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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 11, 1998
                        PRESS BACKGROUND BRIEFING

The Briefing Room

4:05 P.M. EST

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This was the Secretary General's second visit to the White House since becoming Secretary General. And, as always at these kind of meetings, the President and the Secretary General did a broad range of discussions across world events. They began by talking about Iraq, and my colleague will brief on that discussion.

They then discussed at some length the President's initiative to improve the Biological Weapons Convention and to try to achieve verification mechanisms in the Biological Weapons Convention similar to those in the Chemical Weapons Convention. The Secretary General fully supported that initiative and discussed the moves that he has made to strengthen the disarmament department at the United Nations.

The President and the Secretary General then discussed at some length the upcoming visit by the President to Africa, the first time a serving President will be going to those nations. On the President's itinerary, they discussed some of the specific stops and some of the issues involved in the African trip. They then discussed the upcoming trip of the Secretary General to the Middle East. And, again, my colleague can cover that.

They then finally discussed the financial issues between the United States and the U.N. The President reiterated the administration's firm support for paying our U.N. dues, our U.N. arrears; reiterated his commitment to work with the Congress and the leadership of the Congress so that we can get those appropriations made this year. The President asked about the implications of Article 19 of the U.N. Charter, which could cause the United States to lose its voting rights in the General Assembly if we do not make payments of a necessary amount this year. Article 19 means that if you are in two years consecutive arrears you may lose your voting rights in the General Assembly. The Secretary General described Article 19, at the President's request, and the President again promised his maximum efforts to get the Congress to appropriate those funds.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you. The President and the Secretary General, and then in a follow-on meeting between Mr. Berger and the Secretary General, were able to devote some time to discussing the situation in Iraq. I think you probably already heard the President's comments during the pool spray regarding Iraq; I won't repeat them.

I think the most important part of the discussions that the two had was agreement both by the President and the Secretary General on the need for vigilance now in monitoring Iraqi compliance with the arrangements that were made in the Memorandum of Understanding that the Secretary General signed with Tariq Aziz in Baghdad.

They took note that since that agreement was signed there have been a series of inspections in Iraq, particularly in the last several days, of some sensitive sites, some sites that Iraq had previously declared off limits to U.N. inspectors, and that those inspections had gone forward. But there was agreement between the two of them that one week of successful inspections and one week of Iraqi compliance is far from adding up to the kind of sustained, long-term Iraqi compliance with the Security Council resolutions and the MOU that is required, and that we will need a great deal of vigilance in the days ahead.

They also discussed briefly some of the arrangements for upcoming inspections of presidential sites. Those arrangements are being worked out by the Special Commission and the Secretary General's appointed representative, Mr. Dhanapala who was in Baghdad today to continue those arrangements. Those inspections have not yet been scheduled. We are comfortable so far with the arrangements as we have seen them proceed.

My colleague also mentioned that the Secretary General raised his upcoming trip to the Middle East. He noted to the President that in all of his stops he will urge regional leaders to support his efforts to get Iraqi compliance with the MOU and with other Security Council resolutions. And they discussed briefly the need for movement forward in the Arab-Israeli peace process.

The President and Secretary Albright, who was also in the meeting, underscored our view that we cannot continue without some movement forward on the peace process and that the burden is on the leadership of the Israeli and Palestinian Authority to take the hard decisions necessary to move this process forward.

I think that pretty much summarizes the conversations, and we'll take questions.

Q What did the President mean by promising a maximum effort to get Congress to come up with the money for the arrears?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, as you know, the President last year put forward a detailed proposal for getting the arrears paid off. We did reach -- after several months of negotiations with the Congress, we did reach an agreement, which, unfortunately, didn't pass both Houses. The President has reintroduced legislation that's essentially based on that arrangement that was negotiated last year. It is one of the administration's priorities with the Congress this year.

Q Do you see the President making speeches or calling members of Congress to try and get this passed?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, he's already called members of Congress. He's discussed it with the Speaker. He's discussed it with the Majority Leader. The Secretary General is now on Capitol Hill meeting with key members of the Congress; he will do that again tomorrow morning. And my understanding is he has expressed his willingness to come back after the Easter recess and meet again with the leadership.

The President will do -- we don't have a specific speech on this subject scheduled yet, but the President will do everything that he can to convince the Congress that this is a treaty obligation of the United States to pay off these dues. This is not charity. This is something that the United States has undertaken by treaty to do. It is something that is in our national interest. And I think that there is bipartisan support for paying it off. The details, however, have been the problem in the past.

But the Secretary General has committed himself to the necessary management reforms that the Congress has always wanted. And I think there is a common set of management reforms that the Secretary General is beginning to implement and has already done that go a long way to doing what the Congress has asked to be done. So now I think the administration's view is that it's up to the Congress to meet its part of the bargain.

Q Just one more point on that if I may. How soon might the U.S. lose its vote in the General Assembly if it doesn't come up with the money?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If it doesn't come up with the money by the end of this calendar year, we will be two years in arrears in total above the threshold level, and, therefore, technically we could lose our vote at the end of the calendar end. It's a vote in the General Assembly, not necessarily in other bodies.

Q Did the President raise any objections about the appointment of a Russian to lead the inspection process?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President noted that in our view this is not the time for structural change in UNSCOM. I believe Ambassador Richardson has also made that point very clear in the Council. We think UNSCOM is working well, and this is not the time to tinker with it's structural --

Q The Secretary General said what?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Secretary General had forwarded the request that the Russian government has put to the Security Council. He did not give his own view on this issue.

Q So, in other words, the President just said, I don't like this idea, and the Secretary General just acknowledged that he made a mistake then, or what?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the Russian idea has now been sent to the Security Council for any actions that will be taken on it. Since we have the authority to prevent any such changes as a permanent member of the Security Council, it remains to be seen how hard the Russian government wants to push on this issue. We just do not feel that it makes any sense at this time to do structural changes in the way UNSCOM works.

Q So it has nothing to do with his nationality?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's clear in the -- the enabling legislation that created UNSCOM says there shall be a chairman and a deputy. We don't see any reason right now for a second deputy.

Q Is the United States absolutely convinced there was no secret deal between Anna and Saddam?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have no reason to believe there was any secret deal. If there was any agreement or any understanding that we are not a party to, of course, we are not obligated to live up to it. But we have no reason to believe there is any secret deal.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 4:13 P.M. EST