that George Tenet was responsible for leaking that classified information?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I do have a comment on that. I am deeply troubled by a major news organization conducting an investigation and reporting on the sources for another news organization's news reporting. I think that could lead us in a very difficult direction and I hope that news organizations in this room will think about the implications. When you attempt to uncover the sources for news reporting by another news organization, that can lead, I think, to a lot of results that none of us would welcome, certainly none of us on this side of the podium. But I will leave that for journalists and for news organization executives to address.
As to the issue itself, I would say that Mr. Tenet has always conducted himself in a way that honors his responsibility to protect national security information, and I'm sure that he can demonstrate that he did so with respect to the matter involving Mr. Nuccio.
Q Mike, back to the summit for a minute. You talked about changes that NATO has made to reassure the Russians that it's not a threat. Most of those changes occurred since Yeltsin's cold peace speech in Budapest about two and a half years ago. And as near as we can tell, Yeltsin hasn't changed his public posture on this subject a bit. Are you coming to a point where you're going to say, okay, we just are not going to be able to agree on that; let's see if we can go on to other things?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's a good way maybe of having a defining question that we can have on the table as we work ahead tomorrow. I've gotten through saying about as little as I can possibly say about tomorrow, and that's obviously the kind of question that is relevant after we meet with him tomorrow and see where we are.
Q Mike, this is not the first time the President has been to Helsinki; he came here during his student days. Did he have any reflections about returning here?
MR. MCCURRY: He was here 28 years ago, I guess, as a private citizen, and he's absolutely certain he will not have as much time to enjoy Finland as much as he did then. But he is grateful to the people of Finland for hosting this summit and he will probably at some point reflect on some of his memories if he gets an opportunity to.
Q Wasn't he here also as governor once?
MR. MCCURRY: I thought it was -- I know he was here 28 years ago as a private citizen, but I'd have to check on that.
Q Was there sight-seeing or things that he planned to do that he's not doing because of his condition?
MR. MCCURRY: I think, given the realities of the schedule, not a lot of it. I mean, he may have had one or two more opportunities to be out and do some things publicly that are restricted, but we necessarily had to restrict some of the schedule anyhow once we shortened the duration of the trip.
Q Do you know anything about a report that a Russian in military fatigues entered the embassy compound in Moscow earlier this month, broke into the home of the charge d'affaires, and spent the night -- was discovered the next morning in the shower? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I have seen the report. I understand that the owner of the residence in question is here in Helsinki with us, and I understand that the embassy did send some cable to us on it. Beyond that, I don't have any information on it.
Q Do you have any --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I believe that -- if I'm not mistaken, I think that same report indicates the embassy is conducting some kind of security review and I'll see if we can get some more on that or Mr. Johnson can maybe get some more on t.
Q Mike, back to the CBS report. Does the White House if the allegation is true, or are they trying to find that out? And if so, would that be a disqualifier?
MR. MCCURRY: We reviewed this matter in great detail prior to Mr. Tenet's nomination -- prior to the President's announcement. We're confident that Mr. Tenet has conducted himself in a way that fulfills his obligation to protect national security information. We dispute the account that Mr. Nuccio has given, and we are very troubled that CBS News would suggest that Mr. Tenet is the source of a report that appeared in The New York Times. I think there are dangerous consequences when news organizations start investigating the sources of their competitors.
Q Mike, can I just ask a question about that? Since many times stories that CBS has done have been investigated by other news organizations, I don't think that we feel badly about this. But I wanted to ask you if you're saying in all of your answer to Mick that he was the source or he was not the source?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I answered it very directly and made it clear in our own review --
Q You said he acted appropriately, but you didn't --
MR. MCCURRY: We made it very clear that he did not conduct himself in a way that betrayed his obligation to protect national security information.
Q You talked a couple days ago about President Clinton hobbling around on his crutches and doctors being a little dismayed. Is he completely confined to a wheelchair now, or is he using his crutches --
MR. MCCURRY: He uses a combination of both. It's a little -- takes a little more energy to move around on his crutches. And he's just -- it's a little easier to move around on the wheelchair. And I think, given that he wants to conserve some energy for the meetings that he's having, he was just using the wheelchair, but I suspect when we go back to Washington he'll start using the crutches more often.
Q Will he be confined to the wheelchair in his meetings with Mr. Yeltsin?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. He met with Foreign Minister Primakov seated at a chair in the room the other day, and I'm not sure how they're structuring the arrangements.
Q Tonight's event being primarily social, what business will get done, and besides business what will get accomplished?
MR. MCCURRY: On the President's agenda tonight is a bilateral meeting with President Ahtisaari and some other discussions with the Finnish government that he has taken seriously. That's substantively, they will -- we'll work through all of our bilateral issues with the Finnish government at that session, and them move into the dinner in which I think they'll probably talk about what kind of work are we going to do tomorrow and try to take some sense of what the overall tone and nature of the dialogue will be tomorrow.
And by the way, we're going to have -- I think we'll be able to give at some point towards the end of the dinner, give the pool that's out there a readout on what's happened and any color commentary about the dinner itself. We don't expect any other briefing back here tonight, so you're free to adjust your plans. Just look for a pool report from the palace that gives you some readout on the dinner.
Q Mike, given the President's condition, as I understand it, some organizations who represent the rights of handicapped Americans have been trying to petition the trustees of the FDR Memorial in Washington to depict the former President, Roosevelt, either in a wheelchair or on crutches to depict his handicap. And as I understand it, they've asked the White House or the President's support in their efforts. Given his newfound empathy to those confined to wheelchairs, do you think he might be more inclined to weigh in on that issue --
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to check. I don't know if he's had any opportunity to review that issue. I think he's aware of it, because it has been a controversy that's come up in the past. But I'd have to ask him, see if he has any thinking that's changed on that subject.
Q Back on Albania. The situation has become increasingly dangerous -- is flooded with refugees. There is talk of an intervention. What does the U.S. think about that? That could be possible -- and will the leaders discuss it tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: There has been a great deal of concern already expressed by our government about ongoing violence in Albania. We have certainly suggested and worked with other governments to see if there is any appropriate international response that can be fashioned. We are encouraged by some of the mediation efforts that have occurred, I believe under the auspices of the OSCE. And we will remain engaged on this.
I can't predict whether the two Presidents will discuss the situation tonight. I know that it's of substantial concern to both our governments and both the Russian government and the U.S. government have said so. If it arises, of course we'll try to give you some sense of what the nature of the conversation was.
Q I just wanted to clarify something you said before about the President's pain. Is he in any, or any discomfort at this stage?
MR. MCCURRY: He hasn't expressed any. The flight went pretty well, and they were not -- they I think had some type of elastic brace or something on his leg, and that was flexible enough to deal with the change in the air pressure and things like that. But he didn't report any discomfort as a result of the flight. He mostly slept through the flight.
Q Did he have any comments about the way he got on and off the plane or anything else --
MR. MCCURRY: No, and he didn't try to pick through the catering truck to see what else was on board either. (Laughter.)
Q Here in Finland, for historical --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, sir. I can't here you. Can you guys hold it down, please?
Q Here in Finland, there is concerns, as you very well know, of a new deal, divided Europe. Now, even if you are not here to bargain, perhaps you want to tell the Finnish audience how are you going to avoid one -- to another?
MR. MCCURRY: We would hope that the people of Finland would understand that the United States approaches the question of the future of Europe and the future of NATO with one overriding objective: to make the 21st century a century of peace for a continent that is undivided from the United Kingdom to the Urals, living with some sense of security about the future of all of the countries that define Europe. It is a moment of enormous hope for Europe as it integrates, as it begins to think about how the institutions of commerce and economics and security can become more interoperable within Europe.
And we want to play a leadership role in helping to make that happen in a nonexclusive manner. We understand and respect the thinking that the people of Finland have always had about NATO itself. We would hope that, as expansion occurs and as the environment changes and as NATO's utility is shown as we think about the 21st century in peace, that the people of Finland might begin to see in NATO a very useful element of advancing its own security interests.
And we deeply appreciate, by the way, the contributions that the people of Finland have made in things like stabilizing Bosnia, the contributions to providing police monitors for the SFOR mission there, and some -- the American press may not know this, but the Finnish people have also participated in a very significant way in the Balkans by providing monitors to help stabilize the security of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. That's a very significant contribution. And without that contribution from the partners that we have in Europe, the very tensions that we've been talking about that exist in the Balkans may have been a great deal more troublesome.
So, again, our view of the future of Europe is one of peace, and we think that the Finnish people will want to be a part of it.
Q All this we have heard. But, again, it seems that the worries and concerns stem from the fact that, at least in public, it seems that no matter how hard you are convincing the Russians that there is nothing to worry about, that the concerns and the worries still seem to be there.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we would have to acknowledge that history is a powerful -- sets off powerful emotions and sets off memories that linger. But extraordinary things have happened in the last decade. And I think that we need to think more optimistically about what the future will hold if we can bridge these differences and set aside some of the tensions and cleavages that have existed in the past.
You can well understand the concerns that nations have around the perimeter of the Russian Federation. But you can also understand the possibilities that exist if we can invigorate the transition to democracy and market capitalism in Russia so they become a part of the community of nations that really do define a new history for Europe.
And we just -- part of this is the work of what we call sometimes "public diplomacy," and that's part of the work that we're going to be doing this weekend, but it's also as people see the reality change around them -- perhaps new attitudes will set in.
Q Further on the question of pain -- is the President taking any pain medication such as codeine to address the question of his comfort?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we have -- if you look back, we can provide --
Q I'm not from Washington.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, we have done -- as your colleagues here can tell you -- extensive briefings on his medicines he's taking non-narcotic analgesics. I think he's still on the same regimen that we've described for you in the past -- Motrin, Extra-Strength Tylenol -- what is the other one? Ultran. So he's taking -- he specifically requested nonsedative analgesics to deal with the pain.
Q Mike, which image-meister came up with the FinnAir catering truck? And number two, what was the false start about, the up and down business?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know what the -- they were trying to -- I think as they elevated, they saw that they weren't close enough to the body of the aircraft to really get to the door. So they needed to get back and readjust so that they could get close to the door. Look, this is --
Q He wasn't on board the first time it came --
MR. MCCURRY: No, no. They were trying to adjust it so they could get him into the right thing.
Look, we have to -- clearly no image-meister thought of that. But on the other hand, there's no other way to get him up and down if he's the wheelchair than to use -- that's the best device available to use.
Look, we've been entirely open and candid about what's -- what is life like for Bill Clinton as he's dealing with the knee surgery. And we're not trying to disguise that. And we just have to deal with the reality of it.
Q Why isn't he on crutches yet? I mean, in public, because --
MR. MCCURRY: Look, he's been on some crutches. He's been -- he was on crutches --
Q But he hasn't been seen publicly, and I'm just curious because many people who have this kind of surgery are --the therapists put them on crutches as soon as possible.
MR. MCCURRY: I guess he did -- I mean, he got to up to say goodbye to the Tenet family yesterday, but I guess the pool had -- I guess you had all left at that point. But you'll see him on crutches quite soon.
Q I'm just wondering if there was some conscious decision not to --
MR. MCCURRY: No, no conscious decision. It's just -- it's easier for him to move around and a little safer for him to move around when his leg is braced in the wheelchair. And at some point, you will see him using crutches. His preference -- in fact, he wanted -- we've done two little public statements the last two days. And he had wanted to do those standing, and the doctors recommended against that. They just said, we want to keep you off the leg as much as we can during this early period of recovery.
Q Netanyahu apparently has offered to make peace with the Palestinians -- final -- within six months. The Palestinians are dismissing this as a publicity stunt. Do you have any reaction?
MR. MCCURRY: We have seen that. We believe if either side has proposals to make that they should do so directly to their negotiating counterpart. That's the purpose of negotiations. That's why exchanges face-to-face on matters like the timing and the sequence of issues related to the final status could be useful and would be more useful if they were done in direct dialogue.
Q Do you see any value in --
Q But Clinton, Yeltsin, everybody makes public statements. It's part of the negotiating game. Is there -- do you find something cynical about the statement?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we just think that it would be good if they make the approach on that question in dialogue directly with the Palestinian Authority.
Q Do you see any value in speeding up the negotiations?
MR. MCCURRY: We have always said that moving to the final status issues and beginning to deal with what are the most troublesome aspects of the negotiations that the two sides will have would be useful, because that is where the greatest difficultly lies in resolving the differences that exist.
Q Mike, if the cost to the United States proceeding with NATO expansion is further intransigence by the Russians on arms control, is that in the U.S. national interest to proceed for the good of Central Europe and NATO at the expense of the nuclear arms reduction?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I think that the reverse of that is the case -- that proceeding with adaptation of NATO to address the needs of the post-Cold War era and to prepare for the 21st century, while simultaneously advancing the objectives we have in reducing the size of the nuclear arsenals in the Russian Federation and the United States, is manifestly in the interests of all the people in Europe, and indeed all the people on the planet.
So that's what we're trying to make happen. And we believe we've got some opportunity to make that happen.
Q Mike, do you know if that vehicle in which the President rode in the motorcade was obtained locally or was it brought over in the car plane?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- do not know. Barry, do you know?
MR. TOIV: It was brought over.
MR. MCCURRY: It was brought over? They brought it over.
Q Is it Brady's?
MR. MCCURRY: It looked like it because it had those little gizmos -- is that the same one that he rode out?
MR. TOIV: No, it's not.
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's a different one.
MR. TOIV: No, it's going to go back. He'll be using that and another one.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, they've got -- they have equipped -- they scrambled the day he came home from Bethesda and borrowed Jim Brady's van, as you know. But they've now been able to equip some of these vans that they have acquired.
Q The New York Times reports today that back in 1994, within days of a five-day visit to the White House by James Riady, one of his companies paid Webb Hubbell at least $100,000. We knew the payments had been made but apparently not so close to one of the visits. Do you know whether there was any connection of the Riady visit and that payment to Webb Hubbell?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything to say beyond what Mr. Kendall said on the President and Mrs. Clinton's behalf.
Okay, thank you.
END 5:38 P.M. (L)