THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR SAMUEL BERGER AND NSC SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR DEFENSE AND ARMS CONTROL POLICY ROBERT BELL The Briefing Room
1:35 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: First, for your enjoyment and entertainment today, given the President's focus on foreign policy matters of great significance, I've asked the President's National Security Advisor, Samuel R. Berger, to be here to tell you more about the work the President's doing today on two fronts: first, his meeting with a bipartisan group of senators and members of the House, tonight for a real intense session on foreign policy objectives the administration is pursuing that we hope we will pursue in a bipartisan way; then secondly, the work the President will do today to secure the very necessary ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Sandy will also then introduce my favorite briefer at the White House, Mr. Robert Bell, the NSC Senior Director for Defense and Arms Control Policy -- close enough? And he can walk you through a real important development in the CWC debate on the Senate, occurring today, which we put out some paper on earlier.
Mr. Berger, welcome to the Briefing Room.
Q Does that ensure the passage, these conditions that you've agreed to?
MR. BERGER: Okay, let me just say a few things first. Does that mean I'm the second favorite briefer? I'm certainly not the favorite, I guess. (Laughter.)
Q Don't worry about it. We make up our own minds. (Laughter.)
MR. BERGER: Tonight, as Mike indicated, the President will be hosting a meeting at Blair House of a very broad cross-section of congressional leadership, particularly those who are involved in foreign affairs appropriations and defense policy issues on the Hill.
This is a session that will go from roughly 6:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. It is something the President has wanted to do since very early in the year, just to call together and convene a mini-retreat with the Congress to talk about a fairly broad range of our foreign policy objectives over the next four years and engage in a give-and-take with the members of Congress.
The President will be talking about NATO enlargement. He'll be talking about Asia and our relationships there. He'll be talking about how we -- our fight against terrorism and drugs, expanding the international trading system, Bosnia, a wide range of issues in an exchange with the leadership. And I think it's a very important opportunity for both the President and the congressional leadership to build a kind of bipartisan consensus around America's leadership in the world.
Now, as part of that, the President will speak directly tonight to this group about a priority that is coming to a head next week, and that is the Chemical Weapons Convention. And I want to say a few words about that, and then I want to ask Bob to brief you on some quite important developments over the past few days.
There is an enormous amount at stake in the vote which we now expect will take place next week on the Chemical Weapons Convention. First is the question of America's leadership in the fight against weapons of mass destruction. We have been the prime movers of this treaty for almost 20 years. The negotiations began under President Reagan; they came to conclusion under President Bush, who signed this treaty. And if we now, having, in a sense, been the originators and the prime drivers of this treaty, fail to ratify it, we become associated with the outlier nations, as opposed to those who are inside the treaty trying to build a new regime against chemical weapons. We become associated with the Iraqs and the Libyas, as opposed to the broad swath of the international community that's fighting chemical weapons.
General Schwarzkopf in his characteristically straightforward way, I don't particularly want to be associated with those thugs. And I think issue number one is America's ability to continue to lead in the world in fighting weapons of mass destruction.
Second, I think most of you are aware, we are destroying our chemical weapons stockpiles. This is a decision that was made in the '80s because of judgment by our military and civilian leaders that we did not need them, that they were not a necessary or appropriate weapon. So this treaty is about other people destroying their stockpiles, not about us destroying our stockpiles, and reducing the threat to a future American military unit that might be on the battlefield.
Third, this treaty makes it harder for rogue states to develop chemical weapons by, first of all, even if they're outside of the treaty, by imposing restrictions on the transfer of chemicals that can be used for chemical weapons; by a very aggressive inspection system whereby if there's a suspected location in which prohibited weapons are being manufactured, international inspectors can be sent to that site; and, third, by putting them outside the system, outside the international community.
So it is another tool to isolate and fight the development of chemical weapons by rogue states. Finally, it is another tool in the ability to fight terrorists who might use chemical weapons. Obviously, nothing can stop the terrorists from cooking up chemical weapons in their basement, but by reducing the stockpiles, these enormous stockpiles in the hands of most of the countries in the world, many of the countries in the world, by restricting the transfer of these chemicals by imposing an inspection regime, all of these things together will make it more difficult for terrorists to obtain these weapons.
And that is why this is a treaty that is supported by a very, very broad, cross-section of Democrats and Republicans across a very broad, ideological spectrum. Obviously, President Bush, every chairman of the joint chiefs of staff for the past 20 years, and a very distinguished array of former military CINCS and chiefs, Paul Nitze, Ed Rowny, negotiators of arms control agreements under President Reagan and others, Secretary Baker, veterans groups, chemical manufacturers -- there is broad support for this treaty.
We, as I said, expect and hope to see a vote next week, because the treaty will come into force on April 29th. And if we are not in the treaty in the beginning, we will not be part of shaping how the institutions of this treaty take hold. We will not be part of the inspection teams. We will not be part of the executive committee that operates this treaty. We'll be on the outside rather than on the inside.
Now, what I want to ask Bob to brief you on is the result of a process that has been going now for over two months, and resulted from some early -- an early conversation that President Clinton had with Senator Lott, from which Senator Lott formed a group of senators to work with the administration, seeing whether we could address many of the concerns that have been raised by those who have some difficulties with the treaty. And in parallel, there has been a process between Senator Biden and Senator Helms. And as a result of those two processes, there are over 25 amendments to the articles of ratification that have been agreed to and that were released today by Senator Biden. And I want Bob to go through that with you and explain it because it really does address the broad range of concerns that have been raised about this treaty.
There still are some concerns that we can't address without gutting the treaty. We can't address some of these which are actually, in a sense, killer amendments. But we have gone the extra mile here to try to, in a serious and good-faith fashion, address the concerns that many had about various aspects of this treaty. And I think as a result of that, the treaty that the Senate will vote on next week will be much stronger and tighter with the amendment's stronger and tighter regime than the one that was before them last year.
Q Does the agreement on the conditions ensure passage?
MR. BERGER: No, I wouldn't say that, Helen. I think that this is very much up in the air at this point. There is some strenuous opposition from some groups. And I would not say that this is -- the outcome of this is at all certain. And I hope that all of you will focus attention on this issue because I think it is really a jump ball at this point.
Q Sandy, while we have you for a second, there is a report from Israel television that the police in Israel are recommending that Prime Minister Netanyahu be indicted for his role in selecting that attorney general, and I wonder if you would care to react to this report.
MR. BERGER: I've seen the report, Wolf, but this is a matter for -- internal matter involving the Israeli government, the Israeli judicial system, and I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on.
Q Sandy, do you see any prospect for compromise on these four so-called "killer amendments" that are out there now?
MR. BERGER: I think on each of those, we have -- and Bob will describe it -- we have put forward an alternative which I think addresses much of the concern that is embodied in those areas. But I think at the end of the day, there will be a group of senators who will oppose the treaty and who do oppose the treaty.
Q What is the President going to do to make sure that at least the vote comes? Is he meeting personally with Senator Helms? Is there anything else he can do to those --
MR. BERGER: The President has been very, very active and will continue to be active. From the beginning, he's talked to many senators about this, spoken with Senator Lott particularly about it several times. We had the event here in the White House -- the President will be making more phone calls. We had last week a session with about 15 senators here at the White House. He will raise it tonight at the retreat, and I suspect that he'll be speaking to it more in the next week.
Q Will Senator Lott be at the retreat tonight? Will Armey and Gingrich -- any of the --
MR. BERGER: I believe Senator Lott will be there. I don't believe the Speaker will be there tonight.
Q Was he invited?
MR. BERGER: I don't have the list, honestly.
Q Could you provide the list for us?
MR. BERGER: Maybe after the event. I'd rather give you the list of people who actually come than the list of people who --
Q If it's leadership in foreign policy and defense, wouldn't Senator Helms and the Speaker at least have been invited?
MR. BERGER: Oh, they certainly were invited.
MR. MCCURRY: They were both invited and unable to attend.
MR. BERGER: I think there, obviously, in a situation like this always going to be conflicts. But there will be 35, 40 members.
Q Do you think the Senate's going to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention?
MR. BERGER: Ann, I honestly don't know the answer to that question. I'm not trying to be cute here. I think that this is -- I think there are a lot of undecided senators. I think the stakes are enormously high, and I think it would be a tremendous setback for the fight against terrorism and the fight against chemical weapons if we did not ratify this treaty. But I can't tell you that I know what the outcome will be.
Q Sandy, let me go back just for a minute to the Netanyahu topic just for a minute. I know that it's an internal matter vis-a-vis Israel, but clearly that has ramifications for the United States. I mean, what are the U.S. concerns as they relate to this?
MR. BERGER: No, I'm not going to answer it any differently than I answered to Wolf. Dennis Ross is in Israel, he will go forward in his meetings. He'll be meeting with the Prime Minister I believe today.
Q What is the status of State Department reorganization? Senator Helms -- obviously, that's a priority for him to at least in some way mollify him --
MR. BERGER: We have been very, very actively engaged over the past several weeks in an internal exercise to develop a set of options for the President that he can decide among for reform of the foreign policy agencies. How you reform them is a subject of some disagreement. That there needs to be reform, I think, is not subject to disagreement. I would expect that we'll be in a position to present those options to the President in the very near future.
Q Is he going to be briefing the group tonight on the options?
MR. BERGER: I suspect that they may raise this issue, but as of now, we have not gone to the President with the options. But I think that we are a very -- we're getting close to being able to do that.
Q Can you just talk a little more about what the President hopes to get out of tonight?
MR. BERGER: I think -- let me take this last question and then we'll ask Bob to step up. I think there is no concrete or
specific objective -- that is, agreement, on the level of the State Department appropriations bill. I think this is part of a larger process and a way of doing business that I think we've tried very hard since January to engage in, and that is, bring the Congress into the formulation of foreign policy to the extent we can, trying to seek bipartisan consensus where we can. The Secretary of State has been very active in that. The Secretary of Defense -- by definition, anytime he speaks to anybody in the administration, it's a bipartisan conversation.
I've been very active in it, and Ambassador Richardson, in spending time on the Hill, trying to explain what we're doing, trying to listen to the Hill in terms of their views. And so I think it's a give-and-take where the President has an opportunity to define what his core objectives are as he did to the newspaper editors and in the State of the Union, and then focus particularly on two or three for this discussion, probably NATO, perhaps Bosnia, Asia, CWC, given the fact that there is a limited amount of time. And I'm sure the senators and congressmen will have their own individual matters they'll want to raise.
MR. BELL: As Sandy said, we believe that yesterday was a milestone in the Senate's ratification proceedings on the Chemical Weapons Convention. Final agreement was reached on 23 conditions to the resolution of ratification that will accompany this treaty. Agreement was reached with Senator Helms, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Now, as everyone here knows, and I'm sure across the country in schools and homes as well, the United States Constitution provides that treaties can only be ratified and entered into force by the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate. This is the advice part, these conditions. And we hope to get to the consent part next week.
As Sandy said, reaching this milestone is really a tribute to many, many different leaders and officials who have been involved the last two and a half months in this process. The White House deeply appreciates the cooperations and good offices of the Majority Leader who, as Sandy said, established this nine-member steering group and engaged in meetings over about 30 hours that produced about two-thirds of the conditions in this package.
I just want to say from my involvement in the process, that Senator Lott is a very tough negotiator, indeed, and would just remind you that last September, when the treaty was set aside, the point of departure was that if we could agree on perhaps three conditions -- three conditions -- we might be able to get the treaty back up. We're here today with agreement on 23 -- I think this could get as high as 25 or perhaps 30 by the time the treaty is called up Wednesday. So it's come a long ways.
We would also want to thank all of the senators that were involved in Senator Lott's steering group -- task force, that is -- Senator Nickles, Senator Helms, Senator Kyl, Senator Stevens, Senator McCain, Senator Warner, Senator Coverdell, Senator Shelby, and Senator Smith, which was indeed a representative sampling of the views within the Republican caucus on this treaty; and, of course, the senior staff, including Senator Lott's lead negotiator, Randy Scheunemann had carried the ball for about 30 more hours of negotiations. And last but certainly not least, to Senator Biden and Senator Helms who, themselves, as Senator Biden said in his cover letter, spent about 28 hours negotiating this package and carrying it from the 17 mark to the 23 mark, with maybe a few more to come.
Now, outside this package, there are two critical issues that have been under intense negotiation between Sandy Berger and Senator Lott himself that have been at the heart of a lot of the debate on the treaty. That is the issue of search warrants and the issue of those appropriate uses of riot control agents, or RCAs in wartime scenarios. I think we're very close on that, and we hope to get final agreement very soon on those two issues, taking the package to 25. Now, these agreed conditions represent extraordinary progress over two and a half months in addressing virtually all of the issues that have been raised during the debate on the treaty.
I might add that you've heard criticism of the treaty, to be sure, over the last few weeks, particularly the last few days, including in hearings in the Foreign Relations Committee. And I would just say that many of the critics, most of the critics, both in the op-ed pieces, the editorials and witnesses before the committee, have not -- I repeat -- not been privy to these conditions. So we would hope that as soon as we can make these conditions available to those that have raised so many concerns about the treaty, that their concerns would be moderated or perhaps even allayed, and we could broaden the base of bipartisan support for the treaty.
As it stands today, and assuming that we do close with the Majority Leader on the search warrant and riot control agent issue, we would then go to the floor next week for a debate on the treaty that will probably focus on three fundamental propositions where we've not been able to reach agreement with Senator Helms, even though as Sandy said, we have made offers that go way beyond the benchmark of last September in each case.
Those three propositions are, first, the question of whether U.S. participation and leadership in this treaty regime should be held hostage to some other state or some other group of states joining the treaty first, whether that state is Russia or Libya. Second, the issue of whether the assurances and certifications that the President has made in this agreed package, which are binding, legally binding conditions on the President, whether those assurances, as they relate to two specific parts of the treaty, Article X and Article XI, which have to do with various kinds of assistance that might be provided to other states, whether those assurances are sufficient to meet the concerns or whether, as we believe Senator Helms will insist, the Senate vote on a proposition to reopen the treaty, reopen the negotiation, go back and actually try to renegotiate Article X and Article XI of the treaty, a proposition that we don't think is realistic or feasible.
And then, finally, a vote on a proposition that the treaty only enter into force, in terms of U.S. participation, if the President certifies a standard of verification that we know the Director of Central Intelligence cannot support, and thus the President could not make.
We have offered in this negotiation to certify a very high standard of verification effectiveness indeed, the capability to detect a systematic effort by an adversary to equip across the ranks his army with an offensive CW capability. But the Senate will vote on whether that is a sufficient level of verification under the treaty or whether it will insist on a standard that we couldn't meet.
Now, we're confident, when these issues come to a vote next week, if we can get it to a vote, that when the full Senate works its will on these issues, which, after all, is the procedure envisioned and called for under the Constitution, that the Senate will make the right choice and will not adopt amendments that would have the effect of killing the treaty by preventing us from joining it.
Q Did they make any promises? What was their quid pro quo? What do they get -- the so-called negotiation?
MR. BELL: Well, Helen, I think the negotiation of the treaty in Geneva is a lot like a negotiation in Congress between the House and Senate.
Q I meant the conditions that --
MR. BELL: I was going to come to that. You go into negotiation, and a lot of countries come to the negotiation and they want a lot of things. This is a treaty, as Secretary Albright has said, that was negotiated with a "Made in USA" stamp on it. This is a treaty that we took the leadership in negotiating. Most of the key provisions are provisions that were agreed to at American initiative. But like in any negotiation you'll find some language in a treaty that was necessary to be put in there to sort of get out of the negotiation and let countries have a way of receding to the U.S. position in the talks.
What's happened in the ratification phase is that critics have focused on some fairly general language and presented some worst-case concerns about how it might be interpreted. What we've done through these assurances in most cases is to make clear that we don't interpret it that way, and that we would make a maximum effort, do everything within our power, to make sure no one else interprets it that way.
Just one example, some critics have said that under Article XI of the treaty there is a requirement for us to take down the Australia group multilateral export controls on certain types of chemicals that an outlaw state might find valuable in making weapons of mass destruction. We have now agreed with Senator Helms on a condition in which the President not only certifies that we don't read it that way, but he certifies that we have sent instructions to our ambassadors in all 30 countries that belong to the Australia group -- they have gone in to see the host country, and at the highest diplomatic levels have received assurances back that none of the states of the Australia group read the treaty that way, that none of them are going to claim that the Chemical Weapons Convention supersedes the Australia group restraints.
And there is a mechanism beyond that, on a year-by-year basis, where we'll report to the Senate on our success in keeping the Australia group restraints in place. That's indicative, I think, of the kinds of conditions that we've been able to work out.
Q Do you acknowledge that the critics of the treaty identified deficiencies in the absence of these 25 agreements? Or was it simply a matter of clarifying what the administration's intent was?
MR. BELL: It's a very complex treaty. I doubt that anyone in the room has read it. When you do read it, it's almost overwhelming in terms of level of detail. There are formulations in here, as I said, that were arrived at to be able to conclude the negotiation. If read in isolation or out of context, there is a sentence here, a sentence there that can raise concerns.
The senators are totally within their rights -- it's the prerogative of the Senate to ask these kinds of questions. It's the intention of the Constitution by giving the treaty partnership role to the Senate and requiring a two-thirds vote to ensure that there's an extraordinary level of scrutiny and questioning about treaties because, after all, the Founding Fathers knew that treaties were forever. So this has been a perfectly legitimate and appropriate process that we've gone through. It's taken us to now, I think, through this package, to get all the clarifications and all of the conditions communicated in a way that we think should be compelling. We had hoped that we had done that in the hearings over the last three years.
But, as you know, senators are busy, they can't go to all the hearings. There was a lot of testimony, a lot of assurances that were given in the hearings that were perhaps missed. I think this focuses everyone's attention now on the exact terms under which we had entered the treaty.
Q Has it been the administration's position that much of the criticism of this was politically motivated? That was the line last fall when the passage fell apart.
MR. BELL: I believe what we said last fall was that the letter that Senator Dole wrote to his colleagues the night before the vote that the treaty was due to come up just created an impossible political situation because the environment by then was so super-charged with the presidential campaign that an objective review by the Senate of the treaty was not necessarily guaranteed, and that it would be better to just let things calm down and put this over until after the election, which is what we did.
Q Bob, are you now assured of a vote next week, or is that still in some doubt?
MR. BELL: The Majority Leader will have to address that himself. He has certainly, on a number of occasions over the last week, in an informal way, assured Senator Daschle that this is coming to a vote. We take the assurances of the Majority Leader explicitly; he's a man of honor and we respect that. At the end of the day, of course, the floor debate is governed by a unanimous consent agreement in most cases, and as Richard Perle once said, the devil's in the detail. So working out that last bit of detail and unanimous consent agreement --
Q -- employee of this administration.
MR. BELL: Sorry, I think that was back when Richard was a Democrat. But -- (laughter) -- and was working for Senator Jackson. At any rate, I think they're still right on the cusp of getting the unanimous consent agreement nailed down, and once that's promulgated and you have that delicious moment of silence where no one objects, then we know that we've got the treaty coming up and the terms of reference agreed.
Q Just to follow up on John's question, do you now accept the reservations and concerns and objections that have still been raised of this treaty as substantive and not political?
MR. BELL: It's just not my role to characterize the motive of any senator. I worked up there too many years to get into that. But we do acknowledge that very valid concerns and questions have been raised about this treaty and we, in good faith, as Sandy said, have worked very hard, through 60 hours of hard negotiation --not just general discussion, but 60 hours of negotiation on the text of these conditions -- to make sure that we've addressed those concerns.
Q On another subject since you're here, is the U.S. government aware that Russia has broken its promise not to send advance conventional weapons to Iran?
MR. BELL: I'm going to pass on that if I could. I came in this morning and went right to work on the Chemical Weapons Convention and vaguely aware that there's a story on that. I've not had a chance to look into it myself. There might be others that can address it.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:03 P.M. EDT