Bill Clinton photo

Interview With the Polish Media

July 01, 1994

Partnership For Peace and NATO

Q. You won't mind if I will read. My English is not as good as yours, so that's a great help for me.

Mr. President, the Polish people would like to join the NATO alliance, not just participate in the so-called Partnership For Peace. What is your intention for the future or for Poland?

The President. Well, my intention is to support an expansion of NATO. But in order to expand NATO we have to get agreement from all the members of NATO about when to expand and how to expand.

I can say this: The expansion of NATO is not dependent on any bad developments in Russia or anyplace else, and nobody has a veto over the expansion of NATO. But last year when I raised this question with the other NATO members, there was a strong feeling that we weren't yet ready to expand NATO but that we had to do something to try to create a better security environment in all of Central and Eastern Europe. And so the decision was made to launch the Partnership For Peace that was our idea, the United States idea, to try to get all the nations of Europe who would join to agree to do joint military exercises and to promise to respect one another's borders.

Now 19 countries that were formerly in the Soviet bloc or the Warsaw Pact countries and formerly Soviet Union countries, plus Sweden and Finland have all agreed to join. And we will be having our first military exercises in Poland later this year. So the security of Poland is very important to me personally and to all the NATO countries. And the history of Poland is very much on our mind. But I think that the Polish people should feel very good about the rapid acceptance of Partnership For Peace, the fact that the first military exercises will be in Poland, and the fact that we are committed to the expansion of NATO.

But after such a long time—NATO, after all, has existed for, well, more than four decades— I think it's just taking a while for the NATO members to decide exactly how membership should be expanded. Meanwhile, I think it's important not to underestimate this Partnership For Peace. Even when I proposed it, I didn't dream we'd have 19 countries immediately join from the former Communist bloc and then two others. There is a real desire to try to prove that we can unify Europe from a security point of view. And so I will keep pushing on it.


Q. Mr. President, President Yeltsin recently said that nobody could, how you say, disregard the Soviet—Russian responsibility for political and moral support of the countries which for centuries were marching together with Russia. It was said, it was broadcasted all over. And that's why the Poles, I suppose, American Poles and Poles in Poland, are unhappy about the possibility of a renewed pressure and imperialistic tendencies. As—[inaudible]—mentioned, his study of Poland is one of the examples of what could happen in our part of Europe. Will you be in a position to say in Warsaw that the United States would oppose tendencies to restore previous—[inaudible]—influence of Russia in Central and Eastern Europe?

The President. We don't recognize the whole sphere-of-influence concept. We do know that the Polish people are concerned about that, but if you look at what has happened—take two examples: first, the Russian troop behavior in the Baltics and, second, in Georgia—I think it is possible to put a less threatening interpretation on President Yeltsin's remarks—or the Russian presence in Bosnia. Let's take those three.

I have pushed personally very hard for the withdrawal of the Russian troops from the Baltics, and I am looking very much forward to my trip there to Latvia. The troops are out of Lithuania, and they are withdrawing from Latvia, and I think they will be out of Estonia before long. We have a few things to work out there. So there is a recognition on the part of the Russians that these are three truly independent countries and should be treated as such.

In the case of Georgia, the United Nations was unwilling to send a full-blown peacekeeping mission there because the situation did not meet the requirements of the U.N. for peacekeeping. That is, there was not an agreement between the two sides in the fight that would permit a peacekeeping mission. So Russia was willing to go in, and the Georgian Government, Mr. Shevardnadze invited them in as long as there were international observers there who could say, "Well, yes, they're not violating any standards or rules."

In the case of Bosnia, Russia has asserted its historic interest and affiliation with the Serbs, but in a way that has put the Russians in a position of pressuring the Serbs to stop attacks on the safe areas, to recognize the sanctity of Sarajevo, to accept the peace plan. So those are three areas where I would say the behavior of Russia, while more active in its area, in its neighborhood, if you will, has been largely constructive.

So I understand why the Poles are more worried about this than anyone else, believe me. I know well the history of Poland. I know how few years of true freedom and independence the Polish people have enjoyed in the 20th century. But I think it's important not to overreact to that. We watch this with great interest. And our concern and commitment to Poland is great. But I believe that we have a chance to work out a constructive relationship where the Russians say, "We want an active foreign policy, but we will recognize the freedom and the independence of all our neighbors." And that is our policy. That is what we are working for.

Ryshard Kuklinski

Q. Mr. President, Poles see the attitude of the United States toward Poland through some personal experiences of some Poles that served the United States. Among the most outstanding people was Colonel Ryshard Kuklinski, whom we are trying to get basically back to Poland, to enable him to go back to Poland. And there is a big outcry in the Polish community that the United States is not doing enough in this matter.

I have a personal letter—not a personal letter, I have a letter from a Polish organization in Chicago to you. There's a translation on the other piece of paper. And we are very curious: What are you going to do about Mr. Kuklinski? Are you going to mention him during your trip to Poland? Are you going to advocate for him?

The President. This is the first time anyone has brought this to my attention. I will look into it, and I will give you a response. I will get back in touch with you. But this is the first time I have been asked personally about this, so I will have to look into it. But I will be happy to look into it, and I'll get back in touch with you. Thank you.

Q. But you think you will be able to bring this matter up during the trip to Poland?

The President. I don't know. I just don't want to make a statement about something I never heard of before I read this letter. I knew nothing about this issue before I read this letter. So you'll have to give me some time to look into it, and I will give you an answer, yes or no. But I can't do it on the spur of the moment.

Russian Troop Withdrawals

Q. The United States has made a significant investment in promoting the Latvian-Russian troop withdrawal agreement. How will the U.S. guarantee that the Russian Federation will fulfill its commitment under these agreements, in particular the agreement on the Skrunda radar facility?

The President. Well, I think that will be fairly easy to guarantee because the United States essentially brokered that agreement. When I was in Moscow in January, I talked at great length with President Yeltsin about it personally. And then Vice President Gore has worked with Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, and we have been very active there. And as you know, we promised a significant amount of money to help to facilitate the transition. And since I think all sides want us to do the investment, I think that our investment guarantee is the best assurance that it will, in fact, occur.

But keep in mind, the resolution of that matter was the requirement the Russians had for a timely withdrawal from Latvia. So from the Latvian point of view and from the Baltic point of view, I think what you want is the appropriate withdrawal, except they will stay around there for a little while as we work this out.

But I feel quite comfortable about that. I see no reason to believe, particularly after the major troop components are gone, that the Russians won't follow through on their commitment. It's in their interest to follow through with on it now that we have this agreement and we've put up the money.

Polish-American Radio and TV

Q. Mr. President, I would like to ask a question, a domestic, because I represent the only Polish television outside of Warsaw, daily television outside of Warsaw. There are 12 million Polish-Americans living in this country. Do you foresee any incentives for businesses to produce radio and television programming on the national level?

The President. I don't understand the question.

Q. This is a chance to grow, for the Polish— I'm talking about ethnic groups like Polish-Americans, Latvians, Lithuanians, to be able to have programming on the national level. It means for the businesses to have some incentive to—tax deductions—like other ethnic minorities have. I mean, the Polish-Americans are not regarded as ethnic but——

The President. Oh, I see. You mean like the minority requirements under the Federal Communications Commission to have African-Americans own television stations or radio stations.

Q. Yes, yes. We are ethnic, but we are not ethnic.

The President. I see. This is the first time anyone ever asked me that. Why don't you— I just never thought about it. Why don't you put together a letter to me, write me a letter stating what you think, how you think we should do it. In other words, what should be the standard? Who should be included? How should we involve other minority groups or ethnic groups in this? I would be happy to consider it; it's just no one ever asked me before.

I do believe—let me just say, for whatever it's worth, I think that there is a difference here, though. Because under the law, the idea was to get more African-American ownership of general audience radio or general audience television. And I don't think that applies to, let's say, African-American newspapers or African-American—at least printed material. It may or may not apply to African-Americans' radio stations.

But I will look into it. If you will write me a letter about it, I'll look into it, see exactly how it works and whether we should apply or consider applying it to others. It's really a matter of law; the Congress, I think would have to change the law. But they might be willing to do that.

Q. I traveled to USIA, to the WORLDNET satellite station, and I talked to the people there. And they feel that there is a need for joint business and government actions. I don't know how you also perceive the situation, possibility of changing this——

The President. I basically think that diversified ethnic press is a good thing for America. We have so many different people—if you look, Los Angeles County has members of 150 different racial and ethnic groups alone.

Q. And Chicago, 163.

Partnership For Peace and NATO

Q. I hope I'll be excused for my trembling voice. Mr. President, Polish-Americans in the U.S., and all Poles in Poland as well, with great anxiety are observing a development of the conception of so-called strategic agreement between Washington and Moscow, because it would carry away Poland's acceptance to the NATO. Mr. President, what is your point of view toward Poland's—[inaudible]—to become a full member of North Atlantic Treaty?

The President. Well, I will answer it the way I answered the first question. We first of all believe—I believe NATO should be and will be expanded. In order to do that, all the members of NATO, not just the United States, must decide on when and how that will occur. From my perspective, our relationship with Russia will not and must not include the proposition that any country should have veto over any other country's membership with NATO or that something bad has to happen in Russia before we expand NATO. I just—I think that is not something the Polish people should be concerned about.

Instead, what I think should be emphasized is the readiness of the Polish military forces, the success of these upcoming military exercises. We are doing military exercises with Poland and NATO in Poland for the first time this fall, and it will be the first exercises of the Partnership For Peace. So I wouldn't be too worried about that if I were the people of Poland.

I understand the historic concerns; I understand them very well. But the United States has not made an agreement to give any country veto power over membership in NATO, nor has NATO made a decision that it will not expand until there is some bad development in Central or Eastern Europe.

So I think that in the ordinary course of time, NATO will expand, Poland will be eligible. I think it will be fine. And in the meantime, the best way to build security is to make the most of this Partnership For Peace because, in order to get into the Partnership For Peace, every country must commit to respect every other country's borders and because, once in, we then began to do joint military exercises together, which will build the confidence of all the NATO members in expanding membership.

Q. Mr. President, I am wondering, couldn't we start to refer to Poland as Central European country and lose the Eastern European connotation? Poland was always the middle of Europe, never the east.

The President. I think of Poland as Central Europe. I agree with that. And I think Poland should be characterized as Central Europe. But when I mentioned the Partnership For Peace, there are a number of Eastern European countries that are also in the Partnership For Peace. But I agree with you, it should be considered Central Europe.

Q. Thank you.

Purchase of U.S. Military Equipment

Q. Mr. President, you mentioned the possible exercises, military exercises, in Poland. There are in Congress, the Senate right now, I think, five amendments concerning various aspects of the Polish situation. And some of them are opposed by—again, I repeat—opposed by the Department of State. Particularly, we are interested in the fact that Poland is trying to get the permission to purchase or lease military equipment from the United States. And it is our understanding that the State Department is rather opposing of this——

The President. We support the transfer of certain military equipment to Poland. The question is—and we consider Poland an ally and a friend. We have no problem there. The question is we have some general rules which we apply to everyone about certain kinds of equipment that we will not sell. And the issue here is if, as I understand the issue, if we depart from the rules we have for everyone for Poland, then will we be forced to change our policy in general because people will say, "Well, yes, Poland is your friend and Poland is a democracy, but so are we, so you must include us in anything you do for them."

So the State Department, when they issue a letter, has to consider not just Poland but what will our policy be when someone else comes along and says, "We have been also a friend, and we are also a democracy, and give us the same treatment." That's really what is at stake here. We have no problems with transfers of a lot of military equipment to Poland, but we have to be careful if we get into something that we don't do anywhere else, how shall we describe the difference in the Polish situation and others.


Q. Mr. President, I ask a question about a thing that is not only of Polish concern here but of all immigrants in the United States. We are kind of noticing a toughening of the policy towards immigrants or preparations to this kind of a process. How do you perceive that matter? Will you support any toughening of the U.S. policy towards immigrants, no matter legal or illegal?

The President. Well, first of all, I support a vigorous immigration policy. This is a nation of immigrants. Only the American Indians are not immigrants. And some of them actually came across from Russia millions of years ago when we were tied through Alaska to Russia. So we are all immigrants.

The only thing that I have supported is stronger requirements on illegal immigration because the number of illegal immigrants is largely concentrated in a small number of States, in California and Texas and New York, to some extent, New Jersey. And where there is a large legal immigrant population, the costs of dealing with that largely fall on a few States. And the feelings against immigrants in general tend to get very high.

For example, California is one of the most diverse States—ethnically diverse States in America. And yet, now there is a great feeling there among some people that we ought to shut off immigration. Why? Because they have a high unemployment rate and a lot of illegal immigrants. So I have tried to help California to strengthen its border patrol and to do some other things which will reduce the flow of illegal immigrants into California. But I do that because I do not want any further restrictions on legal immigration.

And I think our country has been greatly strengthened by immigrants. And I think that all we should want is a set of rules that everyone follows for how we expand our population. But I have no plans, for example, to try to limit the number of legal immigrants from Central Europe or from any other place in the world.

Russian Troop Withdrawals

Q. Last year at your Vancouver summit with President Yeltsin, you promised that the U.S. would provide $6 million to build 450 housing units in Russia for officers withdrawn from the Baltic States. There are reports that much of these funds administered by the U.S. AID are not being utilized to benefit the withdrawing officers. In view of the fact that the U.S. will be financing several additional thousand housing units for these officers, how will the U.S. monitor that these apartments will actually be given to officers withdrawn from the Baltic countries?

The President. What are they saying, that the——

Q. That the money is actually being allocated in different——

The President. To people who are not officers or to something other than houses?

Q. Right. Both, actually.

The President. Well, let me say this. We are trying to get—right now we are trying to get a better oversight on all of our Russian aid programs in general. But I would say it would not be in the best interest of the Government of Russia for this money not to be spent in the appropriate way. Because after all, if we make a commitment and we deliver the money and they withdraw the soldiers, which they have to do—it's part of the deal—then I would think it would not be in their interest not to build the houses for the soldiers, because the whole idea is to try to stabilize the domestic political situation by doing the right thing by the soldiers who are coming home and giving them some way to make a decent life for themselves.

So I think if this has occurred, it is not a good thing for the Russian Government and for Russian society. It's not in their interest. But we are trying to improve our oversight of all these programs because, as you pointed out, we have actually committed to spend even more money on housing to get the withdrawal done in a fast way.

President's Visit to Poland

Q. Mr. President what is your main objective when you visit Poland?

The President. My main objective is to reaffirm the strong ties between the United States and Poland and to reaffirm our commitment here in the United States to helping Poland achieve a successful economic transition—the Polish economy, as you know, grew by 4 percent last year, more than any other economy in Europe—and to do so with some help with easing the social tensions caused by the transition. And I have some ideas and some suggestions that I wish to share with President Walesa and then perhaps in the Polish Parliament, too. You know I'm going to speak in the Polish Parliament. I must say I'm very excited about it. It's a great honor. I'm so excited; the idea that I will be able to address the Parliament, that I will be able to visit some monuments of places I've only read about or dreamed of, it's a great thing not only for me as President but just for me as a citizen and for my wife. We're very excited about that.

We're also, I might say, very excited about going to the Baltics. I grew up in a little town in Arkansas that had a substantial Lithuanian population. So I grew up knowing about the problems of the Baltic nations. Interestingly enough, we had a lot of people from Central and Eastern Europe, a lot of people from the Czech Republic in my hometown in Arkansas who came down from Chicago, most of them came from Chicago, and moved to my State because it was a little warmer but still it had four seasons. So I'm very excited about it.

Poland-U.S. Relations

Q. Your decision, Mr. President, to consult Mid and East European issues with American ethnic groups from this region was widely welcomed and accepted with great appreciation. I am talking about this meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, you couldn't unfortunately attend. Mr. President, will the Department of State continue this kind of link with ethnic Americans?

The President. Yes. We will do a lot of it right here out of the White House also. I have had—I am taking about a dozen Polish-American leaders to Poland with me. I have had leaders of various ethnic groups into the White House to meet with me personally, as well as the Vice President's trip to Milwaukee. And we will continue to do this as long as I am President. I think it's very, very important. It helps us to make good policies as well.

You know, for example, the United States is today the biggest foreign investor in Poland. I think about 44 percent of all the foreign investment in Poland comes from the U.S. The Polish Enterprise Fund has been responsible for about 10,000 new jobs in Poland. And I want this to grow. And I think it has to grow through the involvement of citizens, not just government officials. So I will do more and more of that.

Q. You have my thoughts, sir.

The President. Thank you very much.

Q. Thank you.

Ryshard Kuklinski

The President. Thank you all for coming.

I will get on this. I did not know of this case; I will get right on it.

Q. Sir, this is not from me, now. I would like to make a statement here that this letter is not only from the Alliance of the Polish Clubs in Chicago, this really reflects widespread attitude of Poles and concern of Poles about Mr. Kuklinski. And we kind of feel that the United States has somewhat an obligation to do something about it because Mr. Kuklinski helped a lot, contributed so much to the cause of the world peace and defeating the Communist system. And now he cannot even go back to his own country that he loves and he wants to go.

The President. I'll get on it.

Q. Thank you, sir.

The President: When I was a boy I went to school with a man named Richard Kuklinski. [Laughter]

Q. Oh, really? This can help him.

The President. I wonder if he was related to this man.

Q. I hope it will help him as well.

The President. Thank you.

NOTE: The interview began at 6:07 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House. In the interview, the President referred to naturalized U.S. citizen Ryshard Kuklinski, former Polish military officer who would face imprisonment for espionage if he returned to Poland. This interview was embargoed for release by the Office of the Press Secretary until July 5. A tape was not available for verification of the content of this interview.

William J. Clinton, Interview With the Polish Media Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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