Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official
Vosgoviy Guest House
1:03 P.M. (L)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is BACKGROUND. Let me first tell you about what happened at the ceremony this morning, and then I will talk about this meeting.
At the Kremlin this morning -- as you know, the President stayed overnight at the Kremlin with his family and with some lucky White House staff members. And they had an excellent evening. Last night's dinner was truly a terrific experience -- in the Hall of Facets, beautiful medieval hall, with about a six-course dinner, with wonderful --
Q: What was the main course?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was fish. It was trout. And wonderful Russian delicacies -- caviar and salmon and fish and turkey and vodka. And they had wonderful accompaniment in the background -- piano and strings.
Q: Why do you say it was extraordinary?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, because the Hall of Facets is one of the great rooms of Europe, and it's where the czars used to receive their generals after victories over a period of hundreds of years.
And then we proceeded from the Hall of Facets to St. George's Hall, where there was a musical entertainment which consisted of a string orchestra that played Tchaikovsky, The Waltz of the Flowers. During that piece, 10 young -- very young teenage couples, ballroom dancers, came in and danced to it. There were two female Russian vocalists. There was Russian folk dancing. There was acrobatic dancing. There was a jazz band. It was just a terrific evening, and it was really wonderfully put together by the Russians. And I think everybody --
Q: Too bad we didn't cover it.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Everybody had a great time.
Okay, this morning the President --
Q: What staffers stayed over in the Kremlin?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sure we can get you a list of that.
Q: Did you?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I did not.
Q: Did Christopher?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no, the Secretary stayed with his team back at the hotel.
Q: So basically the First Family --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The First Family and a number of personal staff --
MS. MYERS: And personal staff -- Wendy and --
Q: Did Lake stay?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, we were all back at the hotel.
MS. MYERS: Personal staff.
Q: All personal staff?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
So this morning, we went to the --
Q: Chelsea was at the dinner?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, she was not.
This morning, the President had a brief conversation with President Yeltsin. It was just the two of them. It was a one-on-one meeting this morning between the two Presidents; no staff, just interpreters. They said their good-byes, of course.
Q: Where was that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was in the Kremlin. I don't know which room it was in because I wasn't there.
There was a formal departure ceremony which was very much like the formal arrival ceremony that I think the pool did see. The two Presidents and the two First Ladies walked and met each other at the center of the hall. There the National Anthems were played. Both Presidents made departure statements, which are going to be available, I'm sure, to you. And it was a very nice occasion.
Q: Was anything significant said in the departure statements?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Nothing new. Nothing new that you hadn't heard before in the President's statements or President Yeltsin's statements. And then we left.
This morning the President was met at the airport by the Chairman of the Belarussian Supreme Soviet, Mr. Shushkevich -- Stanislav Shushkevich. We road in, had a very, very good meeting which I'd like to tell you about.
Chairman Shushkevich is a leading reformer in Belarus. He's a person that the President met last July at the White House. He is a nuclear physicist who was instrumental in trying to help this country deal with the effects of Chernobyl back in 1986. In fact, he led the drive to try to bring in international assistance to cope.
I don't know if you know or not, but Belarus was terribly affected by Chernobyl; in fact, more so than any other country in the region. There have been, unfortunately, thousands of tragedies -- children developing cancer as a result of Chernobyl and its aftermath. We have tried to help in providing on this trip a 1,500-bed hospital from Germany, from our military forces of Germany, and also some badly-needed pharmaceutical equipment.
Q: It was transported here -- the hospital?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Transported here. In fact, I believe that members of the party will be visiting the hospital. I think that is one that -- Mrs. Clinton might be doing that.
MS. MYERS: The children's facility -- yes.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Children's hospital, yes.
Q: When was that brought in?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That was brought in in the last couple of days. It's been planned for a couple of months, but we wanted, of course, to get it done by the time the President was here.
Q: It's from the military?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. You know we're closing down from our bases in Germany and we have hospitals that we can no longer use -- and the equipment. And we are donating a number of those hospitals to countries in the region. We are donating -- we are giving Belarus a 1,500-bed hospital with all the equipment and all the facilities for such.
In the meeting this morning, Chairman Shushkevich paid tribute to President Clinton. He said that President Clinton had set some very high standards in his defense of human rights and his promotion of democracy in his part of the world. And the first thing he said was he wanted to thank the President for having done so much over the past year to assist those who believe in reform in this part of the world.
I began to say Shushkevich is the leading reformer. This country is polarized by those who favor reform and those who favor the continuation of the past -- command* economics and a less liberal political system.
Q: He said that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I'm just trying to explain who Shushkevich is. Shushkevich stands for a democratic political system. He wants to move for elections and a free-market economy.
The President was very much taken with him last summer, has a great deal of respect for him. One of the reasons we're here is to pay our respects to Chairman Shushkevich and to see what we can do to promote reform and democracy here.
Chairman Shushkevich started by thanking President Clinton for his support of democracy. The President said that we had two major goals in our relationship with Belarus; we're, of course, interested in the process of democracy and wanted to help promote that process as much as we could, and that we also wanted to help Belarus deal with the consequences of denuclearization.
As you know, Belarus was the first country of the former Soviet Union to voluntarily give up its nuclear weapons. It had 76 nuclear missiles in its territory after the Soviet Union dissolved. It joined the NPT, the Nonproliferation Treaty. In fact, Chairman Shushkevich presented the Articles of Accession to the NPT to the President last year -- last July.
Q: They are removing them -- are they all gone?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They are not all gone, but they are in the process of going.
Chairman Shushkevich responded to the President's opening by saying that he felt that Partnership For Peace was a very, very positive and promising concept.
Belarus, actually, in its constitution, has a neutrality clause, and he explained that until the new constitution is written, it will not be possible for Belarus to actively join the PFP. He was hoping that in the process of writing a new constitution it would be done in such a way that Belarus could do that.
Q: Is that something that can be rewritten sometime soon?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, they're in the process now of writing a new constitution. I don't know what the process is of adopting.
The President said he would very much welcome Belarus' participation in PFP. He also described in general his meetings in Brussels; the fact that the Poles, the Czechs, the Russians and Ukrainians had been very positive about PFP.
Q: What did he sign this morning?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He signed the Bilateral Investment Treaty. But let me get to that in a minute, because there are some other interesting things that happened.
Chairman Shushkevich* said that dealing with denuclearization was a huge problem, and a very large percentage of their budget. President Clinton promised an additional $25 million in Nunn-Lugar assistance from the United States. That brings the total of our Nunn-Lugar assistance to this country to little over $100 million in the last year. And it's pretty much money that the President has put in place since he took office on January 20th of last year.
In addition to that --
Q: That's for dismantling --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, this is for dismantling nuclear warheads and helping to remove them to Russia, and the helping them to deal with the consequences of defense conversion as part of this process. So it's $100 million over the last year.
Q: the $25 million that was disclosed today?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President announced a new $25-million apportionment today that brings the total of the Clinton administration's assistance over the past year to $101 million, actually. They talked a little bit about the trilateral agreement that was signed between the three countries yesterday in Moscow. As you know, Belarus is going to be compensated by the sale of highly enriched uranium to the United States. We talked about this purchase yesterday. The contract was signed between the United States Enrichment Corporation and Russia yesterday.
Part of the proceeds of our purchases will be distributed among three countries beyond Russia: Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.
Q: How much of that --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That is going to be worked out -- these are going to be bilateral agreements worked out between Russia and each of these countries, because Russia is the party selling --
Q: Have you got an estimate?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't have an estimate for you. I could probably get one for you, but --
Q: The total is $12 billion? Is that right?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The total is $12 billion over 20 years that we are going to purchase from Russia, which will own the HEU, but Russia has agreed in writing to compensate Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan a percentage of that.
The President encouraged elections here. Chairman Shushkevich would like there to be elections for a new parliament, and for president. Others in the political system do not favor elections. The President said we stand for democracy, want to support it, and he would speak to that today. And he also -- no, Shushkevich was not elected in the national elections.
Q: And he's the old communist party?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, Shushkevich is not. Shushkevich is a nuclear physicist who came to politics late in life. He was not affiliated with the communist party, for he is a democrat. And the President offered that the United States would be glad to assist in the process of those elections, not in getting involved in a partisan way, but in the mechanics of the elections, much as the way we did last autumn before the Russian elections.
Q: In the autumn?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He was elected to the parliament, I think, in the 1990 elections, and was chosen, once elected, to be the head of the Parliament. It's the old Soviet-style elections. And they signed the bilateral investment treaty. That's intended to promote trade and investment between the United States and Belarus. The President also said that we would be setting up an American business center here through the Department of Commerce to promote American business trade and investment.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: When? Well, he announced today that we would do it. I would imagine it would happen in the next couple of months. Yes.
Q: What does this bilateral treaty do, other than to say nice things?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's very important, actually. It provides for national treatment. National treatment means that American firms that come to invest here have joint ventures, and will receive the same tax and property rights as Belarusian firms, so they won't be discriminated against. And it's something that you really need to do to create a level playing field for American companies. And since we are trying to push American trade and investment and American exports, the President wanted to do this.
Q: There's no new money --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, there's not a financial commitment there. We have to pay for setting up an office, staffing it with people, but it's not a financial contribution of the government.
They signed the bilateral investment treaty. It's a formal treaty that requires senate ratification. And that's what they signed. But in addition to that, they agreed to establish an American business center to promote trade and investment between Belarus and the United States.
Q: Does that treaty require us to do anything? It requires them to grant equal status.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's a very long and involved treaty. It has alvagations on both sides.
Q: Can you tell us some of the other --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: National treatment in the United States.
Q: Oh, for Belarusians?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's reciprocal. And as I say, it's actually a standard treaty format that we've used in a number of countries in this region.
Q: There were news reports about the moving of the site -- the timing for the Kuropaty visit. Can you address that, why -- to make it later --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I believe the Kuropaty visit is scheduled for later this afternoon.
Q: A report suggests that the less democratic members of this government were those who pushed for the later -- why did we agree to move it later when --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The government requested that the event be held later in the afternoon. We agreed to that request. Before agreeing to that request, we checked with the sponsors of the event, and we had their agreement to do this. So we're looking forward to this event. The reason the President wanted to visit Kuropaty is to show our respect and sorrow for the hundreds of thousands of people who were killed there. He is also very much interested in meeting Mr. Povniak*, who is, of course, the man who uncovered the Kuropaty graves, who is a reform leader, someone for whom we have tremendous respect. He's looking forward to meeting him.
In fact, he'll be meeting him in just a minute, and I've got to go upstairs to greet Mr. Posniak.
Q: And Mr. Posniak agreed to have it moved later, because I think he's been quoted as having objections.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Are you talking about The New York Times article? I believe there have been some conversations since The New York Times article between us and the democratic opposition. But right now what's going to happen, in addition to Mr. Kevich*, I've got to leave.
The President will be meeting with members of the democratic opposition, including Mr. Posniak, upstairs, and he'll be talking to them about elections, political process. I think he'll give them -- he'll want to give them a measure of support for democracy, and he'll look forward to seeing them later in the day at Kuropaty.
Q: Why did the government request it be later in the day?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know. I wasn't involved here on the ground in scheduling on the matter. I was back in Moscow.
Q: When you say "government," does that mean Shushkevich, or does it mean Kevich?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. It's important to understand that Chairman Shushkevich is the Chairman of the Parliament, and Prime Minister Kevich is the head of the government.
Q: So it's Kevich who requested the --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I believe it was the government. I don't know if it was him personally, but I believe it was the government.
Q: Does Shushkevich have a position on whether it should be earlier?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know.
Q: Would they have considered it an insult of some sort to go to the memorial first before --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know. The President is also visiting the World War II memorial, another important thing for the President to do, because many -- I think we know that one out of every four Belarusians died during the second world war, which is the highest rate, I believe, of any former republic of the Soviet Union. And so he wanted to pay his respects to those who died during the war and to the --
Q: Can you spell the name of the democratic leader of the opposition?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Pozniak.
Q: Would you give us a briefing from the meeting with Shushkevich and Pozniak?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'd be glad to -- one of us will be glad to do that. I don't know if it will be me, but yes, certainly. I'm going to be late for this meeting. I don't want to miss Mr. Pozniak.
Q: You don't know whether Shushkevich asked for it to be delayed, then?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We never heard that. I don't believe it was Mr. Shushkevich. I believe it was maybe other members of the government.
END 1:20 P.M. (L)
William J. Clinton, Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269385