THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Denver, Colorado) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release November 22, 1997
PRESS BRIEFING BY A SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL AND MIKE MCCURRY
Aboard Air Force One En Route to Denver, Colorado
MR. MCCURRY: -- (in progress) -- before departure this morning he had about a 30-minute telephone conversation with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. The President is reaching out to several of his counterparts. This is the first of several calls that may be completed. The President wants to review the situation, exchange views with some of his counterparts in the aftermath of the reentry of UNSCOM and the inspectors into Iraq.
Q Who else is he going to call?
MR. MCCURRY: He'll probably make calls -- he'll probably call some of those that he's already spoken to, like Chirac, like Blair.
We're going to go ON BACKGROUND now. I've got someone here ON BACKGROUND who can tell you a little bit more.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President yesterday wanted to make a round of calls to Blair, Chirac and Yeltsin. It was late, and of course, given the time difference, we weren't able to arrange their schedules. President Yeltsin called back this morning. They had about a 40-minute phone call, as Mike said. I would say about half of it was about Iraq, more than half.
The President expressed his satisfaction that the British and the French and the Russians and the United States had stood firmly together in demanding the return of the UNSCOM monitors, that they had gone back. He said that he thought it was very important now that they remain together to make sure that UNSCOM was able to do its work.
There was some discussion about -- that President Yeltsin raised about when it was appropriate to ease sanctions or when it was appropriate to close particular files -- files being nuclear missile, chemical, biological. The President made it quite clear that those were technical judgments that had to be made by the experts, that there shouldn't be any interference with those judgments, and that, of course, with respect to sanctions, our position was there had to be compliance and we had to deal with that first.
A rather lengthy discussion from the President about biological and chemical weapons and what he's learned over the last three weeks about Saddam Hussein's either capacity or capacity to reconstitute -- went through that with Yeltsin, I think, to make sure that -- make clear what we thought was at stake here. And they agreed that they would remain in touch on this issue.
There was some discussion of START II and President Yeltsin indicated that right now the Duma was dealing with the budget, but that after the Duma took up the budget it would take up START. Some discussion of the APEC meeting they were heading to and our hope, our position that we've had for some time that we believe Russia ought to be admitted to APEC.
Those are the fundamentals.
Q Why isn't Russia admitted -- why isn't it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You'll have to ask the APEC historians. But this started, I think, more in South Asia and East Asia. The question is so hard to answer.
MR. MCCURRY: There's been a whole theology of membership in APEC that has really taken on --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, what I was going to say is that the big question is so hard to answer is the reason why they should be in APEC -- before McCurry stepped on my line.
Q Did Yeltsin try to convince the President to change the U.S. view on sanctions at all?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He stated the Russian view that -- Russia's view that there ought to be sanctions relief and acceleration of the process, and the President stated our belief which is that all of that depended on compliance and cooperation from Saddam Hussein to allow compliance to take place. That is, they could help themselves a great deal, obviously, if they let --
Q -- the argument that their nuclear capability is done? Did Yeltsin explain why they were entitled to relief in his view?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think there was a great deal of explanation, except Iraqi people are suffering. And the President pointed out that we strongly supported Security Council Resolution 986 to sell oil for humanitarian assistance. We've always been for it; we've been for expanding it. But it should not be tied to any questions related to weapons of mass destruction.
Q Are you willing to go up from $2 billion to $3 billion in sales and to extend the reviews beyond every six months?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I have no idea where those figures come from. First of all, $2.4 billion I believe is the figure that we -- $2.14 billion? I have no number, nor do any of us. This is not something we've tried to develop a proposal for.
Q (inaudible) --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
Q What about the U.N. UNSCOM experts? What did they decide -- have they already released their report?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. Well, I think they're reporting to the U.N. now, as we speak, and this is the summary that I was given. The report is consistent with its last report of October that Iraq is furthest from compliance on chemical and biological weapons, that it's closest on the nuclear side; a strong emphasis on access as being fundamental to the UNSCOM mission; indicated that it found repeated examples of concealment by Saddam Hussein; made a number of recommendations ranging from additional equipment in the chemical detection area, additional aerial surveillance, and called upon governments -- encouraged governments to respond to requests for qualified experts; additional training for UNSCOM.
It's a very workmanlike, professional report, I'm told, that it makes it very clear there's a lot of work to be done.
Q -- at all on what might have happened since -- whatever it is -- October -- whenever the cutoff was?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is one -- as I understand it, the team that went back yesterday has done its first round of inspections. They were admitted to the sites that they sought to go to, including, as I understand it, in particular the sites where they had equipment, where they had cameras, where they had recording equipment, so that they can determine the question that all of us want to know, which is the extent to which there's been any kind of tampering or any --
Q -- any preliminary report? What about access to presidential palaces?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, this again is up -- always has been and should be up to UNSCOM, the inspection teams, the Chairman. They ought to determine based on their information and based on their expectations or knowledge where they should inspect. And Iraq is obligated under Resolution 687 to comply.
I would just note here, when talking about presidential palaces, that Saddam Hussein has 47 presidential palaces, at least one of which is as large as the District of Columbia in land mass. So we're not talking here about little country homes.
Q But in terms of today's inspections, I mean, you've had no reports of interference or --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I have received no reports that there were problems today.
MR. MCCURRY: Just a footnote to everybody, I think Richardson by now has probably been out at the U.N. and been on the record talking about some of the things our briefer just covered, too, just so you know.
Q -- get an official U.S. government reaction which is a favorable reaction to this report?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. It appears to be, not having read the entire report, but it appears to be a very solid, serious job which is consistent with the work that UNSCOM has done in the past, but expresses a hope that they will have more access, more equipment, greater capacity to do their job.
Q Any change in the U2 overflights?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
Q Would you characterize the mood of the conversation between Yeltsin and Clinton?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was a very friendly conversation. Mrs. Clinton had recently been in Russia and visited with Mrs. Yeltsin when they were there. They chatted about that. They chatted about when President Clinton would go back to Russia.
Q It seems like they disagreed over a fundamental issue where the U.S. thinks the world is being threatened with weapons of mass destruction.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would say that there are areas of agreement and areas of disagreement between the United States and Russia. The area of agreement is fundamental, which is that Saddam Hussein can't throw out UNSCOM, can't deny the problem, can't bury it under a rug, that U.N. resolutions have to be respected. And it was because they agreed to this, along with the French and the British and others, that we were able to get UNSCOM back.
Now, there's disagreement between us on the way in which sanctions ought to be -- the terms under which sanctions ought to be ended, but that's not new. That's existed for a long time. And the fact is that the ability to resolve at least this chapter of this crisis peacefully, but on the basis that we wanted it resolved, was the result of the ability of the 5 to cooperate.
Q -- or some graduated they do this, you give them this break?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, there are two different issues. One is closing files, and when you close a file, you go basically from an inspection regime to a monitoring regime --
Q (inaudible) --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But that has nothing to do with sanctions, that has to do with the nature of intrusive inspection. You go much more to the kind of regime that IAEA has on nuclear facilities.
Now, I think the Russian view is, as you close the files you ought to also relieve the sanctions. That's not our view. I don't know that that's the French view either.
Q What explanation did you get from UNSCOM that six Americans left, but only four went back in?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Butler said yesterday this is normal rotation. These inspectors are not full-time employees of UNSCOM. There are about 180 employees. But the inspectors are very technical people. We have people, for example, like people who might serve in our arms control and disarmament agency or something. And they're on loan, and there's a normal rotation. And what Mr. Butler said yesterday was this is just a normal rotation -- one team out, another team in. And he said -- I can assure you there's no -- it signifies nothing, as someone said.
Q Did President Yeltsin want a shift in the numbers, though, in terms of the inspectors?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He didn't get into that kind of detail with the President.