THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ON PRESIDENT'S MEETING WITH PRIME MINISTER SHARIF OF PAKISTAN The Briefing Room
5:40 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have two Senior Administration Officials here to give you a little background on the three-hour meeting that took place at Blair House. I'll give you a little bit, first of all, of the back-and-forth that happened at Blair House.
Some of you were asking earlier, why Blair House. Well, as it proved this afternoon, where you had various meetings at various times with small groups in different rooms, how valuable it was to have a resource like we have across the street.
But in the three hours that the two delegations were together, they started off with about 40 minutes in small group delegations, three on the United States side and two on the Pakistan side, plus the leaders. There was a point at which the two leaders, President Clinton and Prime Minister Sharif, went into a one-on-one with a notetaker. They then took about a one-hour break, during which the two sides conferred on their discussions up to that point.
During that time, President Clinton did have a brief 10-minute conversation with Prime Minister Vajpayee of India to keep him fully apprised of the discussion. And then they finished up with, during the course of the last hour, some back-and-forth between the President, the Prime Minister, and in various delegations and various sizes.
Since that time, of course, Sandy Berger has now telephoned his counterpart, Prime Minister Vajpayee's National Security Advisor, to bring him up to date on the results of today's activity. So, at this point, I will introduce Senior Administration Official number one, who will go through some of the detail of the meeting.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me add to what you've just heard by saying that the President and the Prime Minister had a positive meeting. They agreed upon the joint statement which you have. Let me just take a minute and read it to you for the record.
President Clinton and Prime Minister Sharif share the view that the current fighting in the Kargil region of Kashmir is dangerous and contains the seeds of a wider conflict. They also agreed it was vital for the peace of South Asia that the line of control in Kashmir be respected by both parties in accordance with the 1972 Simla Accord.
It was agreed between the President and the Prime Minister that concrete steps will be taken for the restoration of the line of control, in accordance with the Simla agreement. The President urged an immediate cessation of the hostilities once these steps are taken.
The Prime Minister agreed that the bilateral dialogue begun in Lahore in February provides the best forum for resolving all issues dividing India and Pakistan, including Kashmir. The President said he would take a personal interest in encouraging an expeditious resumption and intensification of those bilateral efforts once the sanctity of the line of control has been fully restored.
The President reaffirmed his intent to pay an early visit to South Asia.
If I could take a minute just to give you some perspective on the President's involvement in this. As you know, a series of military clashes began in this part of Kashmir last month. Almost from the beginning, the President recognized that this was a very serious situation and one that had great danger for wider escalation. He began to have a series of contacts with both Prime Ministers.
Beginning in mid-June he first called Prime Minister Vajpayee -- I think on the 14th of June. And then he called Prime Minister Sharif on the 15th of June. While he was in Europe on his trip, with regards to Kosovo, the President also continued to have direct contact with the two, exchanging a series of messages and letters.
National Security Advisor Berger met with his counterpart from India in Geneva on the margins of the European trip. I think we've briefed you in the past on the content of those messages, but I think they amount to a clear call for restraint on both sides, a call for the restoration of the line of control, and in urging both parties to go back to the Lahore process, which we have seen as a very encouraging process that began in February, of direct dialogue between the two leaders.
On Saturday morning, Prime Minister Sharif asked to call the President. The President took his call yesterday morning. They spoke for a while. The Prime Minister asked the President if he could come to Washington on an urgent basis. The President proposed this afternoon. I think many of you know the President is leaving on a domestic trip tomorrow, so he said, come this afternoon. The Prime Minister agreed.
The President also called Prime Minister Vajpayee to brief him on these developments and to make sure he was fully informed as to what our intentions were.
The President, as my colleague has told you, met for almost three hours with the Prime Minister this afternoon. At one point during that process, they took a break and the President called Prime Minister Vajpayee in New Delhi and gave him an interim readout on where we were. Once we had reached agreement on the statement, National Security Advisor Berger called his counterpart again in Delhi, just a few minutes ago to brief him on the statement and give him a recap of what has happened here today. I expect that we will have other communications with the Indians, probably through Deputy Secretary Talbott, calling the Foreign Minister probably tomorrow morning.
Q What are the concrete steps that are going to be taken to restore this peace or dividing line, or whatever it is?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, as I think you know, our position has been that the forces that are across the line of control need to be returned to the Pakistani side.
Q The statement says "will be taken." What does that mean?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That is our understanding.
Q You mean both sides have agreed?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is a joint statement between the United States and Pakistan, and I think it speaks for itself. Our understanding is that there will be withdrawal of the forces now.
Q So what the time frame?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it is safe to say that the President and both Prime Ministers have a great sense of urgency here, and that we expect -- want to see positive steps taken in a very early time.
Q Do you have any reactions from the Indian Prime Minister when he was told this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think I will let the Indian Prime Minister characterize his view himself.
Q So what was the urgency for the Prime Minister of Pakistan to come here on an emergency basis during this 4th of July weekend, holiday, involving thousands of people who are with families and celebrating this U.S. independence -- (laughter.) He could have said this on the phone to the President, "Mr. President, this is the story." And may I follow that up?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We haven't answered it yet.
Q -- I was wondering whether the cease-fire called also applies to the militants who daily cross the Indian line of control and commit atrocities and kill women and children and -- does the call for the restoration of the line of control mean also that this activity must also cease?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me -- this is a backgrounder, so let me give you some more background. I think that would be -- I'm Administration Official two, for purposes of identification. If you would look at the statement for a moment, in terms of giving you a little bit more context for each part of this, the very first part about sharing the view that the current fighting is dangerous -- they both agree that the current situation is very dangerous, that it does risk wider conflict, escalation, and that it must be defused. So that is the beginning.
They also agree that it was vital for the peace of South Asia that the line of control in Kashmir be respected by both parties, in accordance with their 1972 Simla Accord. It was that accord which established that line that has been delineated, and it is reestablishment of that, restoration of that which is the way to address this current problem.
It was agreed by the President and Prime Minister that concrete steps will be taken for the restoration. This is dealing with the immediate crisis, and I think the administration official --
Q Have both sides agreed to withdraw?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is not, again, between both sides. This is a U.S.-Pakistani joint press statement.
Q Well, does it mean that only Pakistan will withdraw?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Those forces that have been involved have crossed over to the Indian side of the line of control. Those are the forces that are being -- at issue.
Q So is the Pakistani Prime Minister conceding that he has the influence to get these guerrillas out of Kashmir?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What I'm trying to do now is give you a sense of the statement itself. I think you're going to get background here, not elaboration. We want to give you background for what has been agreed to during these three hours at Blair House.
Again, concrete steps will be taken for the restoration of the line of control in accordance with the Simla Accord. The next portion, the President urged an immediate cessation of the hostilities once these steps have been taken. This gets to the issue of sequencing. There has been some debate about what are the right steps to be taken, what sequence. It's our view that the concrete steps must be taken reestablish the line of control, and then a cessation of the hostilities, and then a return to the Lahore process. So this goes to the question of the sequence, once these steps have been taken.
Then we have the President and the Prime Minister agreeing that the bilateral dialogue begun in Lahore in February provides the best forum. You've seen a great deal of press attention to the Lahore summit, what was agreed to, and that summit did produce a declaration which referred to resolving all outstanding issues, including Kashmir, on a bilateral basis. And therefore, they reaffirmed their view that this is the best forum for addressing these issues -- in other words, in a bilateral context.
But the next portion of it makes it very clear that the President is going to take a personal interest in encouraging an expeditious resumption and intensification of these bilateral efforts. The President wants to see this process move forward as quickly as possible and he will be involved in trying in his fashion to encourage that to take place, and that once the sanctity of the line of control has been fully restored -- in other words, the point being there that this process really can't be resumed until that line of control is restored.
And finally, the President reaffirmed his intent to pay an early visit to South Asia, something that Administration Official number and I both know that the President has wanted to do for a very long time and he -- I'm sorry?
Q Will you answer my question, which is there are two aspects to the cease-fire -- you call for a cease-fire, there are two aspects to it. One is -- element coming in, and the other is the training of the militants and sending them across on the Pakistani -- daily. And there coming to all this violence -- does your call for a cease-fire also involve stopping this kind of activity?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You notice in the very first sentence here that the two leaders share the view that the current fighting in the Kargil sector of Kashmir -- the purpose of this meeting is to address the immediate crisis, which has been unfolding over the last several weeks. That is the urgency. And clearly once you have addressed this immediate crisis, there will be opportunities to address all issues, again within the context of Lahore. But this was for the purpose of dealing with this very important situation facing the leaders right now.
Q Is there a time frame for that sequencing?
Q Since the Prime Minister basically agreed to the statement, can we rightly understand that he believes there are concrete steps that he can take to restore the line of control?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're not in a position to characterize his position, but that certainly is our understanding that there are concrete steps --
Q What is the U.S. understanding about the restoration of the line of control in accordance with the Simla agreement? That means the day the Simla agreement was signed, if there had been any alteration in the line of control after 1972 by use of force -- what is the U.S. understanding about those territories?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have read the Simla agreement, we read the 43-page annex which delineates line of control. But this meeting today was not about the history of that agreement, or, indeed, the history of the Kashmir crisis. It is about this particular situation in Kargil with those posts that have been overtaken, and dealing with that.
Q What's the timeline for that sequencing that you gave for the concrete steps? Is there a timeline for the immediate situation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: For the immediate situation, we would like to see positive steps in the very near future.
Q Can you answer my question about what was the urgency of the Prime Minister to come here on this 4th of July weekend, holiday?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that's a question that you better ask the Prime Minister's party, rather than us. The President demonstrated his determination to do what he could to help ease this situation by taking the step of receiving the Prime Minister on very short notice on our national day. But if you want to know the Prime Minister's motivations, I think we're the wrong party to ask.
Q -- waste of time for the Pakistani Prime Minister to come here?
Q My question is, President Clinton has promised to take "personal interest." So there is no commitment on the part of the United States to continue to take interest in the solving of the Kashmir dispute. So he goes out and the personal interest will refer him to his golf course, and say, okay, talk to him. Is that the meaning of personal interest? Or is there a commitment on the part of the United States to continue to be involved in solving the Kashmir dispute?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you're parsing that sentence way too narrowly. The President has had an interest in this. He has had Deputy Secretary Talbott and Administration Officials one and two engaged in an intense process for the last year on this. No, it does not mean that when January 2001 comes around, he takes this issue with him to whatever he goes on to.
Q Why does it not mean the United States --
Q When is he going to travel --
Q Is it the administration's understanding that when the Prime Minister returns to Pakistan he will ask the army to withdraw whatever forces have crossed the line? Is that what you mean by withdrawal of forces?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the Prime Minister will have to make those decisions himself about how he will undertake to pursue what is contained in this document. I mean, we can't predict how he will go about that.
I do want to say one thing about the timing of a possible presidential trip. There is an election that is scheduled to take place in India -- elections beginning at the end of September, run into October. It's possible that a new government may not be formed until late October or November, early November. We don't have the exact schedule yet. That certainly would affect the possibility of any presidential travel before that time.
Q Did the Prime Minister acknowledge that they had troops in Kargil and they would withdraw them?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, what we're doing here is to give you an understanding of the document itself, what was said, backgrounding. We're not going to get into an elaboration of what was discussed at the meeting.
Q Do you have any better sense yourselves, then, of the reasons that this action was taken by the Pakistanis a couple months ago -- crossing the line?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think there has been plenty of reporting that's been done speculating why certain things have been done over the last several weeks. I don't think we can add anything to that right now.
Q The statement emphasizes Simla agreement and the Lahore declaration, in other words, the bilateral dialogues. Why do -- approve Security Council resolutions? President Clinton and every senior U.S. official criticizes and condemned Iraq for not abiding by the approved Security Council resolutions. No one said a single word to India -- why the double standards?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, again, we are very aware of the history of Kashmir. In fact, if any of you wish, you can go back to Secretary Albright's father's book, "Danger in Kashmir," that he wrote after being on the first U.N. Commission. We're very aware of the history and what has been said and what has been done.
Our focus now is on the present, and the most important recent event dealing with this history is Lahore, where the two Prime Ministers met and issued a joint declaration, which I think the entire world was very encouraged to see and hopeful that it would be pursued. What we've seen recently in the Kargil sector is a step backward.
We're hoping that what can be done by the President and others can get this back on track so diplomacy can be resumed. And I think that that is why we're trying to focus on this -- not going through the historical record, but I think that the Prime Ministers themselves are best able to do this. And they will have the full support in that effort by the President and the U.S. government.
END 6:00 P.M. EDT