THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR EUROPEAN AFFAIRS TONY BLINKEN The Briefing Room
1:55 P.M. EST
MR. FALLON: We have Tony Blinken available. He is the Senior Director for European Affairs and will give a readout. This is on the record, and it's on the foreign policy aspects of today's U.S.-E.U. Summit.
MR. BLINKEN: Good afternoon. I notice a distinct drop-off from the Barry Toiv briefing -- (laughter) -- but I will nonetheless do my best to give you a quick readout of what was discussed at the U.S.-E.U. Summit and try and answer any questions you may have.
I want to just focus on the foreign policy aspects of this. Charlene Barshefsky, the U.S. Trade Representative is going to be doing a briefing, I believe later today, as Joe indicated, covering the economic aspects. So I'll just touch on them, but save any details for her.
First, just on exactly what happened in terms of the format, the President first met in the Oval Office with his counterparts, that is, the other leaders -- Finnish President Ahtisaari and Prime Minister Lipponen. The Finns, as you know, are in the presidency, the rotating presidency of the European Union right now; and also the European Union President Prodi.
They met for about an hour and focused their discussions on diplomatic and security questions. Then they moved into the Cabinet Room and the ministers from both sides came in and they focused that discussion on economic issues that Charlene will talk about later.
Q Do you know if that's going to be here?
MR. BLINKEN: I don't know. You'll have to ask my colleagues, but I believe it's later this afternoon.
On the session on foreign and security policy, the President began the meeting by praising the EU leadership for their success at the Helsinki Summit that ended last weekend. In particular, he singled out the EU's decisions to proceed with enlarging the European Union, adding six countries to the list of those who are actually beginning accession negotiations with the European Union: Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and Malta.
They join six countries who have already begun accession discussions: Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovenia and Cyprus. And of course, he emphasized how pleased w were that the EU had offered, and Turkey had accepted, candidate status for membership in the Union.
The President emphasized, beyond the question of Turkey, that the decision to put Romania and Bulgaria in line to start these accession talks was something we thought was very, very positive for both of those countries.
The other issue that the President raised in terms of the Helsinki Summit was the question of European security and defense policy. Again, he praised the leaders of the European Union for the decisions they had taken to strengthen the European Union's capabilities for conducting defense policy, and also the emphasis it placed on the central role of NATO in our common defense and security.
He suggested that as we go forward, and as the EU goes forward, it would be important to focus on the links between NATO and the EU as the EU develops this capacity to strengthen our common defense and security.
After they talked about the Helsinki Summit, the discussion focused heavily on Southeast Europe. And the President and the leaders touched on a number of different subjects in relation to Southeast Europe. They talked about Kosovo. I think as many of you know, the EU pledged $2.5 billion for Kosovo between now and the year 2004; but there was an agreement on both sides on the need to be able to get these resources and the resources that we're dedicating to Kosovo into the field as quickly and as effectively as possible.
In particular, to support the work of the U.N. mission in Kosovo, to be able to pay civil servants, teachers, police and also money for the Kosovo Protection Corps. Both sides agreed that this was vitally important, it wasn't enough to simply commit the funds that we've committed, we actually had to get them into the field quickly and effectively.
They talked as some length about the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe more broadly. There again, I think it's worth pointing out that the EU pledged some time ago to spend $12 billion between now and 2006 on the broader region. And that sum may go higher as the member states also contribute to this process. And already, under the Stability Pact, there are a number of very solid initiatives that were announced in Istanbul, initiatives on investment, fight corruption, on small arms, on weapons of mass destruction.
The leaders agreed that the key next step is a regional funding conference that will take place in March; and, in particular, pledge to work closely together to develop this conference; and, in particular, to develop projects that have a real and quick impact on people's lives in the region.
They then turned to a discussion of Russia and, in particular, Chechnya. And there again there was strong agreement -- and here I would refer you to a joint statement that I believe is going to be issued this afternoon in the name of the European Union and the United States on this. Both the European Union and the United States agreed that they strongly support Russia's right to defend its territorial integrity to combat terrorism; but that we both shared a very deep concern about the impact on civilians, the loss of civilian life, the indiscriminate use of force.
And we also deeply share a conviction that the only possible outcome to this situation is a political outcome -- a political dialogue, a political solution. And that the goals that Russia seeks to advance in Chechnya, we believe the means it is using are counterproductive to those goals. And both sides agreed on that and I think that's reflected in the joint statement.
They discussed briefly Ukraine. And the President described to his counterparts at the meeting he had recently with Mr. Kuchma, who was here, and, in particular, the strong expression that Mr. Kuchma made of the need to move forward on reform. The President pointed out that the new Prime Minister designate in Ukraine is someone who is very highly regarded here in the United States. The Europeans agreed that he was highly regarded in Europe. They also noted that the reform plan that the Ukrainians had put forward to cut the size of their government was quite impressive. And both agreed strongly on the need to continue to strongly support Ukraine.
Finally, in this Oval Office session, the President gave his counterparts a quick readout on the Middle East peace talks, on the talks between Israel and Syria here at the White House. And let me leave it at that. I know we've made statements on that in the last day.
The final issue that came up -- this in the larger session with the ministers, but it is a foreign security issue of sorts -- is on the question of judicial and law enforcement cooperation. The European Union is taking important strides to harmonize its own laws on things like visa policy, immigration policy, law enforcement, judicial procedures. And the President made the point that as they do this it would be very useful for us to be able to work with them to harmonize between the United States and the European Union. We have a lot of bilateral agreements with individual countries, and those agreements are impacted as the EU harmonizes its own regulations, and there was an agreement on the need to cooperate on that.
As I said, Charlene Barshefsky will cover the trade and economic issues that were discussed, let me just list them for you so that you know what was discussed, and then I'll let Charlene handle any of the specifics. They of course talked about that recent Seattle summit and WTO. They talked about China and the WTO. They talked about biotechnology. And they talked about a number of trade disputes that continue to linger between the United States and the European Union on some of our favorites -- bananas, beef hormones, hush kits and also the Foreign Sales Corporation. But Charlene will get into all of that in more detail later.
Finally, let me say, and let me refer you to a number of joint statements that are being issued, or may have already been issued as a result of this summit -- one on Chechnya that I mentioned, another on Southeast Europe; a third on small arms and working to combat the proliferation of small arms; a fourth one on Northern Europe and our common efforts with the European Union to deepen our engagement with the Nordic countries, with the Baltic countries and also with Russia. And, finally, a statement on trade and on the WTO that is coming out.
And with that, any questions?
Q Tony, on Chechnya, was there anything beyond a condemnation of what Russia is doing? Was there any discussion of any kind of sanctions or any kind of action that can be taken, other than writing down words on a piece of paper?
MR. BLINKEN: Well, I think there was a very lengthy discussion of Chechnya and Kosovo. I don't want to get into any of the details of that discussion; but, clearly, they looked at what we've been doing and what we've been saying, what we can be doing and saying going forward. And let me leave it at that.
Q What is the "doing" part?
MR. BLINKEN: I don't want to get into that now. Let me simply say that there is a clear agreement between the United States and the European Union on the need for Russia to engage in a political process to try and bring this crisis to a close. We have, as you know, at the summit in Istanbul, urged -- and the OSCE agreed -- that it could play a role, not only on the humanitarian side, but also perhaps in facilitating a political dialogue. The European Union leaders reported on some conversations they've had recently with the Russian leadership. People on our side did the same. And I think there was a strong agreement that we need to continue to encourage Russia very strongly to pursue a political solution to this crisis.
I think the very strong, unified approach that we've seen from the European Union and the United States -- the European Union in Helsinki, our own statements on this -- has certainly gotten Russia's attention. We don't want Russia to be isolated from the international community; Russia certainly doesn't want that. And there's a concern that as this crisis goes on and civilian casualties mount, that that could be one result.
The bottom line and the main point is that we have -- the European Union and the United States -- Russia's interests at heart and we are simply convinced that the means they are choosing to advance those interests are counterproductive, and that was the conviction of the leaders on both sides.
Q Did the Ex-Im vote come up specifically?
MR. BLINKEN: No.
Q In terms of -- French officials in recent interviews indicated that the creation of the 60,000-man force is really to counteract U.S. power in Europe. And that that's the whole M.O., they'll be tied to NATO. What's our feeling about it?
MR. BLINKEN: The President expressed our feeling very clearly to his counterparts. He said -- this is not a direct quote, but this is the import of what he said, that Europe's efforts to develop greater defense and security capabilities are something that the United States strongly supports.
You know, a lot of our predecessors for years have been complaining that the Europeans didn't do enough to share the burden of common defense and security. And now that they are, in fact, working to do that, in our view it would by hypocritical for us to say, no, they shouldn't.
So the President has been on record repeatedly as strongly supporting this. And he repeated that strong support today. This is something that, as Europe develops more capabilities, is something that's very good for our common defense and security, and is good for NATO. It will allow more assets to be dedicated to NATO operations. And where NATO chooses not to be engaged in a particular mission or operation, it will give the European Union capabilities to handle these things.
The one thing the President focused on was that he's convinced that as this goes forward, as the European Union develops its policy, there need to be very clear and strong links between NATO and the European Union so that we can coordinate as well as possible. But the main point is, this is something that he and the administration strongly support.
Q You said that our warnings or our concerns about Chechnya has been heard in Moscow, and President Ahtisaari said the same thing. And today Moscow has launched a three-prong attack on Grozny, with tank fire coming in from like three different directions. What evidence do you have that Moscow has heard anything on the ground? What evidence on the ground do you have of that?
MR. BLINKEN: Well, first of all I'm not at all aware of the reports you're referring to, so I just can't comment on them. But certainly the indications we've had and the statements that Russian officials have made in recent days lead us to believe that certainly they're very well aware of the strong, unified position of the international community, and particularly the United States and Europe, on the way they're conducting the operations in Chechnya; our conviction that it's counterproductive; our conviction that the loss of civilian life, casualties, damage, is something of deep concern to all of us. And we believe they're hearing that message.
Q They're hearing you, they're just not listening to you.
MR. BLINKEN: Well, again, I can't comment on the reports that this gentleman raised. I just am not aware of them.
Q But you can comment, certainly, on the fact that the Russians have been attacking Grozny all week. Maybe you don't know this particular day, but an armored column went into Grozny -- I think it was on Wednesday -- and got decimated.
MR. BLINKEN: Again, I think those reports which I've heard, I haven't seen confirmed. I'm not the Russia expert, but I haven't seen confirmation of a lot of the reports that we've been hearing.
Q Basically what is the political solution that they have to discuss? And, number two, you said that the statement respects Russian fighting terrorism and all that. But do you think terrorists are using civilians as a shield? How do you solve this problem when the fighting is going on?
MR. BLINKEN: I don't want to get into the details of the Russian Chechnya policy. My mission today is to describe for you what they discussed. Those kind of details weren't discussed. I'd rather leave that to my colleagues who are more expert in these issues.
Q Can you give me the full names of those who were saw President?
MR. BLINKEN: Sure.
Q Thank you.
END 2:10 P.M. EST