THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY NSC SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR EUROPEAN AFFAIRS ANTONY BLINKEN
The Briefing Room
3:20 P.M. EST
MR. BLINKEN: Good afternoon. I can tell from the huge crowd that there must be a competing event, which will be the Chancellor who is giving a press conference at the Willard -- if you need an excuse to flee for the exits, that would be it. But let me just tell you briefly what was discussed at the meeting between the President and the Chancellor today.
The first little bit of background, they began in the Oval Office for about half an hour. Participating were, on the American side, the President, Secretary Albright and Sandy Berger. On the German side, Chancellor Schroeder and Michael Steiner, his Diplomatic and Security Advisor. So it was a very small group, plus the interpreters, of course.
Very small group. They then moved after about a half an hour into the private dining room. The same group was there, and they had a lunch that extended for about two hours. So it was a very lengthy session. I think what was very striking was that the discussion and the relationship between the two was very informal, very relaxed and was characterized by a real exchange of views on a whole host of subjects, but in a very informal conversational, personal way. And I think that was appreciated by both the Chancellor and the President.
In the Oval Office session they focused principally on economic challenges, in particular challenges that German and European countries are facing today; some of the challenges that are common to both of our countries. In particular, they focused on the issue of unemployment, some of the things that the Chancellor is trying to do to combat that challenge in Germany. In particular, they talked about the alliance for work -- or for jobs -- that the Germans are pursuing, which is a dialogue between the private sector, the government and the labor unions. They talked a lot about information technology and the information technology sector. The Chancellor said that this is really the key to economic success and growth in the future.
And one of the really interesting exchanges that they had, I thought, on this was that the Chancellor pointed out that they have a real challenge in this area, and in the economy more globally on unemployment, is to match the large pool of unemployed people with a large number of job vacancies. And the difficulty is that many of the vacancies that they have in German and in other developed countries are in the information technology sector. The Chancellor said there were 70,000 job openings in Germany in this area. And yet, because many of the unemployed don't have the qualifications and training necessary to move into these jobs, they couldn't match the two groups.
And so one of the challenges he was focused on, said the Chancellor, was focusing very much on job training, on employee qualifications, so that you could match these two pools together and really make a dent in the unemployment area. And the President talked about some of the things that we've done here in that area, and they compared notes. And I think both were very interested to get the different perspectives and the different experiences that they'd had.
They also talked a lot about welfare -- reforming welfare, welfare-to-work. The President described, in some detail, some of the things we've done successfully in the United States. The Chancellor talked about how the Germans were approaching that problem. And that was really the bulk of the discussion during the meeting in the Oval Office.
Then during lunch, they focused principally on common foreign policy challenges and issues. They first began by talking in some detail about Russia. I think they both came to the same view, which is that there is a mutual desire to support reform, but clear agreement that Russia must take the steps necessary to move the reform effort and the economy forward.
The President also described for the Chancellor our threat reduction program -- the cooperative threat reduction program, which you may have heard the President talk about in the State of the Union in some detail -- efforts to help work cooperatively with the Russians on dealing with a whole host of nuclear-related issues: how to help them focus their scientists on peaceful pursuits; how to help with the dismantlement of nuclear weapons pursuant to the arms control agreements that we have; how to make sure there are stringent controls on technology transfer. And the Chancellor expressed great interest in that effort, and in what Germany and the EU could do in that regard.
On Kosovo, again, a very strong meeting of the minds. Both expressed strong support for the peace process ongoing at Rambouillet. They also both expressed strong support for maintaining a NATO threat of force if it proves necessary if the peace effort does not bear fruit at Rambouillet. And the President welcomed the strong German commitment to this effort and to working for peace in Kosovo.
They then turned to talk about the NATO summit, which is, as you know, coming up on us here in Washington in April. They discussed a lot of the issues relating to the modernization of NATO, which will be the principal subject for discussion at the summit.
And then the two final areas of discussion at the lunch were the international economy, in particular, reforming the international financial architecture. They agreed that this should be a key issue for the agenda at Cologne at the summit there in June. They also talked about in that context as well the environment, climate change, and also agreed that at Cologne this should be a subject for some conversation, and in the interim their various experts would be moving forward on different proposals that we could look at -- they can look at with the other leaders in Cologne.
And that was really the sum and substance of the conversations. As I say, two and a half hours; very relaxed, very informal.
Q The Chancellor said, regarding Russia, that both he and the President agreed that it was important to stabilize the situation and that stabilizing -- the interpreter said -- I imagine she meant supporting Mr. Primakov -- was equal to stabilizing Russia. Would you care to amplify on that?
MR. BLINKEN: No, I think what was meant was simply in terms of supporting Russia there was a clear will expressed by both of them to support the ongoing reform efforts, but also to make it clear -- and this was a very much shared position -- to make it clear that Russia had to continue to do its part; that it had to make the decisions necessary to allow reform to go forward; that it had to make hard decisions on the budget, on banking, on tax, so that the IMF program could move forward and so the Russian economy could move forward. And in that context, I think they talked about the need to work with all of the Russian actors involved in that.
Q The way it was stated outside sounded as if we have decided that Mr. Primakov is our guy and we should do what we can to --
MR. BLINKEN: Well, Mr. Primakov is the Prime Minister of Russia, so we're working closely with him.
Q Yes, but why did he single out Primakov? It was interesting, talking about Primakov as opposed to Yeltsin --
MR. BLINKEN: There wasn't any personal differentiation in the meeting. I don't know -- I didn't hear the remarks outside. But I think they were talking about Russia, not about personalities, and regardless, the bottom line is that Mr. Primakov is the Prime Minister.
Q And we'd like to support both President Yeltsin and Primakov, there wasn't any --
MR. BLINKEN: The issue is supporting Russia in its reform efforts, and that is what they both agreed strongly to do and they wanted to do.
Q Did they talk about troop numbers at all for Kosovo for the force that would go in --
MR. BLINKEN: No. I think the President welcomed the Chancellor's commitment to take part in a NATO mission should one prove necessary, and develop with the participation of German troops. They didn't discuss numbers, and the President made clear that we have not made a decision yet on U.S. participation, and when the time comes he'll make whatever the decision is known.
Q And has Germany -- Germany has not committed a number?
MR. BLINKEN: Yes, Germany has. They've actually committed in principle -- again, if you have an agreement that is actually feasible to implement, I think they've committed to in the area of 4,000 troops.
Q Was there any discussion at all about Holocaust reparations?
MR. BLINKEN: No, that didn't come up in the meeting.
Q Or the BT merger, nothing --
MR. BLINKEN: No, that didn't come up.
Q Last time he was here, Schroeder talked about what he saw as the need for controls on capital, in the context of the global financial crisis. Did they discuss that this time?
MR. BLINKEN: No, they didn't get into a detailed discussion, other than to say that these were all issues that should be addressed in the months ahead as we prepare for the Cologne summit. But that didn't come up specifically.
Q And that was always going to be a big issue at Cologne, right?
MR. BLINKEN: Yes, absolutely. This was just really confirming that both of them agreed that there should be real focus on that, yes.
Q The Chancellor said that there was no discussion about -- can you tell us if there are solutions being prepared to solve that problem?
MR. BLINKEN: Well, you'll understand that I can't comment on intelligence matters. There was no discussion of intelligence matters in the meeting and I can't say any further on intelligence matters.
Q As far as climate change recommendations, are these going to be in addition to current efforts regarding climate changes? Are there going to be new proposals as far as climate change at the G-7?
MR. BLINKEN: I think it was just an agreement that this was an important process to move forward, both with individual nations and in the context of the G-7. They didn't discuss any new initiatives. There's obviously an ongoing process and they wanted to see where we are when we get to Cologne and hopefully be able to continue the progress that's been made on that. But there was nothing new specifically.
Q I want to make sure of one thing. The President didn't exchange a view about Holocaust, so-called compensation for Holocaust people?
MR. BLINKEN: No, that didn't come up in the meeting, either. As you know, that was discussed by the German Chief of Staff who was here with Stu Eizenstat earlier in the week -- it didn't come up.
Q One other question. Could you give us an idea of the relationship between the two men? The President had a very close, warm relationship with Chancellor Kohl -- what about with Chancellor Schroeder?
MR. BLINKEN: Well, as I said at the outset, I was struck by how relaxed and informal the session was. I got the impression if you had, I think, come into the session not having known the two and were sort of parachuted in, you would have gotten the impression that they'd known each other for a long time. It was very relaxed, very low key, very conversational -- and it was a real exchange. So it certainly didn't seem to be the case of two leaders who I believe have met really twice before. It seemed like it was a relationship that had been long existing -- it was very comfortable, very informal, very relaxed.
END 3:30 P.M. EST