Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official
The Radisson Hotel
12:12 A.M. (L)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The dinner took place at a dacha. We agreed it was southeast of Moscow, about a half-an-hour motorcade ride -- Novo Ogaryevo.
This, by the way, for history buffs, is the dacha where the former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev held the Union Treaty talks shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I'll start with just some very general statements, no details at all, on the substance of the evening. One reason, of course, that I'm not going to go into substance is because it was a very candid and freewheeling exchange.
Q: That's why we'd like to get it --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I know, I know, Helen. And the other is because many of the points of substance will be touched upon in public events and documents that will be released tomorrow.
There was a continuation of the discussion that began between the two Presidents this morning in their one-on-one talk about the interaction between Russian politics and international politics. President Yeltsin shared with President Clinton and the others -- and I'll come to the guest list in just a second -- some further thoughts on the prospects for the new Parliament and how he and the government intend to work with the new Parliament.
As was the case this morning, he was clearly very aware of the difficulties, the complexities that face the reformers in the Parliament and that face the government. But he also evinced considerable confidence and optimism about the ability of the Executive Branch to work with the new Legislative Branch. And there was a good deal of conversation about how some of the jockeying for different positions in the Parliament is turning out and what that's likely to mean.
But the overall tone of it was certainly one of confidence on President Yeltsin's part both about the ability of the reform program to stand up in the legislature and the ability of the Executive Branch to work with the legislature.
There was a discussion of a number of foreign policy issues, particularly European and Eurasian security issues. This was in part in the context of some further discussion of Partnership For Peace.
The Defense Minister, General Grachev, was at the dinner. He participated in that part of the discussion. There was some talk about U.S.-Russian military-to-military contacts. Defense Minister Grachev talked about how much he appreciated the relationship that he had developed with Secretary of Defense Aspin. He referred to the meeting that he had with Mr. Aspin in Garmisch back in June, I believe, talked about inaugurating a direct telephone link between the Defense Ministry here in Russia and the Pentagon last week -- on Wednesday of last week. And President Yeltsin expressed a desire to broaden contacts of that kind not only in the military-to-military area, but more generally between the two governments.
The issue of the Middle East came up a little bit, and particularly with regard to Russia's desire to coordinate its policy interests with those of the United States throughout the region.
The two Presidents also talked rather briefly at the beginning of the discussion about the plans for tomorrow. One reason that that was fairly brief was that it had pretty well all been arranged in advance. There was some talk about how the trilateral meeting would go procedurally. There was virtually no discussion at the dinner of the substance of the trilateral meeting because that we believe is well in hand, although there has been ongoing work during the course of the day at the working level of the government on conforming the three-language text for the agreement that will be signed in the trilateral meeting.
Let me go to color, of which actually there is quite a bit. It was a fairly musical evening, and musically eclectic. There was a string quartet playing in the anteroom of this very elegant dacha when we arrived. That continued until we sat down for dinner. About half way through the dinner -- and I do have the menu if anyone is interested --
Q: I am.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That will take up all my briefing time because it looks to be about 24 courses, or at least 24 dishes. (Laughter.) About half way through, President Yeltsin presented President Clinton with a gift which is a small Gzhel blue porcelain figurine of President Clinton with his hand upraised waving to a crowd, signifying his stature as a politician, and his other hand carrying a saxophone. The figurine is probably five inches high. That turned the conversation to the saxophone; there just happened to be a saxophone on the premises.
Q: Oh, God.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I know, I know. Do you want this or not?
Q: Yes. Yes. (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Okay.
Q: You buried the lead. (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We always save the best for the kicker -- In any event, there was what I thought was a fairly great moment where the President was standing at his place with the saxophone, kind of tuning up and playing a few bars. And the pianist who was there with the quartet in the other room sort of picked up the melody line and began jamming with him back and forth between the room where the dinner was held and the anteroom where the string quartet was waiting. So President Clinton suggested that the dinner party adjourn to the other room. And he then played two numbers: Summertime and My Funny -- in C Minor, by the way. He's specified that it be in C Minor.
Q: Does he know anything else? (Laughter.)
Q: What was the other one?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: My Funny Valentine.
Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, by the way, turned to one of the Americans present when President Clinton started playing Summertime and said, "I recognize that. That's Summertime."
The menu was very long indeed. It ranges from fresh caviar through pickled mushrooms. It says duck in red wine sauce, but instead of duck in red wine stuff we were served -- this is true -- lip of moose. (Laughter.) Lip of moose. That's not a chocolate dessert, that's -- (laughter.)
Q: How was it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was -- umm -- it was good. (Laughter.) It was unusual. And stuffed carp. There was also a suckling pig -- or actually, two suckling pigs served, and that prompted some conversation from the President on Razorback hogs -- (laughter) -- the state beast. Only symbolic and social and very much in the spirit of the event.
The guest list on the Russian side was President Yeltsin, of course; Defense Minister Grachev; Foreign Minister Kozyrev; Mr. Ilyshin, who is a senior advisor to President Yeltsin; the First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets; and Prime Minister Chernomyrdin.
On the American side, it was Tony Lake, Warren Christopher, Lloyd Bentsen, the President, and Tom Pickering.
Have I beaten you into submission here?
Q: You said that Mr. Yeltsin told the President he's broadening his contacts with Russian political figures --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q: Is he, indeed? And could you give some description of the breadth of these new contacts and why?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sorry, the contacts of --
Q: With various Russian figures. And why is the President doing this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, Barry, in fact, there was some discussion at the beginning of the evening about the reception at Spaso House, which President Clinton had enjoyed for many reasons. And one reason he enjoyed it was because it gave him a chance to meet quite a wide sampling of deputies to the new Parliament. And he said that he was looking forward to both personally getting to know some of them in the future and that he was sure that other American officials, and particularly members of the Congress, would want to have extensive contact. And the Russian side of the table seemed to think that that was a good idea.
We have said all along, of course, that what we're supporting is a process of reform and we're looking for every manifestation of that. And we think that the creation of a Parliament is, itself, a manifestation of reform. Both the Executive and the Legislative Branches of the U.S. government are going to seek very broad contacts with the Parliament, and I think that was in evidence tonight.
Let me just quickly glance -- oh, yes, I'm sorry. There were a couple --
Q: Any toasts?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There were just very -- there were no formal toasts at all. In fact, there was practically no formal diplomatic discourse at all during the course of the evening.
Q: But there was vodka, I assume, or wine?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was vodka, there was wine and there was lots of mineral water.
The President mentioned that the First Lady and Chelsea are going to be arriving fairly shortly. That prompted President Yeltsin to say that he had arranged for his grandchildren -- I'm sorry, I don't have the names and ages, but they're sort of in the nine-to-13 range --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Boris and I think there's another girl --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Katarina, maybe? Katarina? He's arranged for his grandchildren to accompany Chelsea Clinton to the circus tomorrow.
Q: Were any women present at this dinner?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As it happens, no.
Q: As it always happens.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I feel responsible for so much here. (Laughter.)
Q: How long did the dinner last altogether?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: About three hours. I think we got out there maybe 7:50 p.m., and broke up promptly at 11:00 p.m.
Q: What was the President's gift to Yeltsin? You told us about his gift to Clinton.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think there was a gift to Yeltsin.
Q: Gift to Yeltsin.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I heard the question. There was no formal presentation of gifts. This was kind of a souvenir that President Yeltsin gave to President Clinton.
Q: As they talked about cooperation in foreign policy, were there any -- during the discussion, were there any points of diversion or differences on foreign policy that you can --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I would say that there are not only some differences, but there was also some discussion of the healthiness that there would be differences and, of course, the inevitability of it, and satisfaction that both points in common and points of divergence could be discussed in an atmosphere of the kind that prevailed.
Q: Where were the differences? Bosnia?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not going to go into that. Yes, there was indeed some discussion of the former Yugoslavia.
Q: You mentioned that General Grachev discussed the Partnership For Peace NATO proposal. What was his reaction, and what was Yeltin's reaction to the initiative?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Defense Minister did not speak so much about Partnership For Peace per se as the value he found in military to military cooperation with the United States.
President Yeltsin -- I think you were briefed earlier today from this podium, that President Yeltsin's response on the subject of Partnership For Peace during the one-on-one this morning was positive, and there was more positive comment from him during the course of the dinner. And he mentioned that he had said to the press during the course of the day -- and I honestly don't know whether it was the international press or the Russian press -- that the Russian government supported the initiative.
Q: Did the two Presidents agree to announce their detargeting deal tomorrow?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was no discussion of that at all.
Q: When is the communique going to be issued? And is this telephone link a hot line, too, or is it already in --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, it's already in effect and it's already been used. I wouldn't call it a hot line. It's a direct telephone link between the two Ministries of Defense.
Q: Did the question of how to deal with Zhirinovsky and his forces in the Parliament come up?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
Q: Did President Clinton offer any advice or --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. Certainly not. There was some discussion of the Liberal Democratic Party and Mr. Zhirinovsky during the one-on-one this morning, but not much of that per se. It was more on some developments during the course of the day. As you all know, I'm sure, the new Parliament is forming itself now, people are jockeying for positions. And there was some discussion of that.
Q: Yeltsin had invited the Clintons to all stay over at the Kremlin. Did the President give his response?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Do you have anything on that, Dee Dee, on whether the Clintons will be staying over in the Kremlin on Friday?
MS. MYERS: Yes, he will, tomorrow night.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Dee Dee says it's okay for me to confirm that that, in fact, will happen.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Will, affirmative.
Q: Tomorrow night?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Tomorrow night. Right, Dee Dee?
MS. MYERS: The President and family.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: President Clinton and family.
Q: When do we get the communique?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I honestly don't know the timing of the release of the documents.
Q: What is the significance of staying over at the Kremlin? I mean, how unusual is that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sure the White House has background information on this. I do recall that President Nixon, I think, stayed at the Kremlin on at least one occasion.
MS. MYERS: In '72, I think.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: A long time ago. It was thought to be both a significant gesture and a very friendly one, and obviously an exciting possibility. So the First Family jumped at the chance.
Q: Did they speak about the very strong chance that Kravchuk will again be unable to keep his promise to give up nukes?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, quite the contrary. I think there was a shared sense that this deal --
Q: This time they'll do it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As I say, there was very little discussion. There was a very little felt need for much discussion on the trilateral except for a couple of procedural points.
Thanks very much.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 12:30 A.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/269407