Bill Clinton photo

Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official

April 21, 1996

Radisson Hotel

Moscow, Russia

12:00 Noon (L)

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm providing you what information I have at this point on the condition that this is ON BACKGROUND and it is no use, transmission or quotation prior to the beginning of the two Presidents' press conference, whenever that begins. Everyone understand those ground rules? Any objection to those ground rules? Okay.

All right, let me just review very briefly, the two Presidents just finished a meeting, well over two hours tete-a-tete, and they now go into their working luncheon. What I'm going to do is give you a list of the subjects that they covered and a brief description of what the President's viewpoint is on that. I won't attempt to characterize the Russian position or President Yeltsin's responses to some of the points raised by President Clinton because, likely, President Yeltsin will do so himself at the press conference.

They began with a review of the situation in Lebanon and the Middle East peace process generally. President Clinton reported that Secretary Christopher a short while ago arrived in Jerusalem where he's now meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, following a meeting that the Secretary described as productive in Damascus in which he met for some two hours plus last evening with Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad.

The Secretary will likely have a second meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister later on today, and then return to Damascus. We don't expect any news related to a cease-fire or further developments on the understandings that the Secretary is attempting to negotiate today prior to our departure here in Moscow. So just so those of you know we're not anticipating breaking news on that today. The Secretary will likely return to Damascus and may even stay overnight in Damascus.

Second, they reviewed the results of the Moscow Nuclear Summit. President Clinton complimented President Yeltsin on a very successful summit. They reviewed the statement of the P-8 on the comprehensive test ban, and President Clinton made the point it was very important for President Yeltsin in his upcoming meeting with the Chinese -- President Yeltsin is scheduled to depart I believe Tuesday -- that they reaffirm the importance of the statement issued here by the P-8 on the CTBT.

They talked about Bosnia, citing that as an example of a success story where the Russian Federation and the United States have worked together in close cooperation both on the diplomatic effort to implement the Dayton Accords and also on the military aspects of the implementation of the Dayton Accords through the use of the International Force in Bosnia.

They had considerable discussion of the issue of flank limits in the Conventional Forces of Europe Treaty. President Clinton felt that they made progress on that issue. That is a treaty to which there are 30 signatories. There is a review conference of the CFE Treaty that is scheduled to begin May 15th, and President Clinton's hope is based on conversations today, there can be progress on the flank limits issue by the time the review conference begins.

They also discussed the question of demarkation, theater missile defense limits under the ABM Treaty. At some length again, President Clinton was encouraged by that discussion. They talked a short while on the issue of NATO expansion and reviewed the positions that I believe are well-known on both sides, and President Clinton reaffirming to President Yeltsin that there would be no surprises as the North Atlantic Alliance deals with the question of how and why the Alliance might expand holding to a future time the discussion of who and when.

The President raised the issue of Chechnya, expressed concern about the ongoing violence there, expressed hope that there could be a political solution that would build on President Yeltsin's March 31st announcement of a peace initiative. The President did raise the issue of the -- what's the name of the mountain -- Yamatan Mountain. President Clinton stressed the need for transparancy in addressing that issue. There was an agreement that there would be some follow-up at the experts' level on a discussion of that facility.

Lastly, they did discuss the Iranian reactor issue that the President addressed publicly at the press conference last night. They reviewed the basic positions of each side and agreed that there would be further follow-up within the Gore-Chernomyrdin channel on that issue.

In general, based on a comment by one participant, the session was described as being intensive, businesslike, and very positive.

Q: -- and did he raise any additional items --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's a combination of both. Both Presidents knew generally that these were subjects they would likely address in this one-on-one setting. During the working lunch, President Clinton intends to raise regional-related issues. The President is going to review his trip to Asia, talk about the North-South Korea peace proposal that he issued in South Korea after meeting with President Kim; talk about his meeting Prime Minister Hashimoto and also discuss U.S.-China relations in advance of President Yeltsin's trip to China this coming week.

There will be some other issues. I think this is -- the issues I've just listed are the ones that the President was intent on raising. There will be probably some other general discussions of bilateral issues at the working session.

Q: Did Mr. Yeltsin explain what they're building in that underground facility?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't believe there was that level of discussion of that issue. The President raised concerns and they agreed that there would be follow-up conversations at the experts' level.

Q: Were the elections discussed?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That was not listed as one of the subjects in this initial discussion.

Q: To follow up on the mountain story, did the President point-blank ask Yeltsin what's going on in the mountain?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't have a answer to that. I'll have to get that one for you later.

Q: Was this being raised at the expert level during -- because in one of the backgrounders before we left they said it might be raised in one of the side discussions at the expert level. Do you know if it's come up?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I believe that both Presidents agreed that their National Security Advisors would explore the issue further.

Q: Can you do an assessment of the overall -- especially, was it overshadowed by Lebanon?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me come back -- why don't you come back to that at the end and I'll put that -- since I'm on background now I'll put that on the record at the end.

Q: Can you be a little more specific and add something more about what President --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the President's argument to President Yeltsin was the same one he made here publicly yesterday, that we see no productive use for cooperation with the government of Iran in the nuclear field given their desire to have a nuclear program, in our view. The Russian view, as you know and as they have said publicly, is that they believe the cooperation they have is extended to commercial use of peaceful nuclear use of energy and consistent with their overall nonproliferation responsibilities.

Q: The two arms control issues, would you say those are now close to resolution?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We hope, based on the conversation today, there can be progress that will lead to resolution.

Q: Did Yeltsin raise again the issue of the presence of nuclear weapons in non-nuclear NATO countries?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They discussed NATO-related issues, but I have no indication that the home basing issue came up in that conversation. I will double-check that point later on.

By the way, we intend to have -- when the President returns here to address the American community, our notetaker, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott I hope to have available to answer some questions for my benefit, and then we might even make someone available on background.

Q: So, essentially what you're saying is they're talking two positions, that there was no -- there won't be any agreements announced?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We've got -- I believe we will have some -- we might have an announceable summit agreement related to highly enriched uranium, but that grows out of some work that's been done at the technical level.

This is, as a general view -- I've said this to many of you before -- U.S.-Russian meetings at the highest levels, at the summit level, used to be extraordinary events. The extraordinary has now become ordinary. This is the President's 10th meeting with his Russian counterpart, and they are clearly working a bilateral issue -- a range of bilateral issues. These are the subjects that have been on the U.S.-Russian bilateral agenda for some time. As you can tell, some of them moving closer towards resolution; others on which there's not as much progress to report. But in the view of President Clinton, this is a proper way to manage a very important bilateral relationship in which there will be differences and very large areas of cooperation, as we've seen over the last 24-48 hours.

Okay, this is the last question and then we'll do one last thing out on the record.

Q: Was the issue of START ratification raised by the President?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The situation with the START II Treaty in the Duma was not indicated to me as a subject in this session, and I think it was likely that might be reviewed coming up in the working meeting at lunch.

Q: Chechnya -- did the President say anything about Yeltsin's words and the deeds in the last couple weeks are not matching up, and the killing of some more soldiers --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The read-out on that subject was the one I gave you earlier.

Q: Is it simply that there was goodwill and that's why you said there might be some progress, or was there a new formula of some sort put on the table?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sorry, on which subject?

Q: On flank limits, was there a new formula of some sort put on the table or is it simply that it was goodwill to get things done?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, U.S. experts have been working with their Russian counterparts to develop new ideas that really, in a sense, began over the genesis of those new ideas were the discussions the two Presidents had at Hyde Park in October of 1995. There's been an attempt to recraft the map, given the reality of the situation that exists for the Russian Federation now as it deals with security issues on its perimeter, but consistent also with the security needs of all 30 signatories to the treaty.

Q: Did they talk about taxes, corruption and crime here in Moscow?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They intended to review the general situation related to the Russian economy at the luncheon session, and the President did -- they were going to talk about the cooperative efforts that the United States and the Russian Federation have made together to address law enforcement issues.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 12:59 P.M. (L)

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

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