THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Helsinki, Finland) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release March 21, 1997
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
Hotel Inter-Continental Helsinki, Finland
12:55 P.M. (L)
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon to you and good morning to America. And I'm here not because I have anything substantive to report, but I thought you would like just a brief update.
The Presidents are off to a very intense start in their discussions. They met for two hours this morning, roughly a half hour longer than planned, breaking just before 1:00 p.m. for short caucuses. And they by now have -- I'm sorry, just before 12:00 noon they broke for some short caucuses and by now are back into a working lunch.
They quickly agreed that they would devote most of their time at lunch to economic issues and to the progress of economic and political reform in Russia. They devoted most of their time this morning to questions related to European security and some of the arms control issues that were previously agreed to be on the agenda.
I cannot report to you at this point that they have reached agreements because I think this is a discussion that will evolve as the day goes on, but they have had a very lively, very intense and very substantive conversation. Several familiar with the meetings that these two Presidents have had describe this as by far the most substantive and intense discussion they've ever had. And I think that is befitting the subject matter, talking about this relationship and the relationship both countries have to the continent of Europe as we think ahead to the 21st century.
So a little bit just in terms of the flavor of this conversation -- they are having some fun with each other. President Clinton started this morning, as they were waiting for you all to arrive for the photo opportunity, describing his evening last night. He said that between the hours of 12:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m. there was a series of loud thumping on the ceiling above him, and he joked with Yeltsin -- he said, "Boris, I thought you had hired an extra-large Finn to stomp on my roof," which Yeltsin laughed at. The President then explained that as near as they could figure, the sauna here at the hotel was above the President's room and the pipes clank on and off, related to the sauna. So the President was joking about having not had necessarily the most restful evening. But they bantered back and forth a little bit about their evening last night, and then after the departure of all of you they got quickly down to business.
Q -- complain to the hotel?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q I mean, they're charging us for an extra night, you should -- (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: They had, I'd say, about two-thirds of roughly the two hours they had together -- about two-thirds of it this morning devoted to questions related to Europe, European security, and about roughly a third of the time devoted to arms control issues. And the discussions on both of those will continue this afternoon.
There are aspects of the conversation this morning that were not entirely definitive, so they'll come back and review some of that in both the working lunch and then the second session scheduled for later this evening -- later this afternoon.
Q -- language prepared for them --
MR. MCCURRY: They are talking -- most of you know, there has been some effort by the delegation to shape some of the understandings in textual form and they've talked a little bit about different formulations. But more importantly I think, they reviewed philosophically some of the reasons why they feel so strongly as they do about questions related to the future of Europe. Very substantive discussion was also described as being non-polemical. This was not an argument between these two Presidents, but really a very candid and thorough review of their different positions and done in a very amicable spirit.
Q How would you square that with "intense" -- not contentious but --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, intense in terms of substance. This was in intensively substantive. (Laughter.) Okay. Is that enough, you can all get on the air at 7:00 p.m.? That's about all I've got for you now.
Q Is that the characterization you got from the President or from somebody else?
MR. MCCURRY: From the President and from members of our delegation. I didn't attempt to talk to President Yeltsin.
Q Republicans have written a letter to the President unanimously warning against any-last minutes concessions on theatre missile defense and ABM concessions to the Russians -- that would be reckless, in their opinion.
MR. MCCURRY: The President intends to make no "reckless" concessions.
Q Did they reach at least some partial agreement on some points related to European security, or is there still disagreement on most points or all points that was the case before the meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: They've had conversations and the conversations will continue.
Q What do you expect at the end of the summit -- joint statement?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no way of predicting at this point.
Q How is the NATO-Russia charter shaping up?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that will shape up when NATO and Russia and negotiate it long after this meeting. They've had discussions today about how the United States could reflect some of our view of what the NATO-Russia relationship should be and they've talked extensively about that. But it was never our place here to try to codify that agreement because we'd have to do that as 16, with our partners in the Alliance.
Q -- can you give us any details?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not going to give you any substantive detail, period, as you can tell.
Q Last week in looking over the Albanian situation -- pretty terrible -- was there any real chance that the U.S. would have supported NATO intervention, if only to rescue Americans?
MR. MCCURRY: We've reviewed very carefully the security needs we had as we dealt with the ordered departure of U.S. personnel, dependents and other American citizens. I'm not going to try to go back and walk through all that, but they were substantive discussions about how to protect U.S. citizens who are dealing with that emergency situation.
Q Are you talking about, like -- airport? I mean, protecting their exit?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm talking about making sure that they could accomplish the evacuation that was ordered.
Q Trent Lott is talking about a congressional NATO observer group that would be involved in negotiations over NATO enlargement. What's the view of the administration?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we respect highly the Majority Leader's views and certainly understand that as we talk about adaptation of NATO for the future we are talking about questions that the United States Senate would have to consider. So it might be entirely useful for us to engage early with the Senate in helping them understand the nature of our deliberations with Russia, and, more importantly, the nature of NATO's deliberations with Russia. But the Majority Leader has put forth a very provocative and very informed set of views on those questions.
Q Can you see members of Congress actually being involved in negotiations?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, involved in the sense that we consult regularly and keep apprised key members of the Congress as we conduct our diplomacy, of course.
Q But not sitting in on --
MR. MCCURRY: It's the job of the Executive Branch to negotiate agreements and to represent the views of the United States government as we engage other foreign governments.
Q Is there anything special the President or his advisors are doing to reassure Yeltsin that NATO expansion is not a threat against Russia?
MR. MCCURRY: That substantively is exactly what the President conveyed. He conveyed his vision of the future of Europe, NATO's role in Europe, and made quite clear that it's nonthreatening to the Russian people. And he did that, I think, with a great deal of passion and conviction.
Q Mike, how is he working in his physical therapy today, or is he not doing it today?
MR. MCCURRY: He'll probably have to do a little bit of that later. They did some stretches and things like that, but they didn't get an opportunity to do any real formal therapy today earlier.
Q Can you just give us a sense of the layout of who is in the room with the President?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. The Presidents sit -- if you've seen the footage from the pool spray, that's exactly where they sit -- they sat in front of that beautiful view out the window of the Glass Palace, as it's sometimes called, the two Presidents sitting side by side, accompanied by their foreign ministers, Secretary Albright and Foreign Minister Primakov. And then National Security Adviser Sandy Berger was also in the room, and Strobe Talbott, the Deputy Secretary of State was our note-taker, with the interpreters behind them on both sides.
On the Russian side, Primakov and -- David, did you see, was it Ryurikov the other person in the room? I'll have to get the other side. I forgot to look at the other side.
Q Even some Senate supporters of expansion of NATO have said at some point there could easily be a U.S. backlash when people realize exactly what the extension of the NATO defense umbrella includes. What will the President and the administration do as sort of preemptive strike on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we certainly advance the argument that the adaptation of NATO for the needs of the 21st century present extraordinary opportunities for the people of the United States, not only as we expand the boundaries of a peaceful, democratic Europe under a security umbrella that keeps everyone safer, but as we share the costs and benefits of that extension, which is, I think, significant in and of itself. Others coming to the table; others bringing resources that help share the burden as we write a new chapter in the future of Europe.
Q What are those opportunities? Can you name two or three?
MR. MCCURRY: Two or three opportunities that exist? I think the potential particularly along that central corridor of the Visegrad that has been the source of so much ethnic conflict in the history of the lives of people who share ethnic heritages that go back to Europe, the source of conflict that has destabilized Europe for centuries, that now having some prospect of being minimized, if not ameliorated, going ahead to the 21st century. I think every American who knows the history of our own country in two world wars in the 20th century would quickly value the prospects for a peaceful Europe as we think ahead to the 21st. That's a little self-evident in some ways.
Q And would you go along with some doubters who say that any new nation that enters NATO, especially in the Visegrad as you called it, should already have in place some sort of border resolution -- border dispute resolution plan?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not writing NATO's formula for expansion here, but there are ways in which we could have expectations that would exist for new members, and that they would live within the prescriptions that exist for current membership in NATO and membership in the larger communities of European nations that are now becoming more fully integrated.
Q Well, you said that they were going to concentrate on economics at lunchtime. Are they going to talk about specific packages? What are they going to do exactly?
MR. MCCURRY: They'll talk about a full range of things related to economic liberalization, assistance for the transition occurring in the Russian Federation, how international financial institutions can be helpful -- the full range of things that you can usually imagine would be on that agenda.
Yes? Last question.
Q -- evaluation of the Russian military exercises of yesterday and the day before, the one yesterday which was described by Tass as the largest Russian military exercise since the --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have a particular reaction to it, and I don't and having talked to General Shalikashvili about some matters, I didn't hear him express any particular concern about it.
Q Will Primakov and Albright be meeting separately today?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. They've had several opportunities to caucus tete-a-tete during the breaks in the -- during the one break in the session so far, and that will likely continue during the day.
Q Mike, can you tell us whether there was any discussion of the Baltic states this morning?
MR. MCCURRY: Not yet, to my knowledge.
Q Do you expect it to come up, then?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, again?
Q Do you expect the Baltic aspect of NATO membership to be part of the discussion?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't really expect that they will get into specific countries with respect to the issue of membership.
Q Mike, there were some members of the Duma here yesterday that made a number of statements about what would happen if NATO expanded particularly into the Baltic states. They talked about very harsh consequences for those countries if they decided to join NATO. Is that a sentiment that you've been hearing from the Russian delegation itself?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll let the Russian delegation describe what their sentiments are.
Okay. Our plan still is after the press conference tonight, we will try to do some type of session back here -- afterwards and after you are able to return here before we do depart tonight.
Q Will that session here be on camera or off camera?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll think about it.
Q Who's going to do it?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll see.
Q Who will be participating in that?
MR. MCCURRY: It depends. (Laughter.)
Q Thanks, Mike. (Laughter.)
Q You said the charter has to be discussed with the 16 members of NATO -- reject the proposal of dealing with only five powers?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the new arrangements for the Alliance are done as all decisions are done by the Alliance, with the acquiescence of all members of the North Atlantic Council. So there's no question of what separate group of people would agree to something. It would have to be agreed at 16, as all decisions of the North Atlantic Council have to be taken.
Q Do you expect a joint statement --
MR. MCCURRY: At this point, I'm not suggesting we expect or don't expect anything. There may be, maybe won't be -- just we'll see what happens and develops.
Okay. More to follow.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:10 P.M. (L)