Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials
The Briefing Room
4:00 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: We have a BACKGROUND briefing on Russia. So it will be [names deleted]. And why don't we get going with that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good afternoon. My colleague and I would like to give you a bit of an update from last evening. And we both talked with a number of people in the room last evening, both on our sense of the situation on the ground in Russia and also a bit more on U.S. policy in response to the events of the last 24 hours.
The former, I would say, is consolidating and stabilized in a way that we find generally quite encouraging. And the latter, that is, U.S. policy, is very much the same, and indeed in its essence identical to what you heard from this podium and elsewhere yesterday, although my colleague is in a position to go into a bit more detail about the diplomatic calendar for the fall.
Our sense of the situation in Russia is still so far so good. That said, we, of course, are realistic. We recognize that this situation inevitably has a good deal of uncertainty about it. And we certainly continue to acknowledge, as do the Russian principals in this drama, that there's also a degree of risk.
But as several of us pointed out yesterday, there was uncertainty and risk associated with any of the scenarios that were contemplated for how to break the impasse between the legislative and executive branches in Russia. And indeed, there was a good deal of risk associated with a continuation of the status quo.
U.S. policy remains full speed ahead -- what's also we're describing as business as usual plus. And my colleague will
add a bit on that in just a moment.
As I'm sure all of you know, because it's been covered during the course of the day, there have been demonstrations by President Yeltsin of his high degree of confidence, both that he has the necessary ministries and the necessary centers of power in Russia fully behind him. He has also taken several occasions, public appearances, to reiterate what he told President Clinton in response to President Clinton's request for assurances over the telephone yesterday afternoon that he intends to proceed in a matter that fully respects the civil rights of Russian citizens. He has every intention of avoiding the use of force, and that he is going to make sure that the elections which he has called for December 11th are free and fair.
We've also had further indications during the day that the so-called power ministries -- security, interior, and defense -- are foursquare with President Yeltsin, and Defense Minister Grachev made that very clear in several statements of his own during the course of the day.
Q: So what you're saying is you've had independent confirmation of that? Does that mean the ambassador has spoken with those ministers?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's more that we've just been listening to -- very carefully -- to what's being said. Obviously, we are watching very carefully through all means available to us for any sign of what you might call abnormal or disturbing military activity. And for all intents and purposes, we have seen none. We have a couple of colleagues here who can amplify insofar as that's possible in an unclassified setting on that. But, I mean, basically, there are a lot of dogs that are not barking in this drama.
We've also, of course, had during the course of the day very firm statements of support for President Yeltsin from Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, who by the way has been President Yeltsin's point man for dealing with the various regions of Russia. And we consider that to be significant and encouraging.
We also note that Deputy Prime Minister Shumeyko is back at President Yeltsin's side and is going to play the role of point man in preparing for the elections. And that's a role very similar to the one that he played between March 20th and the April 25th referendum.
It's -- to say a word about the gentleman in the Russian white house, they have quite clearly attempted to recreate the atmosphere, as it were, and the imagery of August 1991. That is, democrats beleaguered and besieged in the White House, standing up to some sort of power play from forces in the Kremlin. And I think it's not so much an editorial comment as just an objective observation that isn't working very well.
They have, first of all, not, of course, had anything like the popular groundswell of support for their position that Boris Yeltsin and his colleagues had in August 1991, nor have they had western support. In fact, for a period there, our information is that the people in the white house were not allowing western diplomats into the White House because they sensed the unsupportive attitude of the international community; and, most importantly, there are no tanks on the street this time.
Q: Did they ask for any -- did the rebel, I mean, the acting president, did he solicit any kind of U.S. support?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not that I know of. They've made public appeals, of course. Rutskoy has been on television and so forth. But not through diplomatic channels, as far as I know.
Q: And they met with U.S. diplomats?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think so. No. For a while, as I say, they weren't even allowing western diplomats into the white house. As you probably know, those of you who have been in Moscow, the U.S. Embassy is just around the corner.
Q: Has there been an attempt by the U.S. diplomats to see --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There were attempts to get into parliament last night to watch the proceedings --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Our colleagues in Moscow?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: At the embassy.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And could not get in?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And could not get in -- that's been fixed today.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But today, U.S. diplomats in Moscow are able to go into the parliament and --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Just during brief --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. The other feature of that part of the story, of course, is that Rutskoy and Khasbulatov and their associates have named ministers, shadow ministers, whatever you would call them, to particularly the three power ministries; and some of them have been issuing orders which, to put it mildly, are not being obeyed. There's no indication,
whatsoever, of support on the part of the armed forces, the security forces, the interior forces to the three ministers who have been appointed to those positions.
We also have been gratified that not only has international support been overwhelmingly in favor of President Yeltsin, but also, the other new independent states of the former Soviet Union are being heard from and the list that I have may be incomplete. President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan has come out foursquare for President Yeltsin; President Snegur of Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, all three Baltic States, all of the central Asian states, except for Uzbekistan, have been heard from.
Q: What about Ukraine?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sorry. Yes, Ukraine has been heard from, but while I don't have the exact language in mind, I would have to say that President Kravchuk and Foreign Minister Zlenko's comments would have to be called "qualified support," I think --
Q: How about the regional leaders within Russia?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, a majority is supportive. A couple of specific regions which are known to have very conservative legislative leaderships are either holding back or, I guess, in one or two cases, Volgograd, Udmurtia -- the only two we know that have actually come out in favor of the white house.
Q: Which ones --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Udmurtia. For details, see my colleague, over here.
Q: What do we know about the Chinese reaction?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Guarded.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: My colleague says "guarded."
Q: In what sense?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Noncommittal.
Q: Have they made statements?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We've seen one statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, which was noncommittal.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me just say two things, because my colleague's got, I think, more meat for you.
Also, my colleague is going to be able to talk in the
future tense in a way that I cannot about the situation on the ground. I'm sure you all understand that we're not going to, much as it would be interesting intellectually, get drawn into a discussion of alternative scenarios from here on forward. But we can talk a little bit about the future of U.S. diplomatic and other activity.
Two last points. First of all, we have been in very close consultation with all of the key people in the Congress, particularly in the Senate, of course, where the reform support package is coming up very, very soon. And the case that we have been making -- and we have found a lot of receptivity to this case -- is, basically now more than ever we have, of course, argued strenuously for the $2.5 billion reform assistance package for a long time. But the basic point that we have made with members of Congress is that this is a critical time to show that the United States, and not just the President of the United States, but the whole U.S. government and the American people, are standing with the forces of reform, which we feel Yeltsin represents, including in the current episode.
The last thing I would say before turning over the --
Q: Are you talking in any way to IMF people?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: To the IMF, to the international financial institutions? The Treasury Department has been quite independent of this development, talking a lot, particularly Under Secretary Larry Summers has been working a lot with the international financial institutions, giving them, among other things, a report on his own visit to Moscow last week where he had some very good conversations with Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and others.
Incidentally, with respect to the Russian economy, I should have noted, in addition to mentioning the support of the various other Russian government officials, that the Director of the Central Bank, Mr. Gerashchenko has also announced that the bank will act like an army which, in this context, is a positive and welcome statement. (Laughter.) What he means by that is that the Central Bank, which had been, of course, under the 1978 constitution under the control of the parliament, will answer to presidential authority.
Secretary Christopher had a very good telephone conversation with Foreign Minister Kozyrev a couple of hours ago, around the lunch hour; and let me just summarize that for you. Foreign Minister Kozyrev was very appreciative of the early and firm expression of support from President Clinton and said that he and President Yeltsin felt that President Clinton had basically led the way in international expressions of support.
Secretary Christopher said, among other things -- and this is a direct quote -- "We want to be there for you when you need us," which I think nicely summarizes U.S. policy. And that's probably a good point to segue over to my colleague.
Q: To follow that -- a general question. Is the administration now urging the IMF to release the $1.5 billion that was held up?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Good afternoon. Let me just answer that. As my colleague said, we have been in touch with the IMF pretty regularly for the last year or so on this program. And we have not urged the IMF, as a result of the political crisis in Moscow, to do anything different than they've been doing over the last couple of months.
The state of play is that the IMF obviously has been engaged intensively with the Russians on the macroeconomic reform ramifications of their economic program. One point five billion dollars in new money was released in July. We have an expectation that, should the Russian government remain committed to its policy of getting down the inflation rate and reducing the budget deficit, that the second $1.5 billion tranche may be released by December. But we are not now asking the IMF to make any immediate infusions of cash to Moscow.
Q: Does political crisis perhaps delay the possibility that you'll be able to reach that December date?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's hard to say, and we hope not. Our sense, our strong sense is that Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, as well as President Yeltsin and Fyodorov, the Finance Minister, remain committed to the program they've negotiated with the IMF. And that program is a fiscally conservative program. And we have no reason to believe right now that that will change. We hope very much that it will not.
Let me just take a few minutes to build on what my colleague has told you and to review briefly what the United States has done over the past 24 hours, both in our conversations with the Russian government but also in our conversations with other governments. You all know, of course, that we were very quick to act yesterday afternoon in giving our support to President Yeltsin and the reform movement in Russia. We've also been determined to mobilize international support for the Yeltsin government and the reform movement.
You know about the call yesterday, of course, from the President to Yeltsin. Immediately after that call, the President called Chancellor Kohl. They had a very good discussion of the situation, and they had a meetings of the minds. And Chancellor Kohl asked about our statement of support. He subsequently issued his own statement of support for President Yeltsin. This morning, I think, as you also know, the President dropped by a meeting with British Foreign Minister Hurd, and they had a discussion of this problem. And I think it's fair to say that the British and American governments are also in agreement on our analysis of the situation and our support for the Yeltsin government.
Last evening following the phone call, the President then sent letters to his G-7 colleagues, and that includes E.C. President Jacques Delors and it includes the E.C. Council President, the Belgium Prime Minister, Mr. Dehaene. The President basically explained the U.S. view of the situation, our position. We attached a copy of the President's statement. He also summarized his phone call with President Yeltsin and specifically the assurances that we received, that the President received, about the free and fair manner in which Yeltsin pledged to hold the elections in December. The President concluded the letter by stating that he hoped that our colleagues, his colleagues in the G-7, would also come out publicly and support the reformers in Moscow. And I think all of them have done so today, at least from the reports that I have seen.
We also sent last night cables to all of our diplomatic and counsellor posts worldwide -- several hundred posts -- with copies of the President's statement, Secretary Christopher's statement, and with general instructions to our embassies, our ambassadors overseas, to seek views of host governments and to try to get the international community behind the reformers in Moscow. And I think in reviewing international reaction this morning, with the exception of the statement from China, there is nearly universal support around the world for the course that Yeltsin has decided to take.
In addition to that, we are going to be in touch tomorrow morning on a official basis and under instructions from the President with all of the governments of the neighboring states of Russia. I imagine that most of our embassies have already been in touch with those host governments. They will go back in tomorrow to seek the views of these governments and to seek their assurances that they will support, again, what the reformers are trying to do.
And as general, let me build on what my colleague said about business as usual. It's going to be business as usual between the United States and Russia. We have got a lot of work to do diplomatically and economically; and certainly on the political side, on the Middle East peace process, on Bosnia and on a lot of issues, regional crises around the world, we're going to be actively working with the Russians in the days and weeks and months ahead -- business as usual.
There are lots of conflicts that ring the periphery of the former Soviet Union and in which the United States has an interest and in which Russia has an interest. And that's been the subject of a lot of discussion between our two governments in the past couple of weeks, and that will continue.
In addition to that, as you know, we are on the verge, we hope, of congressional passage of our $2.5 billion assistance program. And should the Congress pass that legislation, we will begin work immediately after October 1, the beginning of our new fiscal year, to implement the programs that we have already designed
for Russia and the other states. There will be no delay in American economic assistance to Russia. In fact, I think there will be a quickening of our assistance. And, as you know, the President pledged at Vancouver a $1.6 billion program of support, almost all of that money has been obligated for Russia. So we're just now concluding that phase, and we hope very much that we can continue on to a new phase in our assistance program.
It's going to be a busy fall diplomatically between the United States and Russia. The recent meetings between the Vice President -- Vice President Gore -- and Chernomyrdin have spawned six distinct working groups in the fields of oil and gas and nuclear power safety and technology issues in general, science, the environment and in space, and all of those working groups will meet at the Cabinet level in Moscow in the coming couple of months. And so we'll have several Cabinet members and several heads of independent agencies of the U.S. government traveling to Moscow. We see no reason to delay those visits. In fact, I think all the more reason to get on with business.
If I could just conclude, and then we'll be glad to take your questions. I think in general we are committed to pursuing a close political economic security relationship with Russia across the board. We will continue to support the Yeltsin government and to work with it. And I think there's no question that it's in our national interest to do so. We are well served, we think, by a close relationship with the government in Moscow, and so we're going to build on it. And we continue to believe very strongly that the continuation in power of that government as a reform government is in the interest of our country and the interest of Russia, and we hope of the wider world as well.
So having said that, both my colleague and I are prepared to take your questions.
Q: Are you going to make any efforts to contact those regional leaders who have not come out yet in support of Yeltsin? And secondly, in those two regions, are there any nuclear weapons or anything that would raise any alarm; and do they have any military garrisons that could be -- turn against Yeltsin?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have diplomatic relations with one government, the federal government in Moscow. Our diplomats sometime see regional leaders as part of the normal course of business, but we have no immediate plans to make contact with them.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We will not be making separate representations to regional leaders in Russia on the subject.
Q: Has the United States previously done such a big PR job on behalf of the Russian government -- what you described, all these cables going out, going to every government in the world and
asking for support for Russia -- have we ever done anything like that before?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I take you back to the April referendum, which we thought was an appropriate way for President Yeltsin to try resolve another earlier constitutional and political impasse in their political system. We were very active with our allies around the world in trying to build support for that referendum initially and for the outcome that was produced by the referendum.
Q: extent that you're doing --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is a major political development and it requires a full-bore diplomatic response, and I think that's what we're describing to you.
Q: You're depicting the struggle there between the reformist government and Boris Yeltsin and the people in the white house who are the hard-liners of the old school. But isn't there an alternative? Aren't there people in the center, aren't there legislators, members of parliament and other leaders somewhere in the middle who perhaps have differences with Yeltsin, whose personality is sometimes difficult? And does the United States have any relations with them? Is the United States seeking them out in any way, reaching out towards them to deal with them in any way?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The short answer is, yes. Ambassador Pickering and his colleagues in Moscow have consistently maintained a very wide range of contacts across the political spectrum in Russia. And by the way, Boris Yeltsin himself has been reaching out to the center in many ways. The essence of what we feel is encouraging on the political front in Russia is that real politics has come to that country, and real politics will be very much a part of what happens between now and December 11th. And that will involve, of course, reaching out to the center.
Q: But between now and December, three months in which there are two governments, and we're choosing -- there are two alleged governments, from their point of view, there are two presidents, in any event, there are two power centers -- one may be less than another. And the United States is in the position of having to deal with one of them, but not the other. And I'm simply wondering whether there is any middle ground here, any place, any alternative. At one point, when there was a similar struggle, Yeltsin was an alternative. Now, are there any other alternatives which the United States is taking, reaching out to, and dealing with in any way?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It won't astonish you -- I just can't accept the premise of the question. There is only one government, there is only one president. And, by the way, I think the events of the first 24 hours or so after President Yeltsin's announcement indicate there's only one power center.
Q: There was only one Gorbachev, and you folks, who were then on the outside looking in were critical --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not this folks up here. (Laughter.)
Q: were critical of the previous administration for not having lines open and for clinging too long to Gorbachev. In the real world, sometimes governments you don't like replace governments you do like. How can you just have no contact with these people, just write them off as being hardliners, period, figure a new parliament will come, it'll be softliners and you'll get what you want?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Two things. First of all, I just said -- and my colleague may want to elaborate on this, and we've got colleagues who are in touch hour by hour with Moscow, we are in contact with the opposition. We've been in contact with Khasbulatov. And, by the way, as an outsider I was quite an admirer of the way the Bush-Quayle-Burns administration -- (laughter) --dealt with Gorbachev, right up to Christmas Day 1991 when he resigned.
Q: I guess I was thinking of --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The transcripts may portray --
Q: I was thinking of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Q: I take it that both of you think that Yeltsin will prevail. And did Yeltsin ask the President to rally the international world for --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. Let me -- I want to follow up on various questions -- Yeltsin did not, as far as I can recollect from the conversation. The President said to Yeltsin that he would be in touch with other leaders around the world, and he has done that. He has fulfilled that commitment. But it was not a request on Yeltsin's part.
Let me just follow up and say, we are in contact with the opposition. We have been in contact with the opposition for some time. And I imagine in some ways that will continue as a normal course of diplomatic business for our diplomats in Russia.
But let me get to the second part of the question. That is, why do we support Boris Yeltsin and why do we support reformers? Because they are the only people in the Russian political spectrum that are willing to undertake the kind of radical democratic, political and market reforms that we think hold out the best hope for Russia, for our relationship with Russia and for the rest of the world. So, that's clear in our minds.
Q? This support -- just a quickie -- after the fact, of course, you endorsed Yeltsin, then by inference, you endorsed his dissolution of the parliament, does the administration, indeed, agree that he did the right thing by booting the parliament -- as recalcitrant --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We haven't taken a position on that. I think that we believe that in the final analysis, there was a quite profound constitutional and political crisis and impasse that was paralyzing the Russian political system, both government and opposition. Yeltsin has been consistently willing throughout the course of his tenure as President to take these very difficult and complex questions to the people. And in his announcement yesterday what he emphasized was that this question would be put to a democratic test in December.
We don't see that kind of willingness to take these questions to the people to be part of the other -- the opposition's program, another reason why the United States thinks it's important to support a democratic leader.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: One last thing. You remember question four on the April 25th referendum was, do you support early parliamentary elections. The answer of a substantial majority of those who voted in the referendum was yes. And we see what Yeltsin did yesterday as being consistent with that and -- democratic spirit.
Q: But are you drawing a distinction between your support or the President's expression of support for Yeltsin and not taking the position on getting rid of the parliament? You're saying you support what Yeltsin did, right?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The short answer to that, of course, is yes. But here's what -- let me explain -- put it in the negative what we're not doing. There is obviously a question of constitutionality -- legality and legitimacy here. As Secretary Christopher said yesterday at the State Department, we don't feel that it's appropriate for us to enter into that debate. This is -- the issue of constitutionality and legitimacy and legality is something for the Russian people to decide. What we approve of is that President Yeltsin has found a way of putting precisely that issue and a lot of important attendant issues to the people.
Q: Are you fully satisfied that the Russian nuclear arsenal is in safe hands? And have you had any --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q: assurances of that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q: any conversation between the Pentagon and the
Russian military leaders?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're satisfied.
Q: Is there Clinton-Yeltsin summit still in the offing for January, or are you now going to wait until after the December elections?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As you remember, back in July when the President last met Yeltsin in Tokyo, they talked about a next meeting and they decided that it would be sometime at the end of this year or early in '94. That's still our plans, although we have not set specific dates.
Q: So this has not changed the planning process in any way?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not at all. Not at all.
Q: Given the depth of your commitment expressed here to Yeltsin and the reformers, what are you doing with bilateral American assistance programs to put them at the service -- to put them to the purpose of bolstering the reformers as they look at elections in December?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, as I explained, there are two parts to our assistance efforts. The Vancouver package is almost finished in its implementation phase. If the Congress votes positively on the $2.5 billion, some of which will go to Russia, we will start working on that on October 1 -- the beginning of the fiscal year. Those two programs have a fundamental basis to them. They are designed to support reformers -- not just in Moscow; the majority of the money is being spent outside of Moscow -- among -- and not for nongovernmental institutions and in provincial cities.
Q: Now, is there any sensitivity as you go into a parliamentary election campaign, which the United States government is clearly committed to one side, presumably, in this parliamentary campaign, that you're going to be -- that you're going to be nakedly supporting one campaign against another in a rather unusual fashion?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The money is going to go towards the projects that we've already in essence designed and negotiated with the Russian government. I don't believe there's going to be an instance where we're directly intervening in the campaign to make a difference, but the money's going to be out there and it's going to be at work in Russia.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me add just one thing. I think your depiction of how this campaign is going to work is a little bit black and white -- a little bit simplistic. What's going to happen is that a lot of different people are going to declare as candidates for parliament. I don't think that all of them
or most of them, or even many of them, for that matter, are going to necessarily wear Khasbulatov pins or Yeltsin pins. They're going to have their own programs. And we're certainly going to let that process go ahead. What we support is the democratic nature of it. We're not going to pick sides among those different candidacies.
Q: You say that you're in communication with these -- the opposition people. What are you saying to them? I mean, are you listening politely to what they're saying? Are you giving them ultimatums? And how do you assess their power at this point? Are they just standing around in the white house getting --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, since I made that statement, let me just clarify it. You know, we have been in contact with Khasbulatov, with Rutskoy, with other members of the so-called opposition for a long, long time -- normal, diplomatic contact. American diplomats, private sector Americans, visitors from Washington, and we have normal conversations. We've certainly listened to their views and we express our own views. I don't believe -- and my colleague will correct us if we're -- if this is a mistake -- that we have been in contact with them since Yeltsin made his speech yesterday.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we might have today --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Possibly, but we're just not aware of any conversations.
Q: You should know that people are fascinated by the Chinese way --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Chinese model?
Q: going Chinese. They are having even the name of Chinese -- (inaudible.) How about the potential of secession -- Chinese-supported secession in the far eastern part of Russia?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We fully support the principle of the Russian Federation as a unitary state. And that means that we --
Q: potential -- the Chinese are -- any kind of secession in the far eastern part --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I might say, by the way, that my colleague and I just returned at the beginning of the weekend from a trip through central Asia and the Transcaucasia and we saw no evidence of that. I don't really think the issue arises.
Q: Can I just complete the question that I asked --
Q: A question on the aid.
Q: Could I -- I'm sorry -- I just want to complete that thought. What is your understanding of what the opposition is doing right now? If they have a so-called parallel government, what are they doing? Are they sitting in offices, you know, having --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Issuing orders.
Q: Issuing orders? And what happens to those orders? Nobody pays attention. So, they're just -- what's going to -- what's the ultimate --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In fact, there are -- we're beginning to sense that there's a snicker factor there. That it's not only -- not only are the orders not being followed, but apparently it's the subject of -- object of some ridicule.
Q: So, do you predict, then, that this will be over pretty quickly?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're not making any predictions. We're expressing -- we're reiterating our policy or the analysis on which our policy is based, and obviously our hope that what President Yeltsin is doing will succeed. And of course, as my colleague has emphasized, but I can't emphasize enough, a critical part of what we're supporting is that aspect on which the -- our President sought President Yeltsin's reassurances last night. And that is, that this will be a process that is genuinely democratic in spirit. And it will be an open political process that will produce this new parliament.
Q: A question on the aid. You said earlier that there will be no delay in our economic assistance to Russia and there may be a quickening. Does that assume that the debt problems between the U.S. and Russia will be resolved or is that -- are those being now put on the back burner?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wasn't speaking to the debt question. I was speaking to our transfer of bilateral assistance funds. The debt question is a multinational question. It involves a lot of other countries.
Q: an issue between the U.S. and Russia on some of the bilateral debt?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. We had a few minor differences of opinion on how we should calculate it. But those will be worked out on a normal basis. I don't expect -- and I was not trying to signal any change in the debt policy. I was trying to say that the President, from the beginning of his administration, has felt that it's very important that we implement these programs as quickly as possible; that if they're intended to support reformers, they support reformers when reformers need help. And for us that's been 1993. That's the message that he transmitted in Vancouver, and those are his instructions to us, and so we'll take them seriously.
Q: You talked a little bit about regional support for this. Do you sense any groundswell support in one region or the other for Yeltsin? Are you concerned about a split within Russia, itself? And could you just give us an assessment of your situation, internally, in Russia?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Our sense is that it's going pretty well so far, including in the respect that you mention. I said that with various regions have been heard from. Most of them are coming in supportive of President Yeltsin. The two that we mentioned went the other way. But if you had a, sort of a, you know, an election map of the country, the color coding is pretty much in Yeltsin's favor so far.
Q: You've expressed full support for Yeltsin, but how much of a setback is this to your hopes for reforms in Russia?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have high hopes that it is the opposite of a setback.
Q: The opposite is a setback?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, part of the problem for reform, which is essentially what we're supporting here - - remember, you've heard this from us before -- we're not supporting, first and foremost, an individual human being or even, for that matter, an individual government. We're supporting a process and we're supporting principles. Part of the problem with the reform process in Russia is that it has been impeded and occasionally seemed to be even paralyzed by the impasse between a reformist government and a largely obstructionist and retrograde parliament. And it was - - clearly, something had to give. That impasse had to be broken. And we have high hopes that President Yeltsin will succeed in breaking the impasse in this fashion.
END4:38 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/269117