Bill Clinton photo

Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official

June 17, 1995

The World Trade and Convention Center

Halifax, Nova Scotia

4:53 P.M. (L)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good afternoon. You're all, of course, aware of the exchange between the two Presidents when the cameras and the pool were present. The first 10 minutes or so of a meeting that went on for nearly an hour after the pool left was also on the subject of Chechnya. It was basically a continuation of what was very public just before.

The President stressed several times the importance of breaking the cycle of violence. And he also referred to the reports that had actually reached him somewhat earlier from the Russian side that Dudayeb has asked for and been granted asylum. And President Clinton said that he hoped very much that this development will create an opportunity for terminating the military phase of the Russian operation in Chechnya and putting the quest for peace there back on a political track.

In the context of Chechnya, President Clinton raised again, as he did in Moscow and as we have done continually at virtually every level, including Secretary of State Christopher with Foreign Minister Kozyrev last night, the case of Fred Cuny. President Yeltsin said, again reaffirming something that he had said in Moscow, that he has taken personal charge of this issue and has directed the security services of Russia as well as the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Security to get to the bottom of the case and find out where Fred Cuny is and what has happened to him.

Now, after the Chechnya and Fred Cuny discussion, they basically went to that part of the agenda that had been agreed in advance, going back to the Moscow meeting. Those of you who were in Moscow may recall that President Yeltsin said then that he would want to continue a discussion of European security issues here in Halifax and continue them again in the fall when he comes to the United States for the U.N. anniversary.

On European security, the most important point was that President Yeltsin made clear that the Russian government is committed to following through on the decisions that he indicated to President Clinton in Moscow and the steps that were taken by the Russian government in Noordwijk, signing up for the Partnership for Peace and launching the NATO-Russia dialogue.

There were a number of issues discussed rather more briefly. In the case of Iran reactor sales -- that's obviously a very important bilateral issue and a point of, of course, some disagreement between the two governments. But President Clinton said that he hoped that the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission, which will be meeting in Moscow on the 29th and 30th of June, will be able to make significant progress towards resolving that issue. And President Yeltsin said he hoped that that would be the case, too.

They touched on a couple of other security issues, the future of START II. President Clinton said that he was quite confident that START II would be ratified in the fairly near future by the United States Senate. And President Yeltsin -- President Clinton went on to say he hoped that would help with ratification in the Russian Parliament. And President Yeltsin said that he expected that it would.

They also touched upon fissile materials, nuclear safety and nuclear smuggling. But these are all issues, of course, that they have decided should be front and center during the summit on nuclear issues that will be held in Moscow next year.

Why don't I go to any questions you might have. Yes, Barry.

Q: I don't know if you heard Mike say that after checking there was no information available if the Chechen leader was granted refuge in Turkey. Is there any information that he's trying to do that? But the larger question is, you're dealing with the President of Russia who makes a statement like that; how can that be so wildly off the mark? The man says that the Chechen leader is taking refuge in Turkey, and apparently there's nothing to it at all?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I'm not sure that that's the case. I only heard the tail end of what Mike said. I think Mike -- Mike simply said we don't have any confirmation of it. And I certainly don't.

Q: No information, he said, that he's taken refuge in Turkey. But there are a lot of steps between --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Barry, I just can't help you on that. The first I heard about this was very shortly before the one-on-one, and I do not know the facts of the case. I'm simply reporting on how it played in the conversation between the two Presidents.

And, basically, what President Clinton said was, if this has happened, then I hope you will seize upon it to move the issue back on to a political track.

Q: Was President Clinton taken aback by President Yeltsin's rather angry demeanor? And to what does President Clinton attribute Yeltsin's performance?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I talked to the President very briefly after the one-one-one, and he was not in the least taken aback by President Yeltsin's demeanor. Quite the contrary; he found President Yeltsin, particularly in the public part of the meeting when the pool was there, to be in his emphatic mode, you might say. But we have all seen a lot of that.

The meeting went very, very smoothly, indeed. They engaged. There was a lot of back and forth, and it was altogether a good meeting.

Q: Canadian Prime Minister Chretien today said -- or actually gave credit to Boris Yeltsin for what appears to be pending release of a dozen Canadian hostages. He said he asked Yeltsin for his help, Yeltsin said he'd give it, and lo and behold, within hours the Serbs appeared on the verge of releasing the hostages.

Was there any discussion about that? Does the U.S. know that Yeltsin may, in fact, have intervened on behalf of these hostages? And to what extent was Bosnia discussed? What did President Clinton ask of Yeltsin in terms of Bosnia?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was very little Bosnia discussion in the one-on-one, I think, in large measure, because it has figured so prominently in earlier discussions that they had at dinner last night. It was the number-one topic between Secretary Christopher and Foreign Minister Kozyrev. So neither Bosnia in general, nor that issue in specific came up during the one on one.

Q: Does the U.S. have any independent corroboration that Yeltsin --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I do not know, but perhaps Mike and his colleagues can get somebody who's been following that during the course of the day.

Q: Was there any progress made on Russia's become a full member of the G-7, the G-8? Where does that stand right now?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You'll have to get more on what transpired among the 8. That did not come up between the two this afternoon.

Q: Sandy said earlier that the concept of this nuclear security conference in Moscow had not been completely worked through. You sound more like it's a done deal. What is the status of that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, the two Presidents certainly talked about it as though it will happen. I think the issue -- and the broad parameters of the agenda are clear. They will be issues of nuclear smuggling, nuclear safety, what you might call the civilian sector of nuclear problems rather than traditional arms control issues. They both talked about it as though it definitely would happen with, obviously, lots and lots to be worked out between --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think -- I'll stay on background since this is a background briefing. But I think I indicated earlier, the question of an increased level of participation by Russia in the G-7 was a large part of the dinner conversation last night. And the leaders indicated they would consider that request and the case made for that proposition by President Yeltsin. But there was no indication of any decision, although it's something that clearly the other leaders heard the arguments and agreed that they should consider those arguments and reflect on that in the coming weeks.

Q: To follow -- also at what level? That's still not certain.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, at what level or what modes of participation -- there have been some adjustments in Russia's participation. Obviously, the inclusion of President Yeltsin in the dinner last night was one aspect of that. But they agreed that they would look at those types of questions.

Q: Well, now, we were told I think by Sandy that the President's suggested Ukraine being a participant as well at this summit if there is a summit. Are there others?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is not now --you're not now talking about the G-7, P-8 issue. Yes, at the tail end of their one-on-one, President Clinton did say that he thought it was certainly a good idea to extend the meeting next year to other former Soviet states, and indeed other states as well. And President Yeltsin agreed that was a good idea.

Anything else on the one-on-one?

Q: Was President Yeltsin's emphatic mode a response to the statement this morning by all the leaders, or was it more a response, do you think, to the political situation back in Russia?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it was a response to the acuity of the crisis and the intensity of his own feelings on it.

Q: Not necessarily anger reflected at --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I've -- many of you have as well -- watched him when the cameras are rolling and he has a large audience, and he wants to make sure that there's no mistaking his views. But there was not a whiff of anger or acrimony or even distraction by this issue on President Yeltsin's part during the conversation with President Clinton.

Q: Just on that point, did it appear to you that President Yeltsin was having difficulty articulating his thoughts, or that he may have been slurring his speech?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Absolutely not. I've been the note-taker in all of the one-on-ones, except, I guess, for Naples. And he was -- and I checked my impressions of the meeting with President Clinton. He was very much on top of his game.

Q: Outside of the one-on-one, though, did he express anger at the statement issued this morning?


Q: Was there any indication of movement on their part on the Iranian nuclear issue in general, given that he just came out of a meeting with the 7 in which they reaffirmed together their position on that? I mean, the larger issue.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. There was a very compressed reiteration of each side's position by the two Presidents, which is to say that President Yeltsin made clear that it is his view that what he sees as the restricted transaction, which is to say, the lightwater reactor sale alone without the centrifuge protocol, is entirely for peaceful purposes and will not contribute to Iran's becoming a nuclear weapon state.

And President Clinton reaffirmed our strong belief that that is not the case and that any nuclear cooperation with Iran is dangerous for all parties, including Russia. And they agreed that Vice President Gore will now work to persuade Prime Minister Chernomyrdin of that.

Q: Compared to the recent meeting in Moscow, do you detect any less defensiveness on the part of Yeltsin toward what's going on in Chechnya? Do you sense that what's happened at the hospital has given him a sense that he's on a morale high ground now that he didn't have in Moscow?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I would not put it that way. I think the extent of the carnage in Budennovsesk would make it very hard for him or anybody else to feel anything like encouragement or elation about this. This is obviously a very vexing situation for him as the leader of the country.

Q: Besides talking about breaking the cycle of violence, was the President any more plain in telling Yeltsin what the U.S., the Western world, the allies, the G-7 -- whoever -- expects of Russian conduct in Chechnya?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, he has -- I think that his language makes very clear, including by talking about a cycle of violence, that President Clinton believes that there has been too much reliance on violence and force, including on the part of the Russian government and the Russian armed forces. Tens of thousands of innocent civilians have been killed in Chechnya as a result of the Russian military operation there. There was no mistaking, when he talked about a cycle of violence, that he was talking about what's happened in Budennovsesk as in some ways the continuation of the -- what's happened to the south of there.

Q: But the President didn't indicate that the Russian participation, wider participation in G-7 would depend on their conduct in Chechnya, anything like that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, there was no linkage of that kind.

Thank you.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 4:46 P.M. (L)

William J. Clinton, Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under


Simple Search of Our Archives