Background Briefing by a Senior Administration Official on Kohl Visit
The Briefing Room
2:35 P.M. EST
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I will not say too much unless you have some questions. The President very much looked forward to this visit, of course; has developed a very close personal relationship with Chancellor Kohl and wanted to continue the close partnership that they've developed on tackling the big issues in our respective foreign policies.
Kohl, obviously, saw the visit in the same way; plus, he had the added purpose of taking the pulse of Washington since the midterm elections, getting a sense of the political scene. And he told the President during their initial meeting in the Oval Office of some of the messages he was going to convey on Capitol HIll about the importance of strong U.S. leadership, importance of the transatlantic relationship in NATO to European and world security, and how NATO and European integration were not alternatives but, for Germany, they were both essential components for stability in Europe.
The President confirmed the importance he attaches to working with Chancellor Kohl and with Germany in promoting European integration in dealing with the global economic problems and, as he mentioned, tackling the redefinition of our international economic institution.
Both of the leaders had the same issues as their top priorities on the agenda -- NATO expansion, Russia and Chechnya and how we proceed, and Bosnia.
On NATO expansion, there had been some speculation in recent weeks that there was some divergence between the U.S. and German positions. But these meetings confirm that there's absolutely no daylight and we're looking forward to working with the Germans, together with our other allies, on the NATO study of expansion that is underway in Brussels, and which will aim towards presenting initial conclusions to the members of the Partnership for Peace this fall. They specifically agreed that the pace that was set in the December decisions at NATO was just the right one, the focus should be, first, on the why and the how of NATO expansion and that we should not, at this stage, set a timetable for expansion or define the list of preferred candidates.
At the same time, both were in full agreement that it's essential that NATO expansion not draw a line between NATO and Russia, but, rather, we needed to develop a European security system in which Russia played a part, and they both agreed on the concept that the President first set out in his Cleveland speech of a NATO Russia arrangement developing in parallel with the expansion of the Alliance. And Chancellor Kohl emphasized the need for something similar for Ukraine as well.
And they also agreed that NATO expansion and the enlargement of the European Union very much related processes, although they're not formally linked, and they may not be precisely synchronized, but they're both part and parcel of the process of building a united, democratic Europe.
On Russia, the two compared assessments of the situation, and both agreed on the gravity of developments in Chechnya -- the human tragedy, the threat to democratic institutions in Russia. At the same time, they both agreed that Yeltsin was trying to be responsive to Western concerns, had agreed to the OSCE mission, and both agreed, most importantly, that it was too soon to write off Yeltsin or to write off reform in Russia, even as we press for a political solution and an immediate end to the violence, but that it was very much in our interest to back Yeltsin and to try to keep Russia on the reform track.
On Bosnia, both leaders expressed apprehension about the situation, but agreed that we need to push ahead in our Contact Group efforts, trying to isolate the Bosnian Serbs. Particular stress was placed on the Muslim Croat federation, as the President mentioned in the press conference, and this will be a key area of joint action by the U.S., Germany, and some of our other European partners over the coming weeks, trying to shore up that one bright spot in a bleak landscape, following up on the meeting that took place in Munich over the weekend.
Finally, they touched on a number of other issues more briefly. The President did express our concern about Iran and the need to avoid economic support for Iran, given its involvement in international terrorism, and how this jeopardized the Middle East peace process. Chancellor Kohl expressed concern about Islamic fundamentalism, citing Algeria and the potential for spillover if Algeria falls to other areas of the Middle East. Spoke briefly about the Korea deal and the President urging Germany to participate in support of that package.
Chancellor Kohl stressed the importance of preserving and strengthening U.S.-German cultural ties. I think in the spirit of Senator Fulbright, as he mentioned today. And they exchanged views on the political and economic situations in the two countries.
So there's a survey. I'll be glad to take your questions.
Q: Can you give us a little more detail on the $20- million aid for Chechnya?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm a little far removed from exactly how that works. I understand that it's $14 million from this stand-by fund, already appropriated funds -- ERMA -- and I'm not sure what that stands for -- plus another $6 million out of DOD funds for humanitarian supplies directed towards the victims of the violence in Chechnya, the refugees, displaced persons.
Q: Who will administer the program? How will it be channeled to the refugees?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There I'm out of my league. You can follow up perhaps with the press people to get details on that, I'm sure.
MR. SPALTER: We will confirm the details of that shortly.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's not from my part of the world.
Q: Was there any discussion of the paralysis of the United Nations and, therefore, of the NATO Alliance on Bosnia?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That was not the line of discussion today.
Q: Does either one of them think that there's any harm done to the international peacekeeping effort by the fact that the United Nations doesn't seem to be able to get its act together on Bosnia?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, again, that wasn't among the subjects discussed today. I think we certainly recognize that the U.N. mission in Bosnia has been not without its failings, but that it's still performing an important humanitarian role. And we're trying to beef it up so that its withdrawal doesn't prove to be inevitable, both in Bosnia and Croatia.
Q: Was there any discussion of the kind of pressures that the U.S. and Germany could exert on Yeltsin to make sure he stays the course of reform, besides the diplomatic messages? Like real pressure.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. I think both of them agreed that it would be wrong at this point to start imposing punishments or sanctions on Yeltsin.
We have been stressing, both publicly and privately, the gravity of the situation and the risks that it poses for our continued cooperation if Yeltsin doesn't move quickly to solve the problem peacefully. But both agreed that we had to stand by Yeltsin at this point and not write off the prospects of reform and not undercut even further the reform process by cutting assistance.
Q: Doesn't that amount to giving him a blank check, in fact.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I would categorically protest. We're not giving him a blank check. He knows that his image in the West has been seriously damaged and that the political basis for continued support for Russian reform has been shaken and that he doesn't have unlimited time. But we are not pulling the plug at this point.
Q: Did they specifically discuss the Mexico bailout package? Did Kohl express disappointment with the way it was handled?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was a brief discussion of that. Actually, the President brought it up to express our regret that the urgency of the situation didn't permit more time for consultations. And, as the Chancellor said at the press conference, these things happen, and he was quite understanding.
I would note that the Germans have, in other ways, been supportive of efforts to shore up the Mexican economy through the Bank for International Settlements, for example, even though they abstained in the IMF.
Q: It was a little confusing, can you explain more about what Kohl was talking about in terms of wanting to review IMF credit lines more closely?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That really wasn't part of the meeting, so I wouldn't want to speculate. He's having his own press conference, I understand, at 5:15 p.m. You can ask him if -- you may have to pose the questions in German. (Laughter.)
Q: Was there really complete agreement on Bosnia between the President and the Chancellor? I mean, do they see eye to eye on how to proceed now that the latest attempt to force the Serbs to accept the peace plan have failed?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, they didn't get into the nitty-gritty of the diplomatic strategy that we're pursuing. But it did reflect general agreement that the focus now should be on isolating the Bosnian Serbs. I think we would say that the effort to persuade directly by trying to get him to accept the Contact Group plan ran its course; it was not successful. It was a risk worth taking, in our view, but now we're focusing again on maximizing his isolation, specifically encouraging Milosevic to recognize Bosnia and Croatia and the other former Yugoslav republics within their existing borders as a way for their --
Q: Isolation was tried in the past and it failed.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, it's a continuing process. We think that the closure of the border by Milosevic while it has not been perfect -- and there have been some disturbing developments in recent days with the helicopters -- has been squeezing the Bosnian Serb economy and has been causing even fractures within the Bosnian Serb leadership. So it still has some ways to play out before you can draw any conclusions.
Q: There is still some trust in Milosevic? You are going back to the Milosevic option that was called off?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This has turned into a Bosnia briefing. I wouldn't say that we have trust in Mr. Milosevic. We believe that he sees it in his interest, in order to escape the economic sanctions that really have crippled the Serbian economy, to pressure the other Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia toward political settlements. Whether he's prepared to pressure them hard enough remains to be seen. But we think it is at least a valid means for pressure.
Q: What was the Chancellor's -- you mentioned that the President urged the Chancellor to participate in the Korea deal. What was the Chancellor's response to that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would say positive, without making a specific commitment. It's our hope that Europeans in general -- we're not looking to Germany alone -- will make a reasonably substantial contribution in order to solidify the overall package in which the Japanese and the South Koreans obviously are going to be playing the biggest part.
Q: Did they discuss the actual -- the question of the water reactors going from South Korea to North Korea? I mean, did that issue come up at all?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, they did not get into the finer points. It was a short-item discussion.
Q: You mentioned no daylight on NATO expansion. I'm not conversant on what the German position had been or what the -- what were your fears of daylight going into the meeting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We had positive signs on the eve. I was saying that there had been some speculation, particularly after Yeltsin's speech in Budapest, that some Europeans were concerned that our initiative to move to the next stage of the NATO expansion project was premature, that we were moving too fast. So we were quite pleased to confirm that Germany was very much in sync with us, wanting to move ahead steadily on NATO expansion; recognizing how it can underpin reform in Central Europe, while at the same time ensuring that Russia and NATO develop a direct relationship in parallel so that Yeltsin and other reformers don't see this as something designed to isolate or exclude Russia from European security.
Q: Will the President ask for Senate approval, Senate ratification of an amendment to the NATO treaty if membership is expanded?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: When the time comes. That's some years off; we don't have a timetable, but something towards the end of the century at the earliest. But, yes, the accession of new members to the Washington Treaty would require the advice and consent of the Senate. And I think the same applies in virtually all other NATO countries. So this is something that has to be done, in our view, in a serious, deliberate way so that all the questions are answered and that we don't simply extend paper security guarantees to new members. They have to accept the responsibilities as well as enjoying the rights of membership, and the Congress will want to know exactly what are the implications for us, politically and financially.
Q: One last thing. Was there any discussion of -- support for Salinas --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, it didn't come up.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END2:49 P.M. EST
William J. Clinton, Background Briefing by a Senior Administration Official on Kohl Visit Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269838