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                     Office of the Press Secretary
                         (West Point, New York)
For Immediate Release                                       May 31, 1997     
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY
                            Holleder Center
                         U.S. Military Academy 
                          West Point, New York                               

11:05 A.M. EDT

MR. JOHNSON: A couple of you have asked for a -- we'll identify those later, Terry. I understand your feelings -- opportunity to talk to Mr. Berger a little bit about the remarks the President just made, and he has kindly made himself available.

So, Sandy.

MR. BERGER: I'm just going to say a few things and basically answer any questions you might have. Although the President has been talking about NATO enlargement really for almost three years now, from the original articulation of his objective in his trip through Europe in '94, major speech in Cleveland in '95, the Detroit speech in '96, I think it's clear that having now come back from the signing of the NATO-Russia agreement -- or NATO-Russia Founding Act in Paris, and then heading into Madrid where the actual decisions will be made with respect to the first wave of accession, that we've entered -- we're entering a new phase, as the President said, in the national discussion.

And I think he felt it important, coming back, as we are -- people are now beginning to focus on this in a new way --to really make the case for NATO enlargement. And I think he thought it was particularly important to make that case to the cadets of West Point, the leaders, the new officers of our Army who will be on the line, literally and figuratively, to defend the decisions that we make as a nation.

And, obviously, with enlargement comes extension of a security guarantee to the countries that enter NATO and the guarantors of that guarantee are the men and women of our Armed Forces. So I think he thought it was particularly appropriate to come here to West Point, to this graduation, and to make the case for why NATO enlargement is in the interests of the American people -- because it will make NATO stronger; because it will solidify the democracies of Central Europe; because it will help them resolve, as it already has, their own internal conflicts and then, therefore, diminish the likelihood of conflict in Europe; and because it will work towards the uniting of Europe, rather than the dividing of Europe as has existed for the last 50 years.

Let me stop there and simply respond to any questions.

Q Could you assess for us the mood on this that you detect in the Senate, the general public and what you have to do over the next year to convince them of your position?

MR. BERGER: Well, I think we start this national discussion, as the President called it, with a good deal of support in the Congress. I mean, let's recall that more than 80 members of the Senate and the vast majority of the members of the House have on more than one occasion voted in favor of NATO enlargement.

But I think we've always felt that as the debate shifts from a matter of principle to a matter of practical reality that it will get harder. There are costs associated with this, as the President indicated in his remarks -- roughly, $200 million a year in tough budget times. There are new obligations we take on as a country. And I think it will be a vigorous discussion during the year 1998 and early 1999, whenever the time frame is for that.

I think we will prevail. I think most members of the Senate, as well as the House, support this. But I think it will be -- this is a big step for the United States and we ought to enter it soberly, after a full discussion, which the President has advanced here today, I think, in very comprehensive terms. And I'm sure there will be those who disagree, but I think in the end that we will prevail.

Q Sandy, is the United States willing to allow more than three nations enter in the first round? What's the position on that?

MR. BERGER: Well, we have not made a final decision on that. I think that Secretary Albright, when she was at the foreign ministers meeting at Sintra reflected the fact that we do think that the initial countries we admit ought to meet the very highest standards in terms of the solidity of their democracy, the readiness of their military, the civilian control and that could lead to -- I think should lead to a fairly rigorous standard.

But we also believe very strongly that this is an ongoing process. And I think you have to see the relationship of the size of the first group to one's belief and expectation about what happens thereafter. I mean, we are very -- believe very firmly that this needs to be an ongoing process; the first countries should not be the last countries, and there should be a continuation of this over time as countries evolve. And, therefore, if you don't consider the first the last, it is not, obviously, as cataclysmic.

Q Can I follow up? The Pentagon cost studies, I gather they assume that four nations will join over a decade?

MR. BERGER: I believe the assumption of the study is four. I think the study -- I think there are some disclaimers up front in the study which indicate that this is done without regard to exactly how many and who, and those figures will need to be refined, I think, as we move beyond Madrid. But there are basically -- it's basically $27 billion to $35 billion over 13 years, and as you disaggregate those costs, you don't just divide that by 16, because there are some costs that we won't have to bear. We already have a very strong power projection capability in our Armed Forces. Some of the Europeans don't have, they will have to upgrade. A lot of the costs will be borne by the new countries that come in; we don't have to assume those costs. So we will bear a heavy cost -- $200 million a year is a lot of money, but it's less than 10 percent, I think, of what we estimate the overall cost.

And the last thing I'd say, I would expect that number -- and Secretary Cohen I think has been quite clear about this -- this is an estimate. That number will be refined over time. But I don't think -- I mean, there have been some numbers out there that are wildly unrealistic. I mean, I don't think that it's off by -- in order of magnitude, I think it's in the ballpark.

Q I want to ask you about that. Both RAND and the Congressional Budget Office apparently have set an estimate of cost -- is this estimate going to go up and up over time? And how does that -- if it does, what does that do --

MR. BERGER: I don't think it will -- I mean, as I said, I think the Pentagon and Secretary Cohen have indicated it will -- as we get to a point where we know who the countries are, we can refine that number more. So I think the number will -- it may go up, it may go down. I don't think -- I think that is a -- it was quite a rigorous review by the Defense Department and I think it's in the ballpark.

Q Sandy, could you -- speaking of refining numbers, we're hearing conflicting stories about Bosnia and the deadline. On the one hand, Cohen says it's final; now Albright and the President both make it sound like maybe it's not.

MR. BERGER: I don't think there was really a difference between what they said. What the President said was, let's focus on the date that's most important, i.e., tomorrow. We have spent a lot of time over the last month trying to focus very sharply on invigorating the civil implementation process. A lot has gone fairly well, probably more -- things are not either as bad in Bosnia as some people think, or as good as we would like them to be. There have been -- about 1,000* people cross the interethnic boundary line a day. There have been a presidency in some national institutions that have been established. We're on the verge of having a national currency and a national bank which will allow the IMF to come forward and sign an agreement with Bosnia. So there have been positive things happen -- a lot on the local level, in particular.

And there also has been some intransigence by particularly some of the leadership. And I think what the President is saying is, let's spend the next 12 months being as active and as energetic as we can as an international community to try to get as much done as we can so that there will be as great a chance for there to be a self-sustaining peace as possible.

And when the President announced the SFOR mission he said he expected it would be over in June 1998. We continue to believe that that's the case.

Q With the current plans to cut back on the military, restructure it, reduce some of the personnel and yet you still have people in Bosnia -- now we're talking about extending the umbrella to more nations in Europe -- I mean, is this sort of a reinvention of the military, you want them to do more with less?

MR. BERGER: First of all, the estimates of cost of this are built in to the budget projections, so it's not on top of anything. Second of all, I think you can argue, as the President argued, that enlarging the Alliance makes it stronger, not makes it weaker -- that if we bring in countries that have capabilities, that demonstrate a capability to help share the common burden, that makes the Alliance stronger. If we reduce the chance of conflict, that makes it less likely that we would have to embark upon a costly intervention in Europe.

So I think one has to look at this cost issue I think in overall terms. And I think in overall terms, a more secure Europe is likely to cost us less than an insecure and divided Europe.

Q Sandy, how would this expansion change the American military deployment in Europe? Would you move some bases around or -- how many more troops would you need over there?

MR. BERGER: I can't give you a military briefing, although I think we probably should provide that. NATO has said that it will embrace these countries through interoperability, as they upgrade their forces they will make sure that they -- the plug goes into the West wall rather than the East wall -- and through reinforcement; that is, the ability to surge troops into an area of trouble, as opposed to permanently stationing large numbers of combat forces in these new countries. That's part of the NATO plan. So there will be some upgrading of infrastructure in order to accommodate that kind of capacity to reinforce, but the NATO plan does not envision the stationing of large numbers of -- permanently stationing large numbers of combat forces on the new states.

In terms of specifically how that shakes out with American deployment, I'd be happy to get somebody to talk to you about that. If Bob Bell is here he probably can answer that better.

Q Is spring the most likely time for a vote, and would it be done as an amendment to the original NATO treaty, like with just the Senate doing it, or do both Houses deal with it?

MR. BERGER: We need a Senate vote because it would be a treaty. The timing, I think, is a little bit unclear because first you have to have accession talks.

What will happen in Madrid in 38 days, roughly, is that some new countries will be invited, will be asked to begin accession negotiations with NATO. So it's not like a graduation where in Madrid certain people stand up and raise their right hand and say, "I hereby solemnly swear to be a member of NATO." There is a process. And that will involve, for example, what they are doing in their own militaries to make them interoperable, to make sure that they have the capabilities, what commitments that they are undertaking. Because it's very important -- this is not something that we're -- this is a security alliance; they have to be capable of really connecting with and making a full contribution to the Alliance. So there will be a long series of negotiations.

I don't honestly know how long that will take. Some people have estimated you could get that done by the end of '97; some people have said that may take longer. I would think that soon after that was done we would submit this to the Senate. Technically, I'm not -- I don't know legally whether this would be an amendment to the treaty. I assume it would, but I'm not offering you a legal opinion on that. But it would require a two-thirds vote, just as amending a treaty, which is why it's not -- answer back to your question -- why it's not a slam-dunk.

Q Yeltsin said today that if any of the -- if NATO membership were open to any -- offered to any former Soviet Republics that he would reconsider the Russia-NATO charter. And the President said today that any country willing to shoulder the responsibility should be allowed NATO membership. Are the two still just as far apart as ever, or are they just grandstanding on --

MR. BERGER: Well, first of all, I think that that is not a new position on the President Yeltsin, it's an old position. He initially said -- Russia disagrees with NATO enlargement. He initially said that he disagreed with any NATO enlargement. Now, I think there view is they disagree with any NATO enlargement, but especially the former Soviet Union.

We have made it very clear in the Founding Act and in all of our discussions publicly and privately with the Russians that we don't believe that any nation is or should be excluded from potential membership in NATO if they meet the criteria and they seek to be members. And what that would mean for Russia down the line in terms of what unilaterally they might do I think it's premature to speculate.

I think we have to recognize here that the world is changing very rapidly. You know, in 1988 we couldn't have envisioned the Berlin Wall falling down. I think probably a year ago we could not have envisioned what happened in Paris -- that is, that Russia would be there shaking hands with NATO and saying, let's form a new partnership after 50 years of confrontation. So I think it's hard to know how this will evolve over time. And we'll make those judgments as time goes on, in terms of new members. But, clearly, nothing that we have said to or signed with the Russians precludes in any way the accession or admission of any country that seeks to do so and meets the requirements.

Q Sandy, not to break this European solidarity, but the President in the latter part of the speech talked about building a new community of Asian Pacific nations -- is that symbolic, or is he talking about some new arrangement?

MR. BERGER: It's not symbolic --

Q Any new arrangement, any new organization --

MR. BERGER: I think he's referring there to what's been happening over the last three or four years. Now, I remember in the '80s the conventional wisdom was that there were three great blocks emerging economically -- Asia, North America, Europe. And I could pick out any publication from that period or any expert in that period -- that was the way in which we expected the world would evolve.

What the President did in 1993, by inviting all of the APEC leaders, all of the Asian leaders, Asian Pacific leaders to Blake Island, Washington, was to begin a process which now has gone on and has progressed of creating an Asian Pacific community. And I remember in Blake Island we had weeks and months of discussion with the Asians about the word community, because it translated differently and some thought we were talking about something like the EC. But it's now taken for granted that Asia's future and the American future is linked together, that there is an Asian Pacific community. This has not only become part of the vernacular, it has become part of the economy.

And I think what the President is saying here is that as we build this bridge to Europe and strengthen it -- to use a word that probably has been uttered a lot -- we ought to also be strengthening and continuing to build our ties to Asia. And I think APEC itself is a very important vehicle to that -- the Asia Pacific Economic Conference. And they have made a commitment to a free trade area in the APEC countries by the year 2010, 2020, and each year that has taken another step forward.

So I think what he's saying is -- this is part of the architecture that he's been building. The World Trade Organization, NAFTA, APEC, NATO and Europe -- I think the President rightfully can say these are -- as he did -- we're organizing the world to meet the challenges of the next 50 years.

Q Sandy, you look at the Senate and -- is the cost you think the biggest hurdle? Is it isolationism, is it the impact on nuclear disarmament?

MR. BERGER: Well, I think there are a number of strands to those who oppose, and I think right now they're not in the aggregate a majority or even a large minority. But I think one strand is, if you enlarge NATO, you will subvert Russian democracy. George Kennan wrote a very eloquent piece in The Washington Post about that. Well, I think that argument is somewhat undermined by the fact that we now have a NATO-Russia charter. Yeltsin has not really embraced enlargement, but he's embraced NATO -- or at least he's formed a partnership. So that's one strand -- you're going to hurt Russia.

Another strand that's been apprehensive is that somehow in this process we will sell out the Central Europeans. Well, I think after Madrid that's going to be a harder argument to make as we bring them in.

Third will be a cost argument -- $200 million a year for 12 or 10 or 13 years is a lot of money and we could better spend it on X, to which I would respond as I did earlier, I think you have to look at the cost of insecurity against the cost of security.

And I think, finally, there will be some people who are -- who don't think America should really be engaged or don't think we should lead, perhaps don't think we should be in NATO at all or don't think that NATO should continue to exist -- don't see the Soviet threat, and therefore, don't think that we live in a world with threats, which is simply not true. And I think -- I suspect at the end it will be sort of the third and fourth arguments, the cost argument and the kind of "America come home" agreement that will be the loudest opposition arguments.

Q Can we get one more in on a different topic, Sierra Leone? Does the U.S. support Nigeria going in to put down the coup?

MR. BERGER: I think we would like to see a peaceful resolution to the situation in Sierra Leone. Obviously we have deplored and condemned the coup and the overturning of the first democratic election in Sierra Leone in a very long time. But I think we would prefer to see this thing restored through political rather than military means.

Q One last quick one on NATO expansion. Is there any question at all of the other 15 governments not going along with this? I mean, they have to approve it, too.

MR. BERGER: I think there is -- never say never, but I think there is less -- I think the other 15 nations -- it's expected the other 15 nations will approve this pretty strongly. There is not a debate, really, in the other countries, I think, in Europe about this.

Q Is the President going to be making these kinds of arguments to the domestic public repeatedly in the coming months?

MR. BERGER: Yes. If we go back in context, as I say, we have been talking about peaceful, undivided, democratic Europe. The President first wrote that phrase into a speech in Brussels in 1994. We then took -- that was a trip where we went to Kiev and Moscow and Minsk. And then it is a theme we picked up in a major speech in Cleveland, in Detroit, in '96, in the State of the Union address. So he has been talking about it consistently.

But I think as you now move into a more active phase when this becomes an issue that has to be decided by the Senate and the American people, he will be talking about it a good deal.

I think the other thing about the speech -- and let me say this last thing -- and that is, at the end of the speech the President put this back in the context, as the question over here suggested, put it back in the context of his larger strategic objectives of building an Asian-Pacific community, dealing with the transnational threats, trying to be a peacemaker where we can, building the economic architectures. That's the overall umbrella, but this is obviously a very important strand of it.

Okay. Thank you all very much.

END 12:23 P.M. EDT