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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 31, 1999
                         REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                          MILLENNIUM CELEBRATION

Outside Oval Office

11:00 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Not long ago I had about a 20-minute phone conversation with President Boris Yeltsin, who today ends his historic tenure as Russia's democratically elected President. Under his leadership since 1991, the Russian people have faced the unprecedented challenge of building a new democracy and a new life, after decades of corrosive communist rule. His lasting achievement has been dismantling the communist system and creating a vital democratic process within a constitutional framework. The fact that Prime Minister Putin assumes responsibility today as acting President, in accordance with the Constitution, is the latest example of President Yeltsin's achievement.

The relationship between the United States and Russia under President Yeltsin has produced genuine progress for both our people. Five thousand strategic nuclear weapons have been dismantled. Our nuclear weapons are no longer targeted at each other. We have worked together to eliminate nuclear weapons from the other states of the former Soviet Union. Russia has withdrawn its troops from the Baltic nations, and now its troops are serving alongside Americans to maintain peace in the Balkans. In fact, Russia was instrumental in achieving the peace agreement in Kosovo.

Of course, we have also had our differences, but the starting point for our relationship has always been has always been how Russia and America can work together to advance our common interests. In that spirit, I look forward to working with acting President Putin, as the Russian people begin the process of making the transition from one democratically elected President to another.

To President Yeltsin, let me convey my appreciation again for the work we have done together. Hillary and I extend our warmest wishes to him, Naina and their family. Thank you very much.

Q Mr. President, are you going to Moscow in February, at the invitation of the Prime Minister, Acting President?

THE PRESIDENT: I have made no plans to do that yet.

Q Mr. President, can you share some of your personal recollections of Boris Yeltsin? You seemed to have a warm personal relationship with him. What did you admire? What are your thoughts about him as a person now?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I liked him because he was always very forthright with me. He always did exactly what he said he would do, and he was willing to take chances to try to improve our relationship, to try to improve democracy in Russia. He took the Russian troops out of the Balkans. He recently agreed to take them out of Moldova and Georgia. We got rid of all those nuclear weapons in the other states of the former Soviet Union. We got rid of thousands of nuclear weapons. He's committed to START II and I hope it will be ratified by the Russian Duma so we can quickly move to START III and reduce our nuclear arsenals even further.

I liked him because I think he genuinely deplored communism. He lived with it, he saw it and he believed that democracy was the best system. I think it was in every fiber of his being. And we had our arguments, we had our fights, we had our genuine disagreement about our national interests from time to time. But I think that the Russian people are well-served to have a leader who honestly believed that their votes ought to determine who was running the show in Russia and what the future direction of the country should be.

I have to go. I'm sorry. Thank you.

END 11:02 A.M. EST