Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials
The Briefing Room
2:31 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good afternoon. Sorry we're late. There were two toasts at the lunch over at the State Department, and we didn't think we could leave before the second was completed. I'm sorry we have such limited time, but let me try to begin by giving you a sense of how the meetings went this morning. My colleague is here and we'll talk about some of the issues that were discussed.
First, both my colleague and I had a chance to talk to the President after his lengthy one-on-one, and can report to you the following. The two Presidents met in the Oval Office as scheduled, with note-takers after the arrival ceremony. For the record, the note-takers from our side were: Tony Lake, the National Security Advisor and Victor Iliushin, who is an assistant to President Yeltsin.
By mutual agreement, they decided to dispense with the schedule that their respective advisors had set for them. (Laughter.) They decided not to have an expanded meeting on foreign policy issues with their advisors after the initial one-on-one. Instead, they decided they wanted to spend the entire morning together in a one-on-one. That was their decision. It was unexpected by us before the meeting. And they asked the ministers to meet separately here in the White House to discuss the major foreign policy issues before us.
And so, the Vice President -- Vice President Gore -- Secretary Christopher, and others from the U.S. delegation met in the Cabinet Room with Deputy Prime Minister Soskovets and Foreign Minister Kozyrev. Secretary Perry and Minister of Defense Grachev met in the Roosevelt Room, where they discussed some defense and security and foreign policy issues.
Let me just describe the Oval Office session for you. As I said, neither my colleague or myself were there, but we had a chance to talk to the President about it and this essentially is a report from him and from Tony Lake.
In the Oval Office the President showed President Yeltsin around the office; the desks, the books, the political memorabilia behind his desk; a photograph of Chelsea Clinton that was taken in Russia during the President's trip last January. And the President suggested that they sit in the garden patio; they did so. they reviewed the schedule for the two days of the summit together.
President Clinton had mentioned to us this morning, before the arrival ceremony, that he found the schedule somewhat formal. And so he really want to achieve, I think. a more informal session and that's why he suggested the one-on-one, but also going into the garden. They agreed that they would sit there all morning.
Now, for the discussion itself, the President remarked afterwards that he's probably spent more time with President Yeltsin in his -- the President's 20 months in office, than any other foreign leader. They have had five meetings, and a number of those meetings, as you know, have been quite lengthy; three of them have been full summits. The other two were at G-7 sessions in 1993 and 1994. So, obviously, they have developed a very close relationship; a very good relationship; a positive relationship, and they can talk to each other frankly and directly and in a cooperative way. And I think that we would describe this morning's talks a very upbeat, very friendly; at times, informal, and at times, very direct. Upbeat -- I think the President found President Yeltsin to be upbeat about the situation in Russia, the political and economic situation.
President Yeltsin spent some time describing events in Russia over the last couple of months -- the economic progress that the Russian government has made, the progress in achieving a great measure of social and political stability in Russia since the last time they met at a summit level in January.
President Clinton, in turn, gave President Yeltsin a brief description of the domestic situation in the United States and his own agenda as President. And then they began to review some of the bilateral issues that they had wanted to for this summit. President Clinton told President Yeltsin about his decision last week, which we announced, to find that Russia is in compliance with the Jackson-Vanik amendments. President Yeltsin, to say the least, was delighted at this decision as something that had been on his personal agenda both with President Bush and then with President Clinton -- with President Clinton going all the way back to the Vancouver Summit in each of their meetings. I think it's fair to say that President Yeltsin would like the United States to fully graduate Russia from the Jackson-Vanik provisions.
President Clinton explained that he had done as much as he could do under his own presidential powers in finding Russia to be in compliance with Jackson-Vanik. That is a positive action that the President can take. That does not require congressional ratification or congressional approval. Graduation from Jackson-Vanik, which we have done with a number of Central European countries, requires the action of the Congress. And I think President Yeltsin indicated this would be on his agenda with the Congress when he meets with them tomorrow morning. And I think it's fair to say that our judgment is that we would like to move towards this objective, but we just don't think it's possible at this time.
They next discussed a series of foreign policy issues. Nagorno-Karabakh which, as you know -- we briefed on this last week -- is really at a crisis point. It's a war that's gone on for six years where many people have died and a million people have been displaced. They discussed Bosnia. They discussed briefly COCOM and also the CFE Treaty, which was a major issue between us.
Q: Give us more on Bosnia.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I will in a minute.
Concurrently, as I said, I know that Secretary Perry and Defense Minister Grachev talked about the nuclear posture review. They talked about some of the security issues in our relationship. And the Vice President, Secretary Christopher and other ministers talked about consecutively: the Baltics, Ukraine, Nagorno-Karabakh and Bosnia. So for a brief description of those conversations, I'll turn it over to my colleague.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me start with Bosnia. I would say the key point that emerged from the discussion is that it is important for Russia and the United States to continue to work together, and that the solidarity of the Contact Group is an essential element in continuing the diplomacy to solve the conflict. I think it's no secret to you that we have been hearing from the Bosnian government that they are now concerned about any immediate implementation of lifting the embargo. They have talked about deferral. The Russians made no secret at all of their concerns about the implications of any lifting of the embargo. They believe it would simply spread the war.
So I think the focus of the conversation ended up really being on how the Contact Group can pursue the real objective that we share, which is getting Bosnian Serbs to agree to the Contact Group proposal, and that all efforts will be made working together to come to a strategy to accomplish that. Obviously, we're waiting to see exactly what Mr. Izetbegovic will be saying today in New York, and this discussion, I think, will continue.
On Nagorno-Karabakh, it was, I think, certainly the shared perception that this is a conflict which does have possibilities at this point to be resolved or at least put on the way to resolution. The Russians discussed their efforts, working through their own mediation efforts and through CIS efforts to get the fighting stopped and to come to an agreement.
We described a few steps that we hoped we could look at together to consolidate the cease-fire, perhaps get some confidencebuilding measures in place that would strengthen the opportunities to make progress toward a settlement.
I think there was agreement that we will continue this discussion, explore what the options are to support a CSCE effort to move the prospects there in that venue toward some better political process.
Finally, I think at least the ministers certainly did review some of the things that have been working well and some of the things which remain, in our view, some troublesome issues. They cited the Baltics as an accomplishment. Russians are still concerned about the development of normal relations between the Baltic states of Russia and the position of the Russian minority in the Baltic states.
There was discussion about the good cooperation we've had in the Middle East and the fact that that is going to continue, and that close cooperation in that area has been important. Also cited was the fact that Moldova is moving toward an agreement on withdrawal of the Russian army, and we encouraged the sort of formalization of that process.
I think I'll leave it there and let you ask questions, if I can.
Q: Was the characterization of the Bosnia discussions at the ministerial level or was that between the President and Mr. Yeltsin?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the basic conclusions were those of the President's. Some of the detail I was able to give you reflected more what went on in the ministers meeting.
Q: What did they suggest --
Q: Just to follow up, Mr. Yeltsin -- a representative of his side came out and said that Yeltsin had asked for a meeting on Bosnia and that the President seemed interested in that -- some kind of summit that he --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was a discussion of what has been a longstanding idea of President Yeltsin that, at an appropriate time, a gathering of heads of state might find a way to provide an impetus to, in a sense, give the ultimate push to get this issue over the top. I think I would have to say it was discussed. Nothing was decided on that issue.
Q: What do they have in the mind how to push -- a way to push the Serbs to accept the agreement? What do they say they're going to do about it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think it's -- first of all, the discussion was more what can the combined efforts of the Contact Group do. It's not a unilateral effort. I think it's fair to say they have made a substantial -- one of their principal points is that we really need to work also to have Milosevic and the Belgrade Serbian government continue its policy of closing the border and keeping the pressure on. They see that as a major accomplishment of the last few weeks.
Q: They think it's been done?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, they are saying that the border is closed, and that Mr. Milosevic is intent on putting pressure on the Bosnian Serbs to accept the Contact Group proposal.
Q: Did any of the Russians, including President Yeltsin, point to the U.S. military intervention in Haiti as opening up an opportunity for the Russians to intervene in some of their former republics of the former Soviet Union?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was no such linkage, no -- nor really was there a general discussion of that broad subject.
Q: Did you understand Mr. Yeltsin to say that the two Presidents reached an agreement of some kind about something?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sorry, I didn't get the first part.
Q: Mr. Yeltsin, we understand, said that the two Presidents have reached an agreement or a meeting of the minds about something. What would he be referring to?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Where did he say it? I mean, do you --
Q: This I'm hearing in passage out of the State Department -- is that the case? Or going in? No?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I have to say I'm not sure what he's got in mind. I think in his toast, he more or less made a general statement that where there's a broad agreement on a variety of sort of objectives or how we see the world of problems, but I don't know of any specific agreement.
The only thing that he referred to specifically is that they're going to sign this document tomorrow on -- agreement which is a partnership agreement on economic cooperation.
Q: Did the President try to persuade Yeltsin to stop arms sales to Iran?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That issue came up, and I think they have agreed they need to do some further discussion of that issue. What's going to happen next is, as you know, after this veterans' event in the Rose Garden, they're going to come back to the Cabinet Room and essentially report to their advisors on some of the discussions they had, one on one, this morning.
There is then the possibility of another one-on-one session, or they may stay in the expanded session; it's up to them. That issue did come up. It was discussed in some detail. I'd rather not share the details of it with you now, though, because we -- I think they agreed they need to continue it.
Q: Did it show any promise of slowing down?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would just leave it where we left it at this point.
Q: Did these informal one-on-one talks offer any kind of breakthrough that was unexpected on some topics?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's fair to say, from our own conversation with the President and Tony Lake, that it provided a very positive and useful atmosphere where they could, together, very frankly at points, discuss how we can move forward on some of these very difficult issues -- like Nagorno-Karabakh, Bosnia, and the COCOM issue that Terry has just mentioned. So I think they are very pleased with the results of this mornings meeting.
Q: In those discussions did Mr. Yeltsin or anyone else give any indication that the Russians could accept or endorse a U.N. resolution calling for a lifting of the embargo by a date certain, if that date certain were put off until next spring?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we didn't really get a specific indication of that. It is clear, however, that they are very interested in providing every and maximum opportunity for diplomacy to have a chance. But we do not have a specific answer yet, though it will be discussed further on that subject.
Q: Can you tell us what the President's view of President Yeltsin's comments on the "near abroad" were yesterday and if he will convey those comments -- those thoughts?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't tell you specifically what the President's views are because I don't believe that came up. I think in general, you know our position -- and this has been annunciated by everybody from the President on down in our government -- is that we want to have good relations with all the other countries in the Former Soviet Union. We think it is important that everybody recognize their independence, their territorial integrity and their sovereignty.
And in a number of cases over the last 18 months, we have worked very effectively with Russia on some of those crises. The Baltics and Ukraine and Moldova are three. Kazakhstan is another. But, clearly, we have had, at points, disagreements, sometimes tactical disagreements with the Russians about how others should be handled, and some of those were raised this morning.
Q: In what way were they raised?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In the manner that my colleague described to you. There was a long discussion about Nagorno-Karabakh. It's no secret, and we have made it no secret that we have had a disagreement with the Russians about how to proceed. And, hopefully, out of these presidential discussions will come some kind of resolution of our differences that we can go forward together, because I think that it's fair to say both in the meeting in which we participated, the Vice President's meeting, and in the presidential one-on-one, we do agree that Russia cannot solve this problem on its own and the United States cannot solve it on its own. Russia and the United States have to cooperate on Nagorno-Karabakh.
Q: So you disagree with President Yeltsin on his statement that Russia is the best guarantor of peace in the former Soviet republics?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We think in the case of Nagorno-Karabakh, Russia has an obvious role to play, as do the Armenians and the Azeris. That's not the question.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Can I just say one thing? We haven't briefed on economic issues. I don't want you to think that the two Presidents have forgotten them. Tomorrow is economic day. There are three different sessions on economic issues, so they're off the agenda for today, but will be very much on the agenda for tomorrow.
Q: sign today here, right?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This afternoon Secretary Brown is going to officiate at a signing ceremony for a long line of trade and investment agreements that we've already worked out with the Russians.
Q: Worth how much?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: These are all -- a lot of them are bilateral agreements to facilitate trade and investment, and some of them are specific company deals. I don't have an aggregate figure for you.
Q: Would the U.S. welcome Russian participation in the international coalition in Haiti?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have solicited it.
Q: What have they said?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think we have a definitive answer, do we?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I believe they've said that they are interested in participating in some fashion once the international group comes in.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not in this phase, but the next.
Q: Was there a discussion of NATO today, can you just tell us?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: NATO -- European security is going to be discussed probably tomorrow at the one-on-one lunch between the two Presidents.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:50 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269488