THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (San Francisco, California) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release February 26, 1999
PRESS BRIEFING BY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR SANDY BERGER The Clift Hotel San Francisco, California
2:05 P.M. PST
MR. BERGER: I have no opening statement to make.
Q Well, may I? The President seemed to say today that during this interim period before March 15, while the Kosovars are consulting, that if Milosevic starts an offensive or does not show restraint on the ground, NATO could bomb him. Is that what the President meant?
MR. BERGER: Well, I think that's what the Secretary General -- let me go back -- NATO passed a resolution unanimously before these talks giving the Secretary General, Mr. Solana, the authority to initiate strikes in appropriate circumstances. I think there is a strong consensus that if during this period there is an offensive on the part of the Serbs, that the Secretary General has all the authority that he needs to respond.
Q He has the authority, but is it the United States' position he ought to use it?
MR. BERGER: Certainly we think that if during this period there were significant military action on the part of the Serb government, that that authority should be used. And I believe that's a view of most of the allies.
Q How credible are these threats -- at a time when the Serbs are massing forces and harassing international observers, looking like they are emboldened by the failure of the peace talks, and they're getting signals from other NATO allies that until the KLA acts, we're not going to do anything?
MR. BERGER: I, first of all, don't accept your characterization, David, the failure of the peace talks. I mean, the President said today Kosovo is a difficult problem -- if it wasn't a difficult problem it would have been solved a long time ago. Let's remember where we were in October. We had 250,000 people in the mountains getting ready to starve; we were able to negotiate a situation in which they could come down from the mountain, return to their homes.
I think you had in Rambouillet progress. We're not there yet by any means, and I don't mean to suggest that. But you had Albanian delegation that had never been in the same room together -- these people, ranging from one side of the spectrum to the other, who finally, after two weeks, agreed in principle on self-government, according to a very specific blueprint.
The Serbs substantially agreed that there ought to be self-government in Kosovo. Now, they did not agree, most importantly, to the fact that there needed to be something on the ground, a NATO force, to give the parties the confidence to sign that agreement, nor to the specifics with respect to withdrawal of their forces.
First of all, I don't think it is fair to characterize Rambouillet in that fashion and I think the process is a difficult one and it continues. And I think that Mr. Milosevic would, I think, ignore NATO's position, I think, at his peril.
Q What is your understanding, Sandy, of the situation on the ground now? There are reports of various troops massing around certain towns. Is this an ominous situation that is building here to you?
MR. BERGER: There are several things going on. There is some scattered fighting. There was an incident, I understand, earlier today in which a couple of KVM monitors were roughed up; we protested that vigorously in Belgrade. And there are, as has been reported, an accumulation of forces, and have been for some days, on the border. Now, what the intention and motivation of that buildup is, I'm not going to speculate about. But as I have said, in our judgment, the Secretary General has the authority to act if the Serbs engage in wide-scale repression in Kosovo.
Q Will you define "widespread?"
MR. BERGER: No, I'm not going to define it. As the President said, this is a time for restraint, not a time for repression. And I'm not going to draw any kind of lines at this point.
Q Sandy, how can the President say that China is moving away from the rule of fear on the very day that the State Department says that China's cracking down on political dissidents?
MR. BERGER: Well, if you finish the sentence, David -- could you read the rest of the sentence to me -- "but has not yet adopted the rule of law," is the rest of the sentence. Listen, there's no question in anybody's mind that if you look at China over the last, say, 10 years, that people have more freedom in their personal lives than they did 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago or 50 years ago. People now, more or less, choose where they work, where they live, where they travel. And I think if you were with us in China -- or check with your folks who cover China -- I think all would agree that that's the case.
However, when it comes to the political expression or political organization, the Chinese government has drawn the line and said that there can be no challenge to the political authority of the Communist Party.
What the President was saying today I thought quite clearly is that that is not a strategy that will work over the long-term in an information economy, where growth and wealth is created by ideas and ingenuity. You cannot segment a person's brain and say you can think creatively about economics, but you can't act creatively in the political arena. So I think what he was saying today is, you cannot buy stability at the cost of freedom; it will no longer work over the long-term.
The President has been very clear and, I think, thoughtful about how he's talked about the human rights issue in China -- stronger than any other President in history in what he said about China -- in front of President Jiang, basically saying, you're on the wrong side of history with respect to human rights. And he's basically saying that this is not sustainable in this modern era unless you are able to come to grips with the lack of political dissent, political freedom. So I think the speech today was quite consistent with the human rights report.
Q Sandy, when he said that he was going to use his remaining time in office to push for peace in the Middle East, was he suggesting some special effort or a special crusade -- what was his thought there?
MR. BERGER: I think that, obviously, in the midst of the -- with the Israeli elections going on, I think it is unlikely that there will be major new initiatives in the peace process. But those elections will be completed in May and then the run-off, if one is necessary, in June. And I think the President believes that there is a period of time here, a limited period of time in which the parties must move towards a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue and then towards a comprehensive peace.
Don't forget that, under Oslo, the final status talks are supposed to end on May 4th, 1999. Now, it is unlikely that they will, given the election. And we hope that they will resume after the election, but I don't know that there will be an unlimited period of time in which -- to come to grips with those issues.
And I think the President is saying that this has been something from the very beginning, whether you're talking about the original Palestinian-Israeli Declaration of Principles, their peace agreement, the Jordan agreement, the Wye agreement, that he's invested an enormous amount of time in, believes in passionately, and intends to put all of the energy necessary into moving this forward after the elections, obviously assuming the parties are prepared to get serious.
Q On the drug certification to Mexico, there doesn't seem to be any indication that our past certifications have lessened the drug traffick, so why keep pushing this? It doesn't seem to make any difference?
MR. BERGER: Well, there is, first of all, a briefing on the drug certification issues back in Washington. I don't want to try to pretend here to be an expert on this issue. The folks back there will address it. But I think that there has been -- listen, there is no question -- what the President said today on Mexico is that Mexico has a horrible drug problem, and the person who speaks about that most eloquently and most passionately is President Zedillo. He understands that narco-traffickers are eating away at the very foundations of his country and his democracy. And even though his budget this year is contracting because of the economic problems of his country, he's added $5 million for a new set of initiatives, a new technology to try to deal with interdiction.
He's asked Minister Labastida to set up a new federal protective police, protective service, to work on this problem. The FBI has indicated that they're prepared to work with them. Director Freeh has indicated that this is a long-term project, this is 5, 10 years in order to rebuild this. But I think that cooperation with, in the Attorney General's view, in General McCaffrey's view, that cooperation with the Mexicans continues to be strong, even as the problem remains very serious.
A fundamental question I think we have to face is, are we better off working with the Mexicans to try to deal with this mortal threat to both them and us, or are we better off walking away and saying this is your problem, we're not going to work with you anymore.
Q But that's not what the certification law says.
MR. BERGER: The certification law says they're fully cooperating. And based on the recommendation of the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, the President's Drug Advisor General McCaffrey, the Secretary of Defense and every other Cabinet member who recommended that he take this action, that they are fully cooperating, the President has made that certification today. But saying that they're cooperating is not to say that they don't have one hell of a drug problem. It is saying that they're working with us and that continuing that cooperation, rather than cutting it off, is likely to be better for our children who are the victims of these drugs, than walking away.
Q Sandy, why did the President feel it was necessary to give this speech today?
MR. BERGER: I would describe this, in a sense, as sort of the state of the union for foreign policy.
Q Because you have been pushing him to do it?
MR. BERGER: I would hardly say that. It's been over a year since the President has given a comprehensive foreign policy speech, as opposed to a speech about terrorism or a speech about Africa, a speech about another particular subject. And I think it is important and I think he thought it was important now. Obviously, the State of the Union one has a limited amount of space to devote to any particular topic. We did better in the number of words this year than last year, for those who count that.
But I think he wanted to set forth what the strategic goals of his foreign policy are, what he believes has been accomplished, and what he believes lies before us, number one. Number two, I think he wanted to make as strong a case as he could for why America has to -- must continue to lead and be engaged in the world, against voices which say that there's no big threat out there, these places are -- Kosovo or the West Bank are distant from us and that we really ought to tend to our own knitting.
And I think what the President was saying is that our future, our children's future, will be directly affected by whether we lead for peace, by whether we fight terrorism, by whether we fight drugs, by whether we continue to help nations on the road to democracy, whether Russia succeeds or fails, by whether China becomes opened or closed -- all of those questions the President laid down today are not foreign policy questions alone, they are questions that affect and increasingly will affect the daily lives of the American people. And I think it was a very strong, in my judgment, argument for American engagement and American leadership.
Q How much of a reevaluation of policy does this speech represent? Did you really examine your goals and say, are these the right ones, and so forth?
MR. BERGER: Well, I think that's something we constantly do. But I think the five basic strategic goals that the President set out today are ones that have, by and large, charted our course over the past several years. But we're constantly -- I mean, the President met with Secretary Perry after the speech, as many of you know, who has been asked by the President to take a fresh look at how were approaching problems in the Korean Peninsula; got a briefing on that. That's still a work in progress, but we're always looking at how our policies are succeeding or not succeeding and how the challenges are changing.
Q Sandy, the owner of the pharmaceutical plant that was destroyed in the U.S. strikes in Sudan filed suit today. What indications does the U.S. have that he is associated with bin Laden, and why hasn't he officially been named a terrorist, which is required for the freezing of his assets?
MR. BERGER: Well, because of the lawsuit I can't comment specifically on the allegations in the lawsuit. But let me say what I said before, and that is that I believe we made the right decision in striking the al Shifa plant. I believe to have not done so would have been thoroughly irresponsible. And let me tell you what I mean by that.
Let's remember the context. Our embassies had been blown up in Nairobi and dar es Salaam. We had very little question that Osama bin Laden was responsible for that. Several hundred people killed, 12 Americans. We looked at number of targets, some in Afghanistan that were very directly associated with bin Laden, and we knew several other things. We knew that bin Laden was seeking chemical weapons. We knew that he was intent upon continuing a terrorist campaign against the United States. We knew that he had worked with the Sudanese government on acquiring chemical weapons, a government which is one of the major state sponsors of terrorism. We knew that this particular plant, the al Shifa plant, was in and of itself associated with chemical weapons. We knew that it was part of a larger entity, the military industrial corporation of Sudan, that -- to which Mr. bin Laden had contributed. And many other things.
I think, given that stated knowledge, had we not gone forward and struck that plant -- and I would say parenthetically we did it at night, after checking to see whether they had a night shift, so as to keep civilian casualties to a minimum -- had we not and had a chemical weapon been used subsequently in the San Francisco subway system, I would find it hard to have defended our inaction.
Q Broadly, what changes in the U.S. approach to North Korea are contemplated now, and as part of that, could you tell me what implications you see to our plans to develop a theater missile defense, particularly how that could affect our relationship with China and with Taiwan?
MR. BERGER: Well, with respect to Korea -- and again, this is an ongoing process of review -- we have some fundamental interests. We have a treaty ally in South Korea that we are determined to defend against attack. We want to see a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula, which is why in 1994 we negotiated the agreed framework which stopped the -- by which the North Koreans agreed to freeze and ultimately dismantle the nuclear reactor complex that they had in Yongbyong.
We obviously do not want to see missile proliferation in that region that threatens Japan and starts an arms race regionally.
Now, I would say that the North Koreans have quite rigorously abided by the agreed framework. In terms of Yangbang, they have frozen construction, they have sealed those facilities, they are under international supervision. And so they've lived up to that part of the arrangement.
But we have two other major concerns. Number one, there are some sites in the North, some construction sites which give us some concerns. And we need to resolve those concerns to make sure that those are not intended to be part of a nuclear program that would violate the agreed framework.
Number two, we're obviously also concerned about increasingly long-range missiles being fired by North Korea -- not only the Nodong, but the Taepo-Dong missile, the last one over the island of Japan -- which, again, could create an escalating arms race in the region that could only lead to instability. And so our objectives here are to try to maintain the agreed framework; try to assure that there continues to be a non-nuclear peninsula; and to try to get some handle on the North Korean missile program before it creates great instability in the region.
You asked a second question about missile defense, but -- do you want me to answer that, or --
Q If you could.
MR. BERGER: That's why you asked it, probably. We have spent a substantial amount of money over the past several years developing a limited -- developing, seeking to develop -- a limited national missile defense system that would be, or could be effective against rogue states like North Korea, or others who might acquire long-range missiles. This is not the old Star Wars system that was directed at the Soviet Union, which no longer exists, obviously, but a limited system that could potentially provide protection in these other situations.
What we have said is that we will try to make a decision -- we seek to make -- we intend to make a decision in June of the year 2000, as to whether to go from development to deployment. And we've actually put some money in the out-years of the budget on deployment, in the event that we make that decision in the affirmative.
But there are basically four questions that have to be answered in connection with that decision. Number one, what is the threat environment? And I think most people believe that the threat has gotten more serious. It is more likely than it's been in the past that the territory of the United States at some point in the foreseeable future could be within range of one of these missiles. Two, does it work? We've not tested this system. General Shelton has called it shooting a bullet at a bullet. We're going to begin testing this year, but two is the technological feasibility.
Number three, what does it cost, which is impossible to answer definitively until you know what kind of a system you're talking about. And four, what are the implications on arms control? We believe very deeply in the ABM Treaty. We believe it is a stabilizing treaty between the United States and, now, Russia. Some limited national missile defense architectures might involve seeking an amendment to that treaty with the Russians. We have every reason to hope that we would be able to negotiate such an amendment with the Russians, because this is not a system directed towards them, but directed towards these rogue states. So, that's sort of the state of play at this point.
MR. TOIV: Two more questions, and then we have to go.
Q Well, I have two questions. One is -- (laughter.)
Q There they are.
Q Sorry to be greedy --
MR. TOIV: Two more questioners.
Q The first question involves Nigeria. The President talked about dropping sanctions. Did that just happen now and, if so, what sanctions were there, and how were they dropped? And --
Q Would you tell her?
MR. BERGER: Under the -- okay, I'm going to do one at a time, because I'll forget otherwise.
The way in which this drug certification law operates is that, initially, the President -- initially, a report is submitted to the Congress -- I think it's by the State Department, which lists the major drug transient countries. That went up a couple of months ago, including Nigeria, including Mexico, including Colombia. Then, by March 1, the President has to decide essentially between three categories. One is to certify that they're fully cooperating, two is to not certify -- you can't say they're fully cooperating, but grant a national interest waiver where, for other reasons, we believe we shouldn't be cutting off our aid, and the third is to decertify, in which case substantial amounts of assistance are cut off to that country, particularly in the narcotics area itself.
In Nigeria, since 1994, we have decertified the country because not only it was not cooperating, but there was no will on the part of successive military governments to cooperate. And Nigeria was a very serious source of drugs to the United States. Now, we have a very -- as the President said in his speech, we have quite a hopeful opportunity, actually culminating -- at least not culminating, but which will take shape this weekend. And that is the process here, which has been quite extraordinary, under which General Abubakar has led his country over the last several months toward a transition to civilian rule. And he has released political prisoners, he's appointed an elections commission that everybody agrees is respected and not in anybody's pocket, and has engaged with the United States on a whole series of issues that we were not able to engage in before, including on drugs.
I think what the President is doing by virtue of this decertification but national interest waiver so that we can now begin to cooperate with Nigeria is saying that as Nigeria moves decisively towards democracy, we want to be there to help in a whole range of areas, including drugs, but as the President said today, including other areas. This is the largest country in Africa that has been driven into the ground by a series of corrupt military dictators. This is one of the largest oil-producing countries in the world that imports energy. That's a pretty staggering statistic in terms of how corrupt and incompetent it's been. We now have an opportunity, I think, for this country to move to democracy and we want to be able to be of assistance.
Q In former Defense Secretary Perry's meeting with the President today, I understand that he had some critical things to say about the North Korean policy, and I was wondering what you could tell us about the meeting.
MR. BERGER: I don't think I have too much more to add than I did to the question over here. As I say, while the North Koreans have quite rigorously abided by the agreed framework that we reached in '94, we have concerns about whether the suspect site is nuclear-related, and we certainly have concerns about the increasing -- about its missile program, which we think can be very destabilizing, not only in terms of Japan and China and Taiwan and a whole complex of equations, but also because they have been in the business of selling their missiles to other countries. And so they are not only -- the missile program is not only a question of their own deployment, but also their sale of these missiles. And we want to try to find the best approach to try to prevent that from going forward.
MR. TOIV: That's it? Okay.
Q Thank you.
END 2:33 P.M. PST