THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release November 15, 2000
PRESS BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ON THE PRESIDENT'S MEETING WITH RUSSIAN PRESIDENT PUTIN National Stadium Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei Darussalam
4:05 P.M. (L)
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon. Early this afternoon the President had a working lunch with the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, and to give you a readout of that meeting is a Senior Administration Official, well known to you all. We'll go into a little bit on this particular meeting, but put it in a broader context of the engagement that President Clinton and President Putin have had throughout the years, since this is their fourth bilateral of the year 2000. So here is our Senior Administration Official.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thank you PJ. I thought I would spend a few minutes framing the context of today's meeting, and then address the meeting, itself. Over the past eight years, the Clinton administration has been working closely -- over the past eight years the Clinton administration has been working very closely with Russia, first with President Yeltsin, now with President Putin and his team, to build a relationship of partnership on the basis of mutual interest.
We've laid a very strong foundation for U.S.-Russia cooperation, and we've quite a few achievements to show for it in a variety of areas, including strategic stability, implementing arms control agreements, denuclearization of the territory of the former Soviet Union, securing fissile material, nuclear threat reduction. Also we've been working in the area of non-proliferation of sensitive technologies. And we've been working with Russia on its ongoing transition to a market-based economy and democracy, integrated into global institutions.
We've had our disagreements and our differences over this period, but we've worked on frameworks and avenues by which to manage and reduce these disagreements. One example would be the crisis in the Balkans during the tragic events in Kosovo. A sign of this close work together is that President Clinton and President Putin have met four times this year, first in Moscow, then at Okinawa, in New York in September and now here at Brunei. This has been an intensive dialogue on a whole range of issues of mutual concern.
About this meeting, in the old days a meeting between the President of the United States and the President of Russia would probably have been the biggest headline news in the world. Today, that's not the case. In Brunei, I suspect Florida is the biggest news. And Florida didn't come up in this meeting at all, which probably means that the U.S.-Russia relationship has become more normal. We got down to business. The Presidents addressed a full range of security and non-security issues. The meeting lasted about 75 minutes, it was a working lunch.
Again, they continued their discussion of strategic stability and arms control. They addressed a range of nonproliferation concerns, specifically related to Iran. They addressed regional security issues, including the Middle East and North Korea. They discussed Russia's ongoing transition and integration with international institutions.
They also had occasion to reflect on the broader themes of the relationship and emphasized the need to continue using these cooperative frameworks going forward. The Clinton administration is committed to using its remaining time in office in that spirit and we're confident that future U.S. administrations will do the same.
I'm happy to try to take your questions.
Q If you could talk for a minute on the arms control issue. Mr. Putin said yesterday that he was looking for some very strong cuts, very deep cuts in strategic arms in both the Russian side and the U.S. side -- we assumed in response to his concerns about a missile defense system. Did he discuss these deep cuts today and did the President have any response on that issue?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we're clearly interested in President Putin's statement yesterday. Generally, it does not contain many new elements. There are few new twists that require further study and further discussion at the expert level, and that's precisely what the President is committed to doing.
Q Can you describe what you would consider a new twist?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the important point is that the proposal is within the existing framework laid out by the U.S. and Russia at Helsinki and Cologne to address both offensive issues and defensive issues; and finding mutually acceptable ways to do that is what these ongoing discussions are all about. And that's what the experts are going to have to address.
Q On that, was there any discussion that the possibility of a Bush presidency would auger an almost certain forward motion on national missile defense?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was a commitment on both sides to honor the framework that has been developed through many years of work. It's our expectation that because that framework reflects fundamental U.S. interests, it will remain the framework going forward for our dealings with Russia, on both offensive and defensive discussions.
Q Does that mean that Mr. Putin sought some assurance from the President on that issue?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President assured President Putin that we remain committed to that framework.
Q Did Mr. Bush's name come up?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Going back to my memory banks -- as I mentioned at the outset, the election was not discussed, and scenarios were not discussed.
Q Did Mr. Bush's name come up?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It may have come up, but I can't remember the precise context, and that's why I don't want to say it absolutely didn't.
Q When they met in Moscow, they came away in disagreement on a national missile defense. Is there any bridging of that difference? Where does that stand?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, as you know, the administration took a decision to defer a final decision on this question. And that has, to some degree, held the issue in abeyance. But it has not gone away, because we believe that there are new ballistic missile threats out there that do need to be addressed in a systematic manner. And we believe that that issue will not go away, and will have to be addressed by the next administration.
Q Can I ask one on Iran? Did the President seek any specific commitment from Russia on Iran, and was any commitment given?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All year the Clinton administration has worked with Putin -- President Putin and his team on the very important problem of containing the proliferation of sensitive technologies, nuclear missile technologies to Iran from Russia. President Putin agrees with us that these threats are real, and has committed to work hard to stem those flows. A lot more work needs to be done.
Q Did the Edmund Pope case come up, and if so, did Mr. Putin offer any new thoughts or assessment of the situation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The case did come up. As he has before, the President has expressed his concern about Mr. Pope's condition, in particular his health. We're concerned about the course of the trial, and the President again urged release of Mr. Pope on humanitarian grounds as soon as possible.
Q Any response, or what was the response from Mr. Putin?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's clear to us from numerous discussions with Mr. Putin and others in the Russian government that the Russians understand that we won't rest until Edmund Pope is home, that we are deeply concerned about his condition. We think President Putin understands these concerns, and hope he acts on them as soon as possible.
Q Back on Iran for a moment, Vice President Gore, as you'll recall, signed this memorandum that was widely discussed just before the election, in which Russia committed to a certain date by which time it would stop these exports, and of course it's gone beyond the date. Has President Putin either acknowledged that they are beyond the date, or suggested a date certain when those exports would be complete?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is an ongoing discussion with the Russians. We believe that that memorandum of understanding has served a very useful purpose in achieving transparency about Russia's arms contracts -- conventional arms contracts with Iran, and in limiting that flow. We will be concerned to continue doing so in the future, and the Russians appreciate this.
Q So I take that as a "no," that there was no date certain about when this set of transactions covered in the memorandum of understanding would be complete?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In terms of what came up in this meeting, that's correct.
Q Have there been discussions outside of the meeting that that leaves open?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, there have been technical discussions on this.
Q On North Korea, did Putin encourage Clinton to go? Was there any discussion about his possible trip -- the deal that Putin allegedly worked out?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They did discuss this issue briefly. As you know, it was Mr. Putin who first brought preliminary news of a possible North Korean proposal. As you also know, the Secretary of State and others have been working with the North Koreans to try to understand the nature of the proposal. We think this could be a very important opportunity, pending further discussion and analysis of what exactly the North Koreans have to offer.
Q But that doesn't answer my question. Did Putin encourage him?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, he did not. He encouraged continued U.S.-North Korean dialogue on the subject. The President will take a decision on any trip on his own.
MR. CROWLEY: Last question?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great, thanks.
END 4:12 P.M. (L)