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                     Office of the Press Secretary
                          (Helsinki, Finland)
For Immediate Release                                     March 21, 1997     
                          BACKGROUND BRIEFING
                        Hotel Inter-Continental
                           Helsinki, Finland

8:54 P.M. (L)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me give you a little sense of the chronology of the day in this quite lovely setting of the house of the President with his glass windows, with the light streaming in.

The meeting started; the President spoke first and outlined what he saw as the objectives of the day, and basically the three baskets that we've talked about. They then turned to the so-called Euro Security Statement that you have. A lot of very excellent work on that was done last weekend when Foreign Minister Primakov was in Washington and met with Secretary Albright. There a number of issues that were resolved. There remain several issues that were unresolved. There was some very strenuous discussion in the morning, in the first part of the morning, on that charter. The President indicated that basically the fundamental positions that we had staked out -- no veto, no second-class citizens, no exclusion, no subordination of NATO --were lines that he would not cross.

And I think in the course of that discussion, plus as the President explained how he saw NATO and how he saw NATO changing and evolving and what he saw NATO's intention being, I think President Yeltsin became more comfortable that there is really a new NATO and that the intention of NATO enlargement -- while, as I say, he was very clear about the fact that he did not accept it -- was a reality that he accepted would go forward at Madrid and agreed that there would be this charter. And the statement gives some impetus -- further impetus to the negotiations now that will go on between Solana and Primakov.

They then turned to the START and ABM issues, and went through what we saw as START III guidelines. There were a few issues that were unresolved there. We then moved to the ABM-TMD area. That was the hardest area. And President Yeltsin put forward certain ideas that we basically could not accept. There then was some effort before lunch to resolve those issues at a lower level. That was not successful. I think after the lunch the President made quite clear to President Yeltsin that we essentially could not go farther than what we had proposed. And I think at that point there was just a few word fixes that needed to be made late in the afternoon to reach the final agreement.

But I think it essentially was the commitment of the two Presidents after the lunch to get this thing done. And this has been like Sisyphus' rock, which has gone up the hill, this ABM-TMD issue, as Bob indicated, many times, but never quite got over the hill. And it really took both Presidents deciding that they were going to get on the same side of the rock and push it over the hill today, before they left here, and make this truly an historic summit that really, I think, made the difference.

Q Any sort of Eureka moments where they said, let's do it.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it was a day of hard slogging. And it was -- I think, you know, there was some drafting that took place, obviously, at other levels, but all of the key decisions here were made by the two leaders. And I think they did it -- and there was a lot of discussion about larger -- the larger context. And I think that was very important. I think President Clinton tried to explain and provide for President Yeltsin our thinking, and I think the thinking of other NATO countries, about what the evolution of NATO really means and why it is not a threat to NATO. And I think that made some impression on President Yeltsin, although, as I say, to be very fair to President Yeltsin, as he said in his press conference, he believes NATO enlargement is a mistake. But I think he also now recognizes that it's an inevitability and it is therefore the better course of wisdom to try to strike an arrangement between NATO and Russia that makes NATO and Russia partners to the greatest extent possible.

Q It sounds like sort of a strange negotiation. You seem to be saying that the U.S. didn't give any ground. Were there any issues where the U.S. --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We agreed that we would consult on -- we agreed that we would consult in the standing consultative commission on these higher velocity systems without providing any veto. I think that was an important statement on our part at the end.

Q Did President Clinton repeat his earlier remarks about not excluding Russia eventually from NATO membership? And if so, did President Yeltsin have anything to say about that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I don't want -- let me not characterize President Yeltsin's view. I think President Clinton made clear his view that the process of NATO enlargement has to be, must be inclusive. And that means no nation is a priori excluded from membership. I don't think President Yeltsin expressed any immediate interest in beginning discussions. I think that their preference at this point is to reach an agreement between NATO and Russia, if that's possible.

Q At a briefing at the Russian press center this afternoon, Baturin talked about what sort of the Russians would have to take to compensate for this expansion of NATO if it should take place. One he mentioned was that the military might have to -- from the agreement signed by -- made by Gorbachev in 1990 about not using rail mobile missiles. Was this or any other --


Q -- measure of -- mentioned by Yeltsin?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. And let's remember that this comes in the context of two other negotiations. One is a START III negotiation, which will bring strategic levels down dramatically to 2,000 or 2,500. And second is a conventional forces in Europe negotiation, which will, on a reciprocal basis, deal with conventional force levels in Central Europe in a way that will prevent large buildups.

So I think these two mechanisms and just the general change in the threat environment means that NATO is not a greater threat to Russia. It is a -- certainly that is not its intention at this point.

END 9:03 P.M. (L)